Relationships between Meditation Depth, Absorption, Meditation Practice, and Mindfulness: A Latent Variable Approach

By Hölzel, Britta; Ott, Ulrich | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, July 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Relationships between Meditation Depth, Absorption, Meditation Practice, and Mindfulness: A Latent Variable Approach


Hölzel, Britta, Ott, Ulrich, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


ABSTRACT: Meditation experiences evolve along a spectrum, ranging from an effortful struggle with the technique to deep transpersonal states where all dualities dissolve. The present study investigated to what extent the depth of meditation is influenced by the amount of meditation practice and the personality trait of absorption, and whether deep experiences influence the mindfulness of meditators in everyday life. A set of questionnaires (Meditation Depth Questionnaire, Tellegen Absorption Scale, and Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory) was distributed to meditators (N = 251) practicing different techniques. A structural equation modeling analysis revealed that absorption exerted a stronger influence on meditation depth (path coefficient: .48) than the amount of meditation practice (path coefficient: .21). Mindfulness was strongly influenced by meditation depth (path coefficient: .42) and moderately by absorption (path coefficient: .21). These complex relations between practice, personality, meditation experiences, and everyday behavior should be considered in future research on transpersonal states induced by meditation.

Insight into our true nature is an ultimate goal of all spiritual traditions. In many mystical traditions, meditation practice is one primary approach to reach transpersonal states of non-duality denoted with a variety of terms (unio mystica, samadhi, nirvana, satori, transcendental consciousness). During the deepest states of meditation, profound changes in the perception of reality and the self occur (Gifford-May & Thompson, 1994). Irrespective of the meditation technique, advanced practitioners report rather similar experiences, which can be arranged along a dimension of meditation depth (Piron, 2001). This dimension is conceived as a spectrum ranging from an effortful struggle with the requirements of the chosen technique to the realization of the fundamental ground of all being, where all dualities dissolve (Piron, 2001). In the current study on meditation experiences, the concept of meditation depth is used as the key component, because it takes into account the differences in experiences between individuals and can be assessed quantitatively. From the perspective of meditation research the question as to which factors determine the progress of meditation is intriguing. Traditional teachings emphasize the importance of regular practice, e.g. the yoga sutras of Patanjali (sutra I.14; Vivekananda, 2001). However, the amount of practice required to reach deep meditations also depends on the inclination and openness towards mystical states, i.e., it is a matter of personality. In this respect, the personality trait of absorption is highly relevant, because it includes the openness for mystical states (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974) and the meditative skill to focus on an object without being disturbed (Smith, 1987), which is a key requirement for successful meditation.

A further interesting question concerning deep meditation experiences is their significance for everyday life. While an extensive body of literature exists on meditation and its effects (Murphy & Donovan, 1997; Shapiro & Walsh, 2003), the impact of deep experiences on everyday life has been rarely investigated. What are the consequences of transpersonal experiences during deep meditation? Are they only passing events or do they lead to sustained alterations of the mindset? Empirical research on these questions is scarce but it can be assumed that such experiences should influence a person's behavior and perspective on life. Anecdotal reports describe a variety of effects such as heightened awareness and less automatic behavior during daily routines, acceptance and appreciation of one's life, as well as a detached observer position that reduces reactions to distressing events and suffering in general (Hetherington, 2003; Kapleau Roshi, 1989).

Mindfulness is a key concept that comprises all these aspects and is increasingly considered relevant for clinical treatment modalities (Baer, 2003; Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005). …

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