Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Mapping Zazen Meditation as a Developmental Process: Exploring the Experiences of Experienced and Inexperienced Meditators

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Mapping Zazen Meditation as a Developmental Process: Exploring the Experiences of Experienced and Inexperienced Meditators

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This phenomenological study into Zen practitioners' experiences of zazen meditation is based on eight semi-structured interviews with four experienced and four inexperienced zazen meditators. The respondents' descriptions were analysed using a five-step Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) process into thirteen super-ordinate themes. The phenomenological analysis revealed differences between the two groups. Some experienced meditators reported differences that might be interpreted as trait changes due to meditative practice. These included the ability to remain conscious in the dream and deep sleep state as well as greater clarity, greater serenity, and more compassion in the waking state. Supplementary quantitative data gathered by a questionnaire indicated that inexperienced meditators perceived a greater difference between meditation and a normal waking state than did experienced meditators. This finding might indicate that the experienced meditators have integrated the meditative state into their daily life as a normal state, an area warranting future inquiry.

Key words: Zen, zazen, meditation, altered states of consciousness.


Meditation can induce many positive effects such as stress reduction, relaxation, and decreased anxiety (e.g. Ivanovski & Malhi, 2007), but it can also be associated with a spiritual path that may induce more far-reaching effects. Different meditative styles exist (see for example Naranjo & Ornstein, 1971; Shapiro & Walsh, 1984), often classified as either mindfulness or concentrative techniques - depending upon how the attentional processes are directed. Concentration approaches involves focused attention upon for example breathing or a mantra, whereas mindfulness practice (e.g. Zen meditation) involves allowing any thoughts, feelings, or sensations to arise while maintaining a specific attentional stance: awareness of the phenomenal field as an attentive and non-attached observer without judgment or analysis (Cahn & Polich, 2006).

Regular meditation practice can produce relatively short-term changes in state as well as long-term changes in traits (Austin, 1998; Cahn & Polich, 2006; Shapiro & Walsh, 1984; West, 1987). State refers to the altered sensory, cognitive, and self-referential awareness that can arise during meditation practice, whereas trait refers to the lasting changes in these dimensions that persist in the meditator irrespective of being actively engaged in meditation (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Shapiro & Walsh, 1984).

Studies show that meditative states exhibit a variety of unique phenomenological, perceptual, electrophysiological, and hormonal changes (Goleman, 1988; Shapiro, 1980; Shapiro & Walsh, 1984; Brown & Engler, 1986); that different states of consciousness are accompanied by different neurophysiological states (Cahn & Polich, 2006); that increase in alpha activity is observed when meditators are evaluated during meditating compared with control conditions (Aftanas & Golocheikine, 2001; Arambula, Peper, Kawakami, & Gibney, 2001; Dunn, Hartigan, & Mikulas, 1999; Echenhofer, Coombs, & Samten, 1992; Kamei, Toriumi, Kimura, Ohno, Kumano, & Kimura, 2000; Kasamatsu & Hirai, 1966; Khare & Nigam, 2000; Taneli & Krahne, 1987); and that the increase in alpha activity is stronger at rest in meditators than it is in non meditator controls (Aftanas & Golocheikine, 2005; Khare & Nigam, 2000; Travis, 1991; Travis, Tecce, Arenander, &Wallace, 2002). These results suggest that both state and trait alpha changes may emerge from meditation practice. Holzel and Ott (2006) raised the problem of self-selection bias in studies into meditation depth. Similarly people who engage in meditation may already show more alpha activity than people who do not meditate, a precondition that may account for certain of these findings.

One of the least researched aspects of meditation is the transcendent experiences that occur during meditation (Nagel, 1999; West, 1987). …

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