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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Beyond Mindfulness: Meditation for Mystical Experience and Persisting Benefit

  • Author(s): Rappaport, Harrison
  • et al.

Modern psychological research on meditation has demonstrated its extensive psychological and physical benefits. Much of this modern research relies on ‘mindfulness’ training protocols, such as the popular MBSR program (from the 1970s) and similar offshoots. Though certainly useful, these mindfulness interventions are limited in scope. Their contents do not reflect voluminous recent research into related practices, nor the immense breadth of the traditions from which they come. Such mindfulness interventions derive generally from Buddhist teachings, but include only a fraction of the traditional meditative path – and they omit profound, essential elements.

I created a novel curriculum to expand on existing mindfulness protocols, better represent the complete traditions that have been their source, and improve their efficacy by encouraging self-transcendent and mystical-type experiences. This program was offered as a semester-long Berkeley undergraduate course. Self-report assessments revealed myriad benefits: increased psychological well-being, resilience to stress, confidence, purpose; improvement of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and insomnia symptoms; and bolstered compassion, patience, focus, and empathy. 70% of students responded that in terms of overall life value, the meditation course was equal to or greater in significance than anything they had ever experienced.

Students reported surprising levels of mystical experience as a result of the class. Intriguingly, out of all dimensions assessed, only mystical experience possessed a truly significant relationship with total reported participant benefit (Pearson coefficient=0.72). These findings demonstrate the efficacy of this novel meditation protocol, the accessibility of mystical experience with proper instruction, and the central importance of such experience for maximum participant benefit.

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