Media

  • Scientific American: Beyond Mindfulness / Advanced Meditation Alters Consciousness and Our Basic Sense of Self

    • Meditation science is now entering a third wave, exploring what we call advanced meditation—deeper and more intense states and stages of practice that often require extended training and can be experienced through increasing mastery. […] [Advanced meditation] can be a gateway to experiences that lead to deep psychological transformation.

      The study of advanced meditation examines meditative development—the unfolding of advanced meditative states and stages of practice. Then there is research on meditative endpoints, which represent the outcomes of advanced meditation. […] We believe that advanced meditation has potentially broad implications for people’s understanding of what it means to be human and for interventions for mental health and well¬being, and it therefore deserves the attention of the scientific community. [Sacchet] leads an effort at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School named the Meditation Research Program, established to develop a comprehensive multidisciplinary understanding of advanced meditation. […] The idea is not just to manage symptoms but to foster a sense of deep and pervasive well-being that affects all aspects of a practitioner’s life.

      One of our objectives is to achieve a scientific understanding that facilitates broader accessibility to these practices. […] [A]dvanced meditation research could revamp the field of mental health, offering entirely new avenues for the treatment of psychiatric disorders and, more generally, fostering a sense of well-being.

      Advanced meditation therefore holds significant and untapped opportunities to diminish suffering and help people flourish. It may even provide a gateway to entirely new ways of understanding our basic humanity. As interest in meditation continues to grow, so does the potential to explore its full spectrum of possibilities for bettering the mental and physical health of individuals and society. Our work in the new wave of advanced meditation research is not just about coping with the stress of modern living. It could improve our understanding of and approach to the mind, mental health and well-being, allowing each of us to lead a more fulfilled, compassionate and ‘enlightened’ life.

      June, 2024

  • Vox: What if you could have a panic attack, but for joy?

    • Neuroscientist Matthew Sacchet, who leads Harvard’s Meditation Research Program, published a study in January that stuck an advanced meditator with 25 years of jhāna experience inside a massive fMRI machine to create a more robust map of what jhāna experience looks like in the brain, homing in on changes in blood and oxygen flow. […] “It is very possible that we might see the jhānas fitting into hospitals, clinics, and perhaps the public in general,” said Sacchet. […] Sacchet, who runs the Harvard lab, is conflicted by the tensions inherent in promoting the jhānas. “On the one hand, my research has contributed to the hype,” he said. “I am deeply committed to raising awareness of these altered states.” But he worries that literally selling the jhānas risks leaning too heavily on promising something in exchange, contributing to the idea of meditation as a goal-oriented practice. “Striving is the antithesis of jhāna,” he said. “Touting the practice and its esoteric benefits may be anathema to the practice itself.” [… Sacchet] told me that his team is “in the process of developing such [advanced meditation] programs to make these kinds of practices more accessible to everyone who might be interested.”

      June, 2024

  • Mass General: A Closer Look into the New Wave of Research in Advanced Meditation

    • Can you expand on the differences between mindfulness and advanced meditation? 

      [Matthew Sacchet (MS)]: “Studying its historical and cultural roots, mindfulness may be understood as a practice of maintaining a moment-by-moment nonjudgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. Practitioners often focus on their breath or body to develop a stable and clear awareness. Advanced meditation, however, takes mindfulness and mediation to a deeper level, incorporating practices such as advanced concentrative absorption meditation or ACAM, and advanced investigative insight meditation or AIIM. Advanced meditation often involves protracted and more disciplined practice compared to conventional modern mindfulness practice. While mindfulness is generally focused on reducing stress related to daily life and work, advanced meditation is concerned with deeper and more profound meditative endpoints.

      How will the field of psychiatry evolve with these discoveries and potential treatments?

      MS: “As our understanding of mindfulness, meditation, advanced meditation, self-transcendence, and the therapeutic use of psychedelics grows, psychiatry may continue to integrate these insights toward increasingly powerful approaches to conceptualizing and treating mental illness. For example, conventional treatments, including behavioral and pharmaceutical approaches, may incorporate new insights from advanced meditation research toward more effective and comprehensive care. The development of new models of mental health that incorporate concepts from advanced meditation, such as human flourishing and self-transcendence, may drive this transformation. Existing mental health models may be updated to integrate core concepts from the science of advanced meditation, perhaps emphasizing the importance of experiences that promote human flourishing such as self-transcendence and overall well-being. Psychiatrists may increasingly incorporate mindfulness, or other forms of meditation and training, to facilitate self-transcendent and other types of experiences as part of clinical care. These possibilities have the capacity to significantly transform mental health care, promising to improve patient outcomes and promote a more integrative approach to psychiatry, and to suffering and happiness more broadly.”

      June, 2024

  • The Harvard Gazette: Had a bad experience meditating? You’re not alone.

    • With more people engaging in mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative and mind-body practices, we thought that altered states and their effects might be common among the general population,” said senior author Matthew D. Sacchet, the director of the Meditation Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “We conducted a series of international surveys to investigate and indeed found that such experiences were widespread. Altered states were most often followed by positive, and sometimes even transformational effects on well-being,” Sacchet added. “With that said, negative effects on well-being were also reported in some cases, with a small subset of individuals reporting substantial suffering.”

      Rather than being extremely unusual and rare, our study found that altered states of consciousness are a common variant of normal human experience,” said Sacchet. “However, we’ve found that those who experience negative outcomes related to these altered states often do not seek help, and that clinicians are poorly prepared to recognize or support these kinds of experiences. This has contributed to what might be considered a public health issue, as a certain proportion of people have difficulty integrating their experiences of altered states into their existing conceptions of self and reality.” […] We should not dismiss meditation and other practices as inherently dangerous, but rather we need to better understand and support meditators to fully realize the potential of these practices,” [Sacchet] said. “Similar to psychotherapy, pharmacology, and other therapeutic tools, it’s important that we learn to best implement and support people when engaging with these powerful practices.” He added, “Ancient meditation manuals from the wisdom traditions may be useful for classifying and understanding altered states of consciousness. They may provide guidance into how to better manage altered states when they may be difficult. We clearly need more research to further study and understand this possibility. Clinical curriculum on altered states of consciousness should be developed to better support clinicians caring for patients experiencing suffering linked to these kinds of experiences. Also, those who teach meditation practices should ensure that participants are aware of potential risk,” he said. “Together, these kinds of safeguards will help to ensure that these very promising and powerful practices are taught and experienced safely.”

      May, 2024

  • The Atlantic: The Meditation Start-Up That’s Selling Bliss on Demand

    • [Advanced meditation] is really powerful” says Matthew Sacchet, the director of the Meditation Research Program at Harvard Medical School. […] Last fall, [Sacchet] published detailed brain-imaging data from a meditator entering the jhana states, with the help of an MRI machine. A fuller understanding of these brain states could have “incredible potential for humanity,” he says, so long as the science is done with rigor. “I worry about a ‘move fast, break things’ approach when it comes to the mind and these deep states of consciousness.”

      March, 2024

  • Forbes: Mental Health Minute With Dr. Matthew Sacchet

    • “One misconception is that meditation is limited to supporting stress reduction and work productivity. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Meditation is so much more than that. My intention with developing advanced meditation research is to help correct this misconception.”

      December, 2023

  • Mass General: Through the Magnifying Glass

    • Our Meditation Research Program is unique in its focus on what we call advanced meditation. […] these [states and stages of meditation] include experiences of deep peace, bliss, and contentment, vivid insights into consciousness including those related to a sense of self, and states of profound compassion that may motivate prosociality, altruism, and generosity. […] Our unofficial lab motto is to ‘bring advanced meditation out of the monastery and into the mainstream.’ My hope is that our program’s research will help raise awareness around the incredible possibilities of meditation training and to help more people realize that they themselves can experience these incredible outcomes. Ultimately, I hope that this work contributes to shifting our society away from selfishness, hate, and ignorance, and toward generosity, compassion, and wisdom.”

      December, 2023

  • Vox: Meditation Is More Than Either Stress Relief or Enlightenment

    • Sacchet is part of a recent turn in meditation research that is putting the fuller, stranger range of meditative experiences under the scrutiny of laboratory conditions. […] “Ultimately, our mission is to understand advanced meditation to scale advanced meditation, and we believe that this will have profound impact on individual well-being and the collective health of society,” said Sacchet. […] Sacchet is expanding the Meditation Research Program into a larger operation — the Center for the Science of Meditation — that aims to conduct gold-standard research on the deep end of meditation experiences. “These types of experiences are often described as transformative,” Sacchet explained, “that is, as laying the foundations for new ways of being, which may include updated understandings of meaning in life, and increased capacities for joy, happiness, and general well-being.” […] “My hope is that ultimately, this work will contribute to bringing advanced meditation out of the monastery,” Sacchet said, describing its “incredible promise for moving beyond addressing mental health issues, toward helping people thrive.”

      August, 2023

  • Harvard Catalyst: Diving into the Deep End of Meditation Research

    • [Sacchet] wants to make it easier for anyone to access the kinds of transcendent states that advanced meditators can sometimes attain. It’s part of a sweeping new research effort that dives into the deep end of advanced contemplative practices, applying rigorous scientific methods to unlock the kinds of phenomena described over thousands of years in the world’s wisdom traditions… [Sacchet Interview:] “[meditation traditions] have described radical possibilities that are thought to be attainable through these [meditative] practices, what you might call psychological transformations. Deep states and ways of being including the end of psychological suffering, various flavors of ecstatic bliss, insights into consciousness, the nature of self or reality, self-transcendence, unification of consciousness with some kind of absolute entity – these and others have all been described in detail. Yet we know very little scientifically about these deep states… The idea is to lead the world in the science of advanced meditation, to conduct cutting-edge research, and to be a global hub for this topic… We want to bring much-needed attention to the scientific understanding of advanced meditation and how to develop programs to scale it to more people.”

      June, 2023

  • Mass General: The Next Frontier of Meditation Science

    • Many different spiritual, philosophical, and contemplative traditions describe benefits of meditation and have done so for thousands of years, but many of those claims and beliefs haven’t been addressed by modern science,” Dr. Sacchet says. “How we understand those states and stages of advanced meditation is the core of my research. If we can understand these experiences and practices deeply — and in accordance with well-established scientific approaches — we can apply these insights in different clinical and non-clinical contexts.” […] “If we can empirically research and understand the limits and endpoints of meditation practice, as well as develop ways to help people more effectively access these states and stages, we could truly change the world,” Dr. Sacchet says. “Imagine the ripple effects of only a small percentage of the population practicing advanced meditation. That’s something much bigger than any individual or institution — and it’s worth fighting for.”

      November, 2022

  • Forbes: 30 Under 30

    • Why are people happy or unhappy? What does it mean to pay attention to something? Sacchet studies the brains of people who have major depressi[ve] disorder; of those who have attentional issues; and of people who are training their brains with activities like meditation to try and answer these questions.

      February, 2017

  • Vice: How Electrotherapy Could Help Improve Concentration

    • This research certainly has possible implications for people struggling with conditions such as depression, ADHD or anxiety, acknowledged Sacchet. But he thinks the significance of their findings is even broader. “We often think about the medical context of research, that is, how a given result might influence people with certain disorders. But I think it’s more general than that,” said Sacchet. “Just about everyone could benefit from paying better attention - paying more attention to things that facilitate their well-being, and less attention to things that don’t.”

      February, 2015

  • Mic: Scientists Want To Unlock the Secrets of Distraction — and Use Them to Your Advantage

    • Sacchet points out that the research is about more than just “distraction” - it’s about attention control. He said identifying ways to harness this power benefits more than just individuals with psychiatric disorders and chronic pain, it would probably help everyone. “Improved attention can help people be more effective in general, whether it’s in fast-paced traffic, engaging with friends or understanding one’s own mind,” Sacchet told Mic. “Attention is a fundamental aspect of engaging with the world, and therefore the implications of better attention are really quite broad.”

      February, 2015

  • San Francisco Chronicle: Stanford Studies Monks’ Meditation, Compassion

    • There’s a concern that scientists might be ‘trying to prove meditation,’ but [I’m] trying to understand the brain,” said Matthew Sacchet. “The research has important possibilities for medicine, and also it could get rid of some of the fuzz and help make meditation more empirically grounded,” he said. “If there is some kind of underlying structure to be understood scientifically, it could make things more clear for everyone.”

      July, 2012

  • Forbes: Mindfulness Is More Than a Buzzword: A Look Behind the Movement

    • As mindfulness becomes a buzzword in our modern world, its meaning has grown increasingly murky. So what, exactly, is it? Mindfulness is not a new idea. Core to Buddhism, the concept can be traced as far back as the fifth century BC […] one of the most widely-used definitions of mindfulness: “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” […] [M]indfulness has been a topic of extensive research, much of which suggests that the practice has considerable physical and mental health-related benefits.

      September, 2017

  • Select Media

    • Mindfulness. December, 2014

    • What if you could have a panic attack, but for joy? May, 2024

    • How practicing mindfulness can unlock human consciousness. June, 2024

    • The Meditation Start-Up That’s Selling Bliss on Demand. March, 2024

    • Jhāna Drama with Vince F. Horn. June, 2024

    • How Brain Keeps Distractions at Bay. February, 2015

    • 9 Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder. December, 2014

    • New Study Discovers How Brain Can Ignore Distractions. March, 2018

    • Neuroscientists Try To Measure the Benefits of Meditation. April, 2024

    • Mental Health Minute. December, 2023

    • 30 Under 30. February, 2017

    • Mindfulness Is More Than a Buzzword. September, 2017

    • Sacchet Profile. February, 2017

    • NHS Recognises That Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Depression. February, 2013

    • The Next Frontier of Meditation Science. December, 2022

    • Diving Into the Deep End of Meditation Research. June, 2023

    • Had a bad experience meditating? You’re not alone. May, 2024

    • Mindfulness Meditation: How It Works in the Brain. February, 2013

    • Food Cravings May Be Treatable Through Electric Shock Therapy. December, 2017

    • Meditation Prevents Depression, Reduces Stress and Chronic Pain. February, 2013

    • How Your Brain Ignores Distractions. February, 2015

    • The Next Frontier of Meditation Science. November, 2022

    • Through the Magnifying Glass: The Meditation Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. December, 2023

    • The Next Wave of Meditation Research Will Look to Advanced Practitioners for Insights. May, 2024

    • A Closer Look into the New Wave of Research in Advanced Meditation. June, 2024

    • Matthew Sacchet, PhD: Advanced Meditation Alters Consciousness and Our Basic Sense of Self (Scientific American). July, 2024

    • Within-Subject Reliability in fMRI Studies of Advanced Meditation. July, 2024

    • Scientists Want To Unlock the Secrets of Distraction — and Use Them to Your Advantage. February, 2015

    • How Electrotherapy Could Help Improve Concentration. February, 2015

    • Brain Implants Can Prevent Sexual Abuse. December, 2017

    • How Your Brain Ignores Distractions. February, 2015

    • Scientists Say Brain Implant May Be the Key to Beating Addiction. January, 2018

    • Depression, Daughters, and Cellular Aging. January, 2015

    • Pain Really Is All in Your Head and Emotion Controls Intensity. February, 2015

    • Could a Zap to the Brain Derail Destructive Impulses? December, 2017

    • Controlling Brain Waves May Be Key to Meditation Benefits. February, 2013

    • An Electrical Brain Switch Shuts Off Food Cravings. December, 2017

    • Stanford Studies Monks’ Meditation, Compassion. July, 2012

    • An Electrical Brain Switch Shuts Off Food Cravings. December, 2017

    • Beyond Mindfulness. June, 2024

    • Neural Basis for Benefits of Meditation. February, 2013

    • Spectrum Awards Innovation Grants. February, 2014

    • Brain Zap Saps Destructive Urges. December, 2017

    • Scientists Figure Out How the Brain Ignores Distractions. February, 2015

    • Brain Science: The Patriots Will Forget Deflategate. January, 2015

    • Meditation is More Than Either Stress Relief or Enlightenment. August, 2023

    • What if you could have a panic attack, but for joy? June, 2024

    • Betsy DeVos Has Invested Millions in This ‘Brain Training’ Company. So I Checked It Out. May, 2017

    • Can Meditation Gadgets Help You Reduce Your Stress—and Find Happiness? December, 2015

    • Can We Use Distraction to Our Advantage? February, 2015