In late 2022, the seventh paper from the Varieties of Contemplative Experience (VCE) project was published. Entitled The roles and impacts of worldviews in the context of meditation-related challenges, the paper was authored by Jared Lindahl, Roman Palitsky, David Cooper, and Willoughby Britton, and was published in the journal Transcultural Psychiatry. Previous research has shown that worldviews can change during periods of crisis and that worldviews can both provide a coping resource as well as contribute to distress. Accordingly, we wanted to know what role worldviews and changes in worldviews were playing among meditation practitioners in the VCE study. The research team spent nearly one year reanalyzing the qualitative data from each practitioner and found that worldviews served five distinct functions in the context of challenges.
Some practitioners and teachers explained that training in Buddhist worldviews could have a preparatory function that could help to alleviate or mitigate against challenges or distress. Conversely, some also said that it was a lack of worldviews that contributed to or furthered meditation-related distress. Worldviews could also serve to normalize meditation-related challenges by situating them within an explanatory context, whether religious, psychological, or scientific. However, various kinds of worldviews were identified as being risk factors for meditation-related challenges; these included idealization of teachers or teachings, viewing difficulties in terms of a purification narrative, beliefs leading to a striving or effortful approach to meditation practice, and specific challenges associated with both Buddhist views and psychiatric appraisals. Finally, meditation practitioners described how their interactions with Buddhist and scientific worldviews changed over time required interpersonal and social negotiation, raising issues around the types of expertise (or lack there of) held by both meditation teachers and psychiatrists, as well as concerns around lack of fit or cultural mismatch. Indeed, as found in other research, meditators who actively engaged with assessing their worldviews and their goals for meditation practice typically rated that as being helpful, and none reported such engagements as harmful to any degree. Understanding how practitioners and teachers navigate various worldviews is particularly important given that religious, psychological, and scientific interpretations of meditation-related challenges are available to meditators in the west.
This event take place Wednesday February 15th from 11 – 12:30pm pacific time / 2 – 3:30pm eastern time