Project Overview

The Varieties of Contemplative Experience research project aims to improve our understanding of the range of experiences associated with the practice of meditation, the ways such experiences are interpreted by meditation practitioners and meditation teachers, and responses to experiences that are reported as unexpected, challenging, difficult, distressing, or impairing of functioning.

The study adopts a qualitative research methodology based in extensive semi-structured interviews with more than 60 Buddhist meditation practitioners and more than 30 Buddhist meditation experts (teachers and clinicians).  Practitioner interviews are organized around the following questions:

  • Have you had any unexpected, challenging, difficult, distressing, or functionally impairing experiences that you associate with meditation?
  • How did you interpret your experiences? What interpretations were offered to you by others?
  • How did you respond to these experiences? What responses have you found particularly helpful or unhelpful?

Expert interviews follow a similar structure but query the experiences experts have observed in others, and how experts interpret and respond to those experiences.

Based upon thematic content analysis, the Varieties of Contemplative Experience project has identified more than 50 types of experiences across seven domains: somatic, affective, cognitive, perceptual, conative, sense of self, and social. The study has also led to the identification of more than 20 influencing factors—comprised of risk factors, remedies, and interpretations—that can impact the nature, duration, and trajectory of meditation experiences.



Palitsky, R., Cooper, D.J., Lindahl, J.R., and Britton, W.B. (2023). Relationships between religious and scientific worldviews in the narratives of Western Buddhists reporting meditation-related challenges. Journal of Contemplative Studies. · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Lindahl, J.R., Cooper, D.J., and Britton, W.B. (2022).  Fear and terror in Buddhist Meditation: A Cognitive Model for Meditation-Induced Changes in Arousal and Affect. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 7(1-2), 147–170. LINK TO ARTICLE   PDF

Lindahl, J.R., Palitsky, R., Cooper, Britton, W.B. (2022) The Impacts of Worldviews on the Onset and Trajectory of Meditation-Related Challenges. Transcultural Psychiatry. LINK TO ARTICLE 

Cooper, D., Lindahl, J.R., Palitsky, R., Britton, W.B. (2021) “Like a Vibration Cascading through the Body”: Energy-Like Somatic Experiences Reported by Western Buddhists. Religions, 12: 1042. PDF  · LINK TO ARTICLE

Goldberg, S.B., Lam, S.U., Britton, W.B., Davidson, R.J. (2021). Prevalence of meditation-related adverse effects in a population-based sample in the United States. Psychotherapy Research. PDF ·LINK TO ARTICLE

Britton, W.B., Lindahl, J.R., Cooper, D.J., Canby, N.K., and Palitsky, R. (2021). Defining and measuring meditation-related adverse effects in mindfulness-based programs. Clinical Psychological Science, 9(6).  LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Lindahl, J.R., Cooper, D.J., Fisher, N.E., Kirmayer, L.J., and Britton, W.B. (2020). Progress or pathology? Differential diagnosis and intervention criteria for meditation-related challenges: perspectives from Buddhist meditation teachers and practitioners. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1905. · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Lindahl, J.R., Britton, W.B., Cooper, D.J., and Kirmayer, L.J. (2021). Challenging and adverse meditation experiences: toward a person-centered approach. In M. Farias, D. Brazier, and M. Lalljee (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Meditation (pp. 841-64). Oxford University Press. · LINK TO PUBLICATION · PDF

Lindahl, J.R. and Britton, W.B. (2019). ‘I have this feeling of not really being here’: Buddhist meditation and changes in sense of self. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 26(7-8), 157-183. · LINK TO ARTICLE ·PDF

Britton, W.B. (2019). Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing? The value of a middle way. Current Opinions in Psychology, 28, 159-165. · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Lindahl, J.R. (2017). Somatic energies and emotional traumas: A qualitative study of practice-related challenges reported by Vajrayāna Buddhists. Religions, 8(8), 153. · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Lindahl, J.R., Fisher, N.E., Cooper, D.J., Rosen, R.K., and Britton, W.B. (2017). The varieties of contemplative experience: a mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges in Western Buddhists. PLoS ONE, 12(5).  LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Britton, W. & Lindahl, J. (2015). The contemplative development mapping project: A new model for interdisciplinary investigation.  Mind & Life Institute Blog.

Lindahl, J.R., Kaplan, C.T., Winget, E.M., and Britton, W.B. (2014). A phenomenology of meditation-induced light experiences: Traditional Buddhist and neurobiological perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 973. · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

Britton, W.B., Lindahl, J.R., Cahn, B.R., Davis, J.H., Goldman, R.E. (2014). Awakening is not a metaphor: The effects of Buddhist meditation practices on basic wakefulness. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307, 64-81. https://doi:10.1111/nyas.12279 · LINK TO ARTICLE · PDF

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