Neuroscience and Psychology of Meditation in Everyday Life: Searching for the Essence of Mind
This book resulted from my exploration of long-term meditation practice both as a meditator and as a scientist. In over 16 years of my meditation practice I have experienced first-hand, and also witnessed in others’ meditation progression, many of the common challenges practitioners encounter in the process of developing long-term meditation practice. These seem to range from the beginner’s misconceptions about what meditation is and about the overall trajectory of meditation training, to ‘fossilization’ of meditation practice in long-term practitioners who are not able to progress beyond a particular stage. Yet, I have also encountered advanced, highly accomplished practitioners who shared the challenges they experienced in their long-term meditation training. A common topic in their comments was that the challenges made them question fundamental assumptions about their existence, the purpose and meaning of their life, and this process in turn catalyzed their meditation progress.
Alongside this experiential learning, as a meditation researcher I have repeatedly observed over the last decade that despite the recent boom in studies on meditation, most of them apply a short-term perspective of meditation and neglect the role of meditation in the development of purpose and meaning in life. I found this somewhat perplexing given that in the traditional contexts meditation training is intended as a long-term path and the primary goal of meditation is to enable practitioners to explore deep questions about their existence. This observation suggested to me that if meditation-based approaches are to become effective tools in supporting health and well-being across the life-span, research and applications targeting long-term effects of meditation and focus on existential well-being will be of essential importance in the next phase of development in this field.
Together, my explorations both at the personal practice and scientific research levels pointed to the same implications about the potential of long-term meditation practice in meeting a fundamental human need for experiential understanding of meaning and purpose in life – existential balance. This became the overarching theme of this book. It is my hope that the book will be helpful to those teaching, researching, practicing or developing long-term meditation training.
List of abbreviations
1 The new science of meditation
What is the science of meditation missing?
The mind’s capacity to self-regulate
Purpose, meaning and modes of existential awareness
Existential drive, health and well-being
Towards a long-term perspective of meditation
2 Long-term meditation practice
Neural plasticity, body physiology and meditation
The state and trait effects of meditation
The quantity and quality of meditation practice
Formal and informal meditation
Adverse effects of meditation
Developing a long-term perspective of meditation
What is mindfulness?
How to develop mindfulness?
Neuroscience of mindfulness
Mindfulness, self-regulation and existential well-being
A day of mindfulness practice
Mindfulness from a long-term practice perspective
4 Compassion and related qualities
What is compassion? A Buddhist perspective
What is compassion? A Western scientific perspective
Developing compassion and related qualities in the Buddhist context
Neuroscience of compassion and loving kindness
Compassion, self-regulation and existential well-being
A day of compassion practice
Compassion from a long-term practice perspective
5 Visualization in meditation practice
What is visualization-based meditation?
Developing visualization-based meditation practice in the Buddhist context
Neuroscience of visualization-based meditation
Visualization-based meditation, self-regulation and well-being
A day of visualization-based meditation
Visualization-based meditation from a long-term practice perspective
6 Existential insight and dream yoga
What is existential insight? The Western approach
What is existential insight? The Buddhist approach
Developing existential insight in daytime and in dream yoga practice
Neuroscience of existential insight and dream yoga practices
Existential insight, self-regulation and existential well-being
Twenty-four hours of meditation practice
Existential insight practice from a long-term perspective
7 The state of existential balance
What is the state of existential balance?
Developing the state of existential balance
Neuroscience of the state of existential balance
The state of existential balance, self-regulation and existential well-being
The state of existential balance in everyday life
The state of existential balance from a long-term practice perspective
8 The potential of contemplative science
Contemplative science in healthcare
Developmental contemplative science
Contemplative science and society
Challenges facing contemplative science
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