The Science of Meditation: From Mysticism to Mainstream Western Psychology
Pevreal, J. C. (2012). The Science of Meditation: From Mysticism to Mainstream Western Psychology (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/7737
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/7737
Psychological applications of meditative practice have become the ‘third-wave’ tools in the psychology clinician’s therapeutic tool kit. Meditation techniques for numerous psychological disorders, as well as the psychological impacts of chronic medical conditions, are being used by a growing number of mainstream clinicians in Western healthcare contexts, which were previously the domain of alternative practitioners, and formerly the sometimes secretive and mysterious domain of the orthodox and esoteric spiritual traditions. Many questions arise regarding how this conversion has taken place and why. This thesis explores some of the issues surrounding the adoption, reduction, and application of meditation practices from the Eastern and Western origins and transmission to mainstream Western healthcare contexts. By tracing the history of the rise in popularity of meditation in the mainstream Western health sciences, particularly within the mental health sector over the past century or so, it is intended to contribute to an answer to, in part, the question of ‘why’ and, in part, the question of ‘how’. A further question of whether sufficient cognizance has been taken of the subjective experiences and understandings of long-term meditation practitioners and what they can contribute to Western psychological understanding of meditation—its application potentials and pitfalls—is explored. Why is this important? At present, being intelligent, and highly trained, as most clinicians have come to believe they are, it has become somewhat taken for granted that reading journal articles or books on meditation, and attending a workshop or two, perhaps even a week-long residential training retreat, qualifies one to begin using meditation processes with clients. However, is clinician training and competency in the use of meditation currently sufficient to ensure its safe and appropriate use, particularly for psychologically impaired clients, given the phenomena reported by long-term meditators and the judicious preparatory processes required by teachers in the wisdom traditions of origin? Using qualitative methodology and a social constructionist viewing lens, I elucidate whether Western psychology’s reductive approach may create barriers to the growth of a knowledge-field of the potential of meditation for personal and collective development and wellbeing—which has existed since antiquity, but which current psychological interest indicates is by no means antiquated. Twenty three semi-guided indepth interviews were conducted with 18 long-term meditators from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, to explore their subjective experiences—the phenomena they encountered and the meanings they ascribed to their meditation practices. What became apparent through the course of this research was the divergence that exists between the positivist Western scientific literature on meditation and the experiences and understandings of this sample of meditators. The implications that arise from a paradigm clash between the fundamental premises of a positivist approach to a Western science of meditation for the healthcare sector and those of the wisdom traditions of origin are discussed. Finally, potential paths of resolution to enable contributions to the development of a knowledge-field of meditation for Western healthcare contexts from the understandings and technologies of both ways of knowing are mooted.
University of Waikato
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