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Pushing The Barriers Of Meditation Research

Eric Nelson's picture

Pushing the Barriers of Meditation Research

“How do we advance an entire field to be more inclusive of the broader range of human experiences?” asked Cassandra Vieten, a clinical psychologist and accomplished researcher during her recent plenary talk at the Science & Nonduality conference in San Jose, Ca. A provocative question, to be sure, and one that could apply to just about any line of scientific investigation.

For Vieten, who holds senior positions at a number of San Francisco area research institutes, such investigations are focused largely on what she describes as “the frontiers of consciousness” including the effect of meditation on personal health and well-being. Even in this decidedly human arena, however, Vieten sees room for growth.

“Conventional scientific studies on meditation so far have focused almost completely on individuals above the neck,” she said. “We’re really hyper-focused on the brain” and not enough on our connections with one another. How does our state of mind affect our loved ones? Why do we like to meditate in groups? In what ways does meditation instill a sense of hope and meaning?

“I think that many people engage in meditation because, when they do, they have a deeply authoritative subjective experience of not being alone in the world but, instead, being completely interconnected,” said Vieten. “And if that’s true, then we can measure that interconnection scientifically.”

For some, meditation serves as a kind of mental cleansing, a conscious and often guided effort to empty the mind of any stressful or distracting thoughts. For others, meditation is more akin to the prayers of Old Testament writers who would ponder (the Hebrew root of “meditate”) some aspect of the Divine as a way to restore a sense of mental and physical balance, as in “…his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalms 1:2).

That said, Vieten was careful to point out that meditation, or by association prayer, is not simply a substitute for conventional medical treatment.

“So far, most of the research is treating meditation like it’s the new form of aspirin or a new form of Prozac,” she said, “and if I give you this dosage of meditation, how much improvement am I going to see in your symptoms?”

"But what happens," Vieten asked, "when an individual’s meditative practice includes both ups and downs, even a complete reevaluation of one’s identity?" What if the mental “deconstruction process,” as she describes it, appears daunting, even if in the end it leaves you in a much better place?

“Science has a hard time dealing with this because we want the drug to be useful, and we might call this an ‘adverse side effect,’” said Vieten. “If any of you have been through a process like this, you know that it may be something that’s required for transformation.”

So why are these aspects of meditation, over and above the well-documented health benefits – the interconnectedness and moral growth the practice inspires and the personal transformation it often hastens – not being studied more widely?

Vieten offers up a few possibilities.

“The critique I get from most people is, ‘That’s just a load of pseudoscience,’” she said. “So ‘pseudoscience’ means ‘fake science,’ using scientific language to pretend like you’re studying something when you’re not really… even if the methods are completely consistent with science.”

“So, when people get past the pseudoscience argument,” Vieten continued, “the next thing is, ‘These topics, regardless of their importance, are not amenable to scientific investigation, they’re invisible, they’re imaginary; we just can’t do it.”

Other barriers to progress include the assumption that such research should be held to a higher standard than conventional studies or that, in Vieten’s words, science simply can’t take it.

“I get a lot of emotion from skeptical scientists who are really [upset] that we’re doing this kind of research,” she said during an earlier talk at Burning Man 2012. “They think it makes them look bad, that we’re bringing down the whole field, that we’re damaging the whole endeavor of science, that we’re contaminating it with mysticism.

“All I can say is, I can’t disagree more.”

Regardless of how long this last line of defense holds firm – that is, the human mind’s general reluctance to shift paradigms, particularly when it involves giving up a largely matter-based view of things – Vieten would argue that the cumulative effects of the so-called mind-body-spirit connection can no longer be denied.

“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena,” she said, quoting inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla, “it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”

This is the kind of advancement we can all look forward to.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear weekly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California (norcalcs.org). This article originally appeared on Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com and is used with permission.


Tink's picture

My Breast Cancer

Hi Dr. Rankin,
Thank you for giving me the knowledge and courage to advocate for my own health. My cancer was caught really early and I had the surgery already. I was not going to do the radiation but I feel I've been bullied into it. It starts today at 1pm. 33 sessions. (BTW, my oncologist and surgeon are women. I like that.)
(A copy of my letter to my doctors I'm sending today)
January 2, 2014
Hi Dr. Brown,
I have decided to start the radiation treatment but with much trepidation. I don’t think it’s good for my body and I think the surgery has gotten all of the cancer out. I’ve been reading articles like the attached and I have lots of doubts.
I wonder why we don’t talk more about diet and exercise and my mental health and happiness. I wonder why a nutritionist is not on my team.
The attached article again mentions that every person has cancer cells in their body. I mentioned this to you but you said that is not correct. I am confused and concerned about this conflict of information.
I like you and feel you really care about my health. I like Dr. Metkus also. I really liked Dr. Young but I felt he was threatening me with a complete mastectomy in the letter he sent. (I don’t know why you weren’t copied since I thought you were my main cancer doctor.) I’m going ahead with the radiation treatment despite the letter he sent, not because of it, but I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do.

Valarie Kitaura
cc: Andrea Metkus, MD.; Lindsay Petit, NP
(article I attached)


1. Every person has cancer cells in the body. These cancer cells do not show up in the standard tests until they have multiplied to a few billion. When doctors tell cancer patients that there are no more cancer cells in their bodies after treatment, it just means the tests are unable to detect the cancer cells because they have not reached the detectable size.

2. Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person’s lifetime.

3. When the person’s immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.

4. When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors.

5. To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system.

6. Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.

7. Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.

8. Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.

9. When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications.

10. Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.

11. An effective way to battle cancer is to STARVE the cancer cells by not feeding it with foods it needs to multiple.
What cancer cells feed on:
a. Sugar is a cancer-feeder. By cutting off sugar it cuts off one important food supply to the cancer cells. Note: Sugar substitutes like NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, etc are made with Aspartame and it is harmful. A better natural substitute would be Manuka honey or molasses but only in very small amounts. Table salt has a chemical added to make it white in colour. Better alternative is Bragg’s aminos or sea salt.

b. Milk causes the body to produce mucus, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucus. By cutting off milk and substituting with unsweetened soy milk, cancer cells will starved.

c. Cancer cells thrive in an acid environment. A meat-based diet is acidic and it is best to eat fish, and a little chicken rather than beef or pork. Meat also contains livestock antibiotics, growth hormones and parasites, which are all harmful, especially to people with cancer.

d. A diet made of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains, seeds, nuts and a little fruits help put the body into an alkaline environment. About 20% can be from cooked food including beans. Fresh vegetable juices provide live enzymes that are easily absorbed and reach down to cellular levels within 15 minutes t o nourish and enhance growth of healthy cells.
To obtain live enzymes for building healthy cells try and drink fresh vegetable juice (most vegetables including bean sprouts) and eat some raw vegetables 2 or 3 times a day. Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).

e. Avoid coffee, tea, and chocolate, which have high caffeine. Green tea is a better alternative and has cancer-fighting properties. Water–best to drink purified water, or filtered, to avoid known toxins and heavy metals in tap water. Distilled water is acidic, avoid it.

12. Meat protein is difficult to digest and requires a lot of digestive enzymes. Undigested meat remaining in the intestines will become putrified and leads to more toxic buildup.

13. Cancer cell walls have a tough protein covering. By refraining from or eating less meat it frees more enzymes to attack the protein walls of cancer cells and allows the body’s killer cells to destroy the cancer cells.

14. Some supplements build up the immune system (IP6, Flor-ssence, Essiac, anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, EFAs etc.) to enable the body’s own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E are known to cause apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the body’s normal method of disposing of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells.

15. Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor.
Anger, unforgiving and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.

16. Cancer cells cannot thrive in an oxygenated environment. Exercising daily, and deep breathing help to get more oxygen down to the cellular level. Oxygen therapy is another means employed to destroy cancer cells.

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