New Realms of Meditation Research

At the beginning of June, IONS and The Esalen Institute co-hosted an invitational scholarly meeting on the future of meditation research. The meeting was held at the Center for Theory and Research at Esalen, in Big Sur, California, and was co-sponsored by The Fetzer Memorial Trust, The Mental Insight Foundation, and The David Lynch Foundation. 

The past decade has seen a tremendous increase in meditation research. While the field has broadened into numerous domains, many aspects of meditation still remain relatively unexplored. Things like experiences of oneness and interconnectedness, synchronicities, precognition, and visions are embedded in the fabric of most contemplative traditions, but generally remain off-limits for scientists who don't want to risk their careers by straying too far from mainstream norms. And yet, these are some of the aspects that make the study of meditation so important for better understanding human potential and the nature of reality.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather experienced meditation researchers, scholars, philosophers, and meditation teachers together to review the state of the art of modern meditation science, explore less well-studied aspects of meditation, and consider ways to conduct a science of meditation that remains rigorous and also includes a broader perspective on meditation and its potential for advancing human development.

Twenty-five participants attended the meeting, from research institutes across the country, including Santa Clara University, New York University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Brown University, Maharishi University, and the University of California at Berkeley, Irvine, and San Diego, to name just a few. In addition, another dozen scientists and meditation experts who could not attend the meeting are part of an advisory council for this ongoing project.

Cassandra Vieten, IONS President and CEO, was one of the organizers of the meeting. "Part of our work at the Institute of Noetic Sciences is to push the boundaries of scientific research, to encourage the scientific community to include consciousness and subjective experience as legitimate subjects of inquiry," she said. "This conference was an amazing opportunity to encourage some wonderful scientists already investigating meditation to expand what they're paying attention to in their research. I look forward to what we can learn from opening up this field."

The intention of this meeting was to produce concrete results, so attention was paid to creating a collaborative working group, setting specific recommendations regarding future directions, and developing innovative measures and methods that can be used across meditation traditions and studies. Participants plan to publish a paper based on the meeting, conduct collaborative research, and report back at a follow-up meeting next year.