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BioMed Research International
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 891671, 8 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/891671
Review Article

Measuring a Journey without Goal: Meditation, Spirituality, and Physiology

1School of Psychology, Massey University, Private Bag 102904, North Shore Mail Centre, Auckland 0745, New Zealand
2Mind and Life Institute, Amherst College, 271 South Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA 01002, USA

Received 21 August 2014; Revised 17 November 2014; Accepted 26 November 2014

Academic Editor: Elisa Kozasa

Copyright © 2015 Heather Buttle. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

The secular practice of meditation is associated with a range of physiological and cognitive effects, including lower blood pressure, lower cortisol, cortical thickening, and activation of areas of the brain associated with attention and emotion regulation. However, in the context of spiritual practice, these benefits are secondary gains, as the primary aim is spiritual transformation. Despite obvious difficulties in trying to measure a journey without goal, spiritual aspects involved in the practice of meditation should also be addressed by experimental study. This review starts by considering meditation in the form of the relaxation response (a counterpart to the stress response), before contrasting mindfulness research that emphasizes the role of attention and alertness in meditation. This contrast demonstrates how reference to traditional spiritual texts (in this case Buddhist) can be used to guide research questions involving meditation. Further considerations are detailed, along with the proposal that research should triangulate spiritual textual sources, first person accounts (i.e., neurophenomenology), and physiological/cognitive measures in order to aid our understanding of meditation, not only in the secular context of health benefits, but also in the context of spiritual practice.