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October 2021

A Rorschach Study of the Stages of Mindfulness Meditation

Author(s): Engler, J.

Journal/Book: Manuskriptdruck. 232-262.

Abstract: The purpose of this study has been to illustrate an approach to the empirical validation of the classical scriptural accounts and current reports of meditation attainments using a single instrument, the Rorschach. The Rorschachs in the respective criterion groups were so obviously different as to merit this preliminary report, even without completion of the quantitative data analysis. These Rorschachs illustrate that the classical subjective reports of meditation stages are more than religious belief systems; they are valid accounts of the perceptual changes that occur with intensive meditation toward the goal of understanding perception and alleviating suffering.As it happens, the Rorschach, in addition to being a personality test, is an excellent measure of perception for such an investigation. Ducey (1975) has argued that the Rorschach is a measure of "self-created reality." The task requires a subject to attribute meaning to a set of ambiguous stimuli. In so doing, the experimenter learns something of how the subject constructs an inner representation of the world. This task is congruent with the meditator's own practice, namely, to analyze the process by which his mind works in creating the internal and external world. Much to our surprise, the unusual performance an these Rorschachs for most subjects seemed to give a clear indication of the most important changes in mental functioning that occur during the major stages of the meditative path.To the extent that these findings are valid, the prospect of quick advance along the path of meditation is not realistic. Note that after 3 months of continuous intensive daily practice about one-half the Ss have shown very little change, at least as defined in terms of formal meditation. The other half achieved some proficiency in concentration. Only three perfected Access concentration and began to have insights similar to those described in the classical accounts of the insight series of meditations. Only one of these, in turn, advanced in the insight series to the stage of Equanimity, a stage short of enlightenment. This slow rate of progress, at least for western students, is humbling, but it is also consistent with general patterns of growth. It should also inspire confidence. Such unusual and far-reaching transformations of perceptual organization and character structure could not possibly be the work of 3 months or a year, or could they be attained by short-cuts without an adequate foundation being laid first. Patience, forebearance, and a long-enduring mind, or what one master has called "constancy" (Suzuki Roshi, 1970), is listed among the traditional "paramis" or perfections required of practitioners. On the other hand, both the self-reports as well as the test data from both the South Asian and the American study seem to validate the hypothesis that meditation is something very much more than stress-reduction and psychotherapy; and that its apparent goal-states are commensurate with the effort and perseverence they undoubtedly require.Meditation, then, is not exactly a form of therapy but a soteriology,i.e., a means of liberation. It is said to be an extensive path of development that leads to a particular end: total liberation from the experience of ordinary human suffering and genuine wisdom that comes from true perception of the nature of mind and its construction of reality. Western therapy utilizes ideational and affective processes as its vehicle of treatment toward the end of behavioral and affective change. This is not so of formal meditation. As seen in the Rorschachs, ideational and affective processes do not even occur to any significant extent in the initial development of samadhi, though they reoccur much later as objects of, not vehicles for, insight. Though meditation concerns itself with a thorough analysis of all mental operations-ideational, affective, and perceptual-yet meditation is primarily an analysis of perception of the world and how ignorance of peceptual processes contributes to human suffering. Trait transformations are indeed very difficult to achieve. Meditation may provide enduring and radical trait benefits only to a very few who attempt to practice. Yet, for those of us who have had occasion to come in contact with and study the few masters, like the one whose Rorschach is given here, they are indeed unusual and deeply compassionate individuals who stand as rare living examples of an ideal: civilization beyond discontent.


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