The Varieties of Contemplative Experience: Context Matters
Buddhist-derived meditation practices, particularly mindfulness meditation, are being applied to medical conditions, psychiatric disorders, schools, and businesses for stress reduction and the promotion of well-being. These secular applications are largely contextualized in a medical health model, without much attention to or knowledge of traditional Buddhist texts, which carefully outline contemplative practices trajectories and associated experiences. As a result, the widespread application of meditation in clinical and secular settings is proceeding without much knowledge of the full range of experiences that can arise in the context of practice. As more people begin to meditate in the West, more are encountering meditation experiences that are well documented in Buddhist texts yet unexpected in secular contexts. Without adequate knowledge of the range of possible meditation-related experiences, there is a risk that in the secular applications — where meditation training is divorced from its traditional religious, social, and cultural contexts — these experiences could be misunderstood, pathologized, or improperly managed. In order to thoroughly understand the contemplative path and all that it entails, our research team interviewed more than 60 well-known meditation teachers, practitioners, and Buddhist scholars about the range of contemplative experiences that can arise in the context of meditation practices.