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Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Self-Transcendent States: Perceived Body Boundaries and Spatial Frames of Reference

Abstract

Objectives

Mindfulness training is believed to encourage self-transcendent states, but little research has examined this hypothesis. This study examined the effects of mindfulness training on two phenomenological features of self-transcendence: (1) perceived body boundary dissolution and (2) allocentric spatial frame of reference.

Methods

A sample of healthy, young adults (n = 45) were randomized to five sessions of mindfulness training or an active listening control condition.

Results

Results indicated that mindfulness training decreased perceived body boundaries (F4,172 = 6.010, p < .001, η2 = .12) and encouraged more allocentric frames of reference (F4,168 = 2.586, p = .039, η2 = .06). The expected inverse relationship was observed between perceived body boundaries and allocentric frames of reference ((β = − .58, p = .001)), and path analysis revealed that the effect of mindfulness training on allocentric frames of reference was mediated by decreased perceived body boundaries (β = .24, se = .17, CI: 0.11 to 0.78).

Conclusions

Taken together, study results suggest that mindfulness training alters practitioners’ experience of self, relaxing the boundaries of the self and extending the spatial frame of reference further beyond the physical body. Future studies are needed to explore the psychophysiological changes that co-occur with phenomenological reports of self-transcendence and the behavioral consequences following self-transcendent experiences.

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Funding

Adam Hanley was supported by a Varela Award from the Mind and Life Institute. Eric Garland was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA042033) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (R61AT009296).

Author information

AWH: reviewed the literature and summarized previous, related work; conducted the analyses; and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. MD: collaborated with the design and writing of the final manuscript. ELG: collaborated with the design and writing of the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Eric L. Garland.

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Conflict of Interest

Adam Hanley, Michael Dambrun, and Eric Garland declare no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Ethical Approval

The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Utah in 2016 (IRB_00088540).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Hanley, A.W., Dambrun, M. & Garland, E.L. Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Self-Transcendent States: Perceived Body Boundaries and Spatial Frames of Reference. Mindfulness (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01330-9

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Keywords

  • Self-transcendence
  • Mindfulness
  • Spatial frame of reference
  • Perceived body boundary
  • Egocentric frame of reference
  • Allocentric frame of reference