Mindfulness and Buddhism
In 1998, before starting university, I spent 6 months teaching English in Qingdao, China. Whilst I was there, I became fascinated by meditation and Buddhism. This interest was heightened the following year, when I returned to travel around China and Tibet, visiting an amazing array of Buddhist and Taoist monastaries. Since then, I have sought to follow meditation and Buddhism, both in my personal life, and as a researcher...
Lomas, T., Garraway, E., Stanton, C., & Ivtzan, I. (2018). Masculinity in the midst of mindfulness: Exploring the gendered experiences of at-risk adolescent boys. Men and Masculinities. doi: 10.1177/1097184X18756709
Teenage boys are a source of considerable concern in society, with generally poorer health, educational, and social outcomes than their female counterparts. Of particular concern are “at-risk” adolescents, who by definition are liable to poorer outcomes than peers not deemed at-risk. However, there are indications that activities such as mindfulness may offer opportunities for such adolescents to negotiate more positive constructions of masculinity. This study piloted a new four-week mindfulness-based intervention, created specifically for a group of eight at-risk adolescent boys at a school in London. In-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with participants before and after the intervention and analyzed using grounded theory. The data revealed an overarching theme of “pressure control.” Participants depicted themselves as facing multiple pressures, many of which related to making the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. However, the context of the intervention enabled them to generate a masculine construction in which they were able to reclaim agency and self-control. Notably, such control was often exercised in the direction of facilitating emotional connection and agility, thus subverting traditional masculine expectations. The results show that at-risk adolescent boys are capable of more nuanced and skilled emotional competencies than they are often given credit for.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of mindfulness-based interventions on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-018-1062-5
Efforts to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals include mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). To understand the value of such initiatives, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of empirical studies pertaining to the use of MBIs with healthcare professionals. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016 (PROSPERO registration number: CRD42016032899). Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of well-being outcomes acquired in relation to MBIs. Forty-one papers met the eligibility criteria, consisting of a total of 2101 participants. Studies were examined for two broad classes of well-being outcomes: (a) “negative” mental health measures such as anxiety, depression, and stress; (b) “positive” indices of well-being, such as life satisfaction, together with outcomes associated with well-being, such as emotional intelligence. MBIs were generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures (albeit with moderate effect sizes), and mindfulness does appear to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly high-quality randomised control trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). A systematic review of the impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing of healthcare professionals. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 7(3), 319–355. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22515
Objective: Among efforts to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals are initiatives based around mindfulness meditation. To understand the value of such initiatives, we conducted a systematic review of empirical studies pertaining to mindfulness in healthcare professionals. Method: Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of mindfulness and well-being outcomes acquired in relation to practice. 81 papers met the eligibility criteria, comprising a total of 3,805 participants. Studies were principally examined for outcomes such as burnout, distress, anxiety, depression, and stress. Results: Mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures (although results were more equivocal with respect to some outcomes, most notably burnout). Conclusion: Overall, mindfulness does appear to improve the well-being of healthcare professionals. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly high-quality randomized controlled trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review and meta-analysis of their impact upon wellbeing. Journal of Positive Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2018.1519588
Given the demanding nature of many professions, efforts are ongoing to develop initiatives to improve occupational wellbeing, including mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). To assess the efficacy of MBIs, meta-analytic procedures were conducted on 35 randomized controlled trials derived from an earlier inclusive systematic literature search (covering all occupations, MBIs, and wellbeing-related outcomes). Mindfulness had significant moderate effects on deficit-based outcomes such as stress (SMD = −0.57), anxiety (SMD = −0.57), distress (SMD = −0.56), depression (SMD = −0.48), and burnout (SMD = −0.36), and significant moderate to small effects on asset-based outcomes like health (SMD = 0.63), job performance (SMD = 0.43), compassion and empathy (SMD = 0.42), mindfulness (SMD = 0.39), and positive wellbeing (SMD = 0.36), while no significant effects were observed for depression or emotional regulation. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, suggesting more high-quality randomised controlled trials are needed.
Could the practice of mindfulness help at-risk adolescent boys manage the challenges in their lives, do better at school, and generally increase their well-being? Mindfulness is a practice that is thought to develop people’s attention and awareness skills. It has been found to have positive effects in diverse populations, from pregnant mothers to military personnel, and in relation to varied problems, from depression to eating disorders. In this research, I aimed to test whether mindfulness might be of benefit to at-risk adolescent boys, whose characteristics make them more likely to suffer issues with well-being.
Lomas, T., Etcoff, N., Gordon, W. V., & Shonin, E. (2017). Zen and the art of living mindfully: The health-enhancing potential of Zen aesthetics. Journal of Religion and Health. doi: 10.1007/s10943-017-0446-5
Amidst the burgeoning enthusiasm for mindfulness in the West, there is a concern that the largely secular ‘de-contextualized’ way in which it is being harnessed is denuding it of its potential to improve health and wellbeing. As such, efforts are underway to ‘re-contextualize’ mindfulness, explicitly drawing on the wider framework of Buddhist ideas and practices in which it was initially developed. This paper aims to contribute to this, doing so by focusing on Zen Buddhism, and in particular on Zen aesthetic principles. It concentrates on the seven principles identified by Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1971) in his classic text Zen and the Fine Arts: kanso (simplicity); fukinsei (asymmetry); koko (austere sublimity); shizen (naturalness); daisuzoku (freedom from routine); sei-jaku (tranquillity); and yūgen (profound grace). The presence of these principles in works of art is seen as reflecting and communicating insights that are central to Buddhism, such as non-attachment. Moreover, these principles do not only apply to the creation and appreciation of art, but have clear applications for treating health-related disorders, and improving quality of life more generally. This paper makes the case that embodying these principles in their lives can help people enhance their levels of psychosomatic wellbeing, and come to a truer understanding of the essence of mindful living.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on wellbeing and performance in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. doi: 10.1080/1359432X.2017.1308924
Work can be demanding, imposing challenges that can be detrimental to the physical and mental health of workers. Efforts are therefore underway to develop practices and initiatives that may improve occupational well-being. These include interventions based on mindfulness meditation. This paper offers a systematic review of empirical studies featuring analyses of mindfulness in occupational contexts. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included experimental and correlative studies of mindfulness conducted in work settings, with a variety of well-being and performance measures. A total of 153 papers met the eligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, comprising 12,571 participants. Mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, so further research is needed, particularly involving high-quality randomized control trials.
Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on the wellbeing and performance of educators: A systematic review of the empirical literature. Teaching and Teacher Education, 61, 132-141. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2016.10.008
Given the potentially demanding nature of teaching, efforts are underway to develop practices that can improve the wellbeing of educators, including interventions based on mindfulness meditation. We performed a systematic review of empirical studies featuring analyses of mindfulness in teaching contexts. Databases were reviewed from the start of records to January 2016. Eligibility criteria included empirical analyses of mindfulness, mental health, wellbeing, and performance outcomes acquired in relation to practice. A total of 19 papers met the eligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, consisting of a total 1981 participants. Studies were principally examined for outcomes such as burnout, anxiety, depression and stress, as well as more positive wellbeing measures (e.g., life satisfaction). The systematic review revealed that mindfulness was generally associated with positive outcomes in relation to most measures. However, the quality of the studies was inconsistent, and so further research is needed, particularly involving high-quality randomised control trials.
Ivtzan, I., Young, T., Lee, H. C., Lomas, T., & Kjell, O. (2017). Mindfulness based flourishing program: A cross-cultural study of Hong Kong Chinese and British participants. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10902-017-9919-1
The Mindfulness Based Flourishing Program (MBFP) is an online 8-week intervention developed for enhancing wellbeing with the use of mindfulness practices, through targeting a range of positive variables. The efficacy of the MBFP has been demonstrated in a randomized controlled trial, and in order to further establish it as an intervention with widespread application, cross-cultural validation is warranted. The current study was conducted with the primary aim of testing the validity of the MBFP with a Hong Kong Chinese population, as well as verifying its positive effects. A randomized wait-list controlled design was adopted with 115 participants (92 females, mean age = 31.50). Intervention outcomes were compared between Hong Kong Chinese and British participants. Five positive variables were examined (self-compassion, meaning in life, positive and negative emotions, gratitude, and mindfulness), and measures were taken pre- and post-intervention. Significant gains in wellbeing measures were observed in both the Hong Kong Chinese and the British experimental groups. Levels of wellbeing post-intervention were also higher for the two experimental groups as compared to their control counterparts. The current study provides preliminary evidence for the MBFP’s cross-cultural validity, and strengthens previous claims for its efficacy as a new, accessible alternative for enhancing wellbeing.
Perridge, D., Hefferon, K., Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2017). “I feel I can live every minute if I choose to”: Participants’ experience of a mindfulness based flourishing programme. Qualitative Research in Psychology. doi: 10.1080/14780887.2017.1359709
Both separately and in conjunction, mindfulness and positive psychological interventions have been found to increase wellbeing against a number of measures. Research has been primarily based upon the application of self-report scales, and little has yet been done to examine the lived experience of participants. The aim of this study therefore was to apply an interpretative phenomenological approach to the experience of participants in a Mindfulness Based Flourishing (MBF) programme which combines positive psychological interventions with mindfulness, in order to more fully understand the scope and depth of the impact their experience had on them. Three participants from a completed MBF each had a one-off semi-structured interview, the results of which were transcribed verbatim. The resulting texts were analysed, with five themes emerging which demonstrated the impact the programme had had on participants’ sense of self and on the nature of their connections with others. While all participants identified benefits accruing from the course, it also presented challenges emotionally as well as in terms of the embedding of knowledge and skills. Future research should look to examine the impact of such programmes in wider cultural and temporal frameworks, and additionally should explore the application of Grounded Theory to identify more theoretical level explanations of phenomenon.
Lomas, T. (2016). The art of second wave positive psychology: Harnessing Zen aesthetics to explore the dialectics of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(2), 14-29. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v6i2.2
In recent years, a ‘second wave’ of positive psychology has been emerging, characterised above all by an awareness and appreciation of the ‘dialectical’ nature of flourishing. This paper offers a philosophical foundation for this second wave, based on Eastern philosophy, and in particular, Zen aesthetics. Part one introduces Zen, including its key philosophical ideas and practices, as well as two antecedent traditions that helped to form it, namely Buddhism and Taoism. Part two then elucidates three aesthetic principles that are integral to Zen: mono no aware (the pathos of life), wabi-sabi (desolate beauty), and yūgen (profound grace). The paper discusses how these principles could be of value to positive psychology in fostering dialectical understanding and appreciation, thus highlighting future directions for the field.
Although mindfulness has been embraced by the West, this has mostly been a secular “decontextualized” form of mindfulness, disembedded from its original Buddhist nexus of beliefs/practices. This has arguably deprived the practice of its potential to effect more radical psychospiritual development. This article therefore argues for the “recontextualization” of mindfulness, drawing explicitly on Buddhist teachings to enhance our appreciation of it, and offers a contribution to such recontextualization. It presents a novel (in the context of Western psychology) theoretical model of mindfulness, drawing on concepts in Theravada Buddhist literature. In particular, it suggests that Buddhism identifies 3 main “forms” of mindfulness: sati (awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with ethical care), and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). Although, currently, only sati has been recognized in the West, we have much to gain from also recognizing the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Lomas, T. (2016). Nourishment from the roots: Engaging with the Buddhist foundations of mindfulness. In I. Ivtzan & T. Lomas (Eds.), Mindfulness in Positive Psychology: The Science of Meditation and Wellbeing (pp. 465 - 479). London: Routledge.
Abstract: Mindfulness has had a profound and dramatic impact upon academic psychology, and indeed upon Western Society more generally, being adopted and adapted in a multitude of contexts. However, while this interest is to be greatly welcomed, it is worth noting that mindfulness has tended to be conceptualised and taught in a secular way, decontextualized from the Buddhist nexus of theory and practice in which it was originally developed. This has meant that the practice has been denuded of some of its power and significance, and its potential as a means for psychospiritual growth has been curtailed. As such, this chapter argues that it is worth now aiming to ‘re-contextualise’ mindfulness, exploring the way in which we might benefit from also engaging with the wider framework of Buddhist teachings in which mindfulness was originally situated. In particular, the chapter suggests that Buddhism actually identifies three different ‘forms’ or ‘levels’ of mindfulness, captured by various Pali words: sati (awareness suffused with spirit of recollection); appamada (awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care); and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). So far, only the first of these (sati) has really been explored by contemporary psychology; however, the chapter makes the case that we have much to gain from also engaging with the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Lomas, T., & Ivtzan, I. (2016). Beyond deficit reduction: Exploring the positive potentials of mindfulness. In E. Shonin, W. van Gordon & M. Griffiths (Eds.), Mindfulness and Buddhist-Derived Approaches in Mental Health (pp. 277-295). London: Springer.
Abstract: The past few decades have seen an extraordinary explosion of interest in mindfulness, both in academia and in Western society more broadly. Central to this burgeoning enthusiasm has been the development of mindfulness-based interventions, which have had great success in treating physical and psychological health issues across diverse patient groups. However, for all their merits, these interventions have mostly been formulated in the context of clinical practice, and as such have tended to endorse a ‘deficit’ model of the person (which conceptualises humans as inherently dysfunctional or deficient, and views the role of therapeutic disciplines as being limited to the correction of such defects). Thus, nearly all mindfulness-based interventions are concerned with treating dysfunction or illness, from stress and depression to pain and discomfort. As necessary as such interventions are, this has meant that mindfulness has been largely de-contextualised from its original purpose within Buddhism as a means for radical personal transformation. However, in recent years, the emergent field of positive psychology has been at the forefront of efforts to create mindfulness-based interventions that capture more of the missing spirit of the original Buddhist teachings. These new interventions will hopefully augment existing interventions, helping us to collectively further explore and appreciate the exciting promise of mindfulness.
Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Yong, C.-Y. (2016). Mindful Living in Older Age: A pilot study of a brief, community-based, ‘positive aging’ intervention. Mindfulness, 7(3), 630-641. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0498-8
Although mindfulness-based interventions have been successfully used with older adults, there have been few interventions that (a) are created specifically for older adults, (b) are delivered in the community, and (c) aim to promote successful aging (rather than treating dysfunction/disorder). To this end, the current study piloted a brief ‘positive aging’ intervention, comprising two 150-minute sessions, with six female older adults living in the community. Data were gathered through focus groups that were interwoven throughout the intervention. Using thematic analysis, four main themes were identified: (a) aging as a mixed blessing, (b) understanding mindfulness, (c) the challenges of mindfulness, and (d) the benefits of mindfulness. Overall, the intervention was successful in introducing participants to mindfulness and potentially forming the basis of a longer-term practice. However, the study also highlighted important points regarding the challenges of practising mindfulness, in relation to which the paper makes recommendations pertaining to the teaching of mindfulness with older adults.
Ivtzan, I., Young, T., Martman, J., Jeffrey, A., Lomas, T., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. (2016). Integrating mindfulness into positive psychology: A randomised controlled trial of an online positive mindfulness program. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0581-1
The purpose of the present study was to test the efficacy of an 8-week online intervention-based Positive Mindfulness Program (PMP) that integrated mindfulness with a series of positive psychology variables, with a view to improving well-being scores measured in these variables. The positive mindfulness cycle, based on positive intentions and savouring, provides the theoretical foundation for the PMP. The study was based on a randomised wait-list controlled trial, and 168 participants (128 females, mean age = 40.82) completed the intervention which included daily videos, meditations and activities. The variables tested included well-being measures, such as gratitude, self-compassion, self-efficacy, meaning and autonomy. Pre- and post-intervention data, including 1 month after the end of the intervention, were collected from both experimental and control groups. The posttest measurements of the experimental participants showed a significant improvement in all the dependent variables compared with the pre-test ones and were also significantly higher than those of the control group. One month after the intervention, the experimental group participants retained their improvement in 10 out of the 11 measurements. These positive results indicate that PMP may be effective in enhancing wellbeing and other positive variables in adult, non-clinical populations.
Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Lomas, T., & Griffiths, M. D. (2016). Corporate use of mindfulness and authentic spiritual transmission: Competing or compatible ideals? . Mindfulness and Compassion. doi: 10.1016/j.mincom.2016.10.005
There is consensus amongst both the scientific and Buddhist community that mindfulness – when correctly taught and practised – leads to a range of beneficial outcomes. However, there has been little evaluation of what happens when mindfulness is incorrectly taught, or is practised with a selfish rather than selfless intention. Nowhere is the importance of this issue more pertinent than the recent and growing assimilation of mindfulness for employees by large corporations. The current paper introduces the principle of ‘authentic spiritual transmission’ and examines how it can inform the integration of mindfulness into the corporate workplace. Three questions are explored: (i) what spiritual infrastructure is required to operationalize mindfulness that is effective in the corporate setting? (ii) to what extent can ‘inner change’ induced by mindfulness substitute the need for corporations to foster healthy ‘external’ working conditions? and (iii) is mindfulness corruptible or does it have a natural defence mechanism? The paper addresses these questions by synthesizing relevant Buddhist discourses, evaluating recent theoretical and empirical findings concerning the use of mindfulness in corporate settings, and examining how second-generation mindfulness-based interventions can inform this topical area of scholarly debate.
The value of compassion has often been appraised in terms of its benefits to the recipient, or its contribution to civil society. Less attention has been paid to the positive effect it may have upon the protagonists themselves, partly because compassion ostensibly appears to involve mainly dysphoric emotions (i.e., sharing another’s suffering). However, driven by the question of why traditions such as Buddhism and Christianity esteem compassion so highly, in this article, a theory of compassion is proposed that focuses on its transformative potential. In particular, I argue that compassion inherently involves a process of self-transcendence, enabling people to enter into an intersubjective state of selfhood. Drawing on Buddhist and Christian ideas, I then suggest that this intersubjective state is not only an antidote to the protagonists’ own suffering, but can accelerate their psychospiritual development. Thus, the article offers a new perspective on compassion that allows us to fully appreciate its transpersonal and transformative potential.
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation has been purported to be a beneficial practice for wellbeing. It would thereforebe expected that the neurophysiology of mindfulness would reflect this impact on wellbeing. However,investigations of the effects of mindfulness have generated mixed reports of increases, decreases, aswell as no differences in EEG oscillations in comparison with a resting state and a variety of tasks. Wehave performed a systematic review of EEG studies of mindfulness meditation in order to determineany common effects and to identify factors which may impact on the effects. Databases were reviewedfrom 1966 to August 2015. Eligibility criteria included empirical quantitative analyses of mindfulnessmeditation practice and EEG measurements acquired in relation to practice. A total of 56 papers met theeligibility criteria and were included in the systematic review, consisting of a total 1715 subjects: 1358healthy individuals and 357 individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. Studies were principally examinedfor power outcomes in each bandwidth, in particular the power differentials between mindfulness and acontrol state, as well as outcomes relating to hemispheric asymmetry and event-related potentials. Thesystematic review revealed that mindfulness was most commonly associated with enhanced alpha andtheta power as compared to an eyes closed resting state, although such outcomes were not uniformlyreported. No consistent patterns were observed with respect to beta, delta and gamma bandwidths. Insummary, mindfulness is associated with increased alpha and theta power in both healthy individualsand in patient groups. This co-presence of elevated alpha and theta may signify a state of relaxed alertnesswhich is conducive to mental health.
Abstract: Although empirical interest in meditation has flourished in recent years, few studies have addressed possible downsides of meditation practice, particularly in community populations. In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 male meditators in London, UK, recruited using principles of maximum variation sampling, and analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Having originally set out simply to inquire about the impact of various meditation practices (including but not limited to mindfulness) on men’s wellbeing, we uncovered psychological challenges associated with its practice. While meditation was generally reported to be conducive to wellbeing, substantial difficulties accounted for approximately one quarter of the interview data. Our paper focuses specifically on these issues in order to alert health professionals to potential challenges associated with meditation. Four main problems were uncovered, of increasing severity: meditation was a difficult skill to learn and practise; participants encountered troubling thoughts and feelings which were hard to manage; meditation reportedly exacerbated mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety; and in a few cases, meditation was associated with psychotic episodes. Our paper raises important issues around safeguarding those who practise meditation, both within therapeutic settings and in the community.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). New ways of being a man: ‘Positive’ hegemonic masculinity in meditation-based communities of practice. Men and Masculinities, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Connell’s (1995) concept of hegemonic masculinity is often reduced to a singular construct, consisting of ‘toxic’ traits viewed as detrimental to wellbeing. However, the concept allows for variation in hegemony, including the possibility of forms more conducive to wellbeing. Through in-depth interviews with 30 male meditators in the UK, we explore the social dimensions of meditation practice to examine its potential implications for wellbeing. Most participants became involved with ‘communities of practice’ centered on meditation that promoted new local hegemonies; these included ideals experienced as conducive to wellbeing, like abstinence. However, social processes associated with hegemony, like hierarchy and marginalization, were not overturned. Moreover, participants faced challenges enacting new practices in relation to the broader system of hegemonic masculinity – outside these communities – reporting censure. Our findings are cautionary for professionals seeking to encourage wellbeing behaviors: there is potential for adaptation in men, yet complex social processes influence this change.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2015). Cultivating equanimity through mindfulness meditation: A mixed methods enquiry into the development of decentring capabilities. International Journal of Wellbeing, 5(3), 88-106.
Abstract: Mindfulness meditation is thought to help practitioners become more tolerant of dysphoric emotions by enabling them to cultivate decentring skills. Such skills may be especially useful for male meditators, as men are thought to have particular difficulties regulating their emotions, partly due to masculinity norms around emotional toughness. However, there have been few studies pertaining to mindfulness focusing specifically on men, exploring the intersection between wellbeing and masculinity. Uniquely, we sought to examine the development of decentring capabilities in a non-clinical sample of male meditators using a longitudinal mixed-methods design. Thirty meditators were recruited in London, UK. Participants completed an emotional Stroop task – at two points, a year apart – to assess changes in emotional reactivity linked to meditation. Participants also undertook qualitative interviews at both time points, analysed using a modified constant comparison approach. Together, the two datasets converged to suggest that men did develop decentring skills through meditation, leading to greater equanimity in the presence of negative qualia. In addition to offering insights into the mechanisms underpinning the impact of mindfulness on wellbeing, the study provides a gendered dimension to the analysis of wellbeing strategies like meditation, a dimension which has hitherto been conspicuously absent from recent literature in fields such as positive psychology.
Lomas, T. (2015). Wellbeings: Suffering, compassion, and interconnectedness. In I. Ivtzan, T. Lomas, K. Hefferon & P. Worth (Eds.), Second Wave Positive Psychology: Embracing the Dark Side of Life (pp. 134-152). London: Routledge.
Objectives: This chapter will enable you to: articulate the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy; see that compassion inherently involves embracing the dark side of life (i.e., suffering); consider the value placed on compassion by traditions like Christianity and Buddhism; appreciate a range of ‘other-regarding’ qualities in addition to compassion, including loving-kindness, generosity, and sympathetic joy; differentiate various models of selfhood, including individualism and intersubjectivism; generate compassion through meditative practices; understand how cultivating compassion can engender self-transcendence; appreciate self-transcendence as a key component of psychospiritual development.
Abstract: This chapter aims to broaden our appreciation of mindfulness by situating it within a deeper Buddhist context. We highlight dimensions of mindfulness that are implicit within canonical Buddhist teachings, but which are often overlooked in contemporary psychological literature. We do this by identifying three threads within the teachings, then weaving these threads together to elucidate the connections between them. The first thread is the notion that there are different types of mindfulness, captured by various Pali words: sati (awareness suffused with spirit of recollection); appamada (awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care); and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). The second thread is the teaching of Paṭiccasamuppāda (the law of conditionality), and Buddhaghosa’s interpretation of this as involving five different niyāmas (orders of causality): utu-niyāma (physical); bīja-niyāma (biological); citta-niyāma (mental); kamma-niyāma (ethical); and dhamma-niyāma (spiritual). The third thread is the idea of the spiritual path, and the notion that this comprises various stages; we focus here on the contemporary teachings of Sangharakshita, who identifies five stages (based on the Sarvāstivāda Five Path Schema): integration; skilful intention; spiritual death; spiritual rebirth; and spontaneous compassionate activity. We then weave these threads together into three broad phases of practice that a person might ideally progress through: phase 1 (cultivation of sati, appreciation of utu-, bīja- and citta-niyāma, and stage I of the path); phase 2 (cultivation of appamada, appreciation of kamma-niyāma, and stage II of the path); and phase 3 (cultivation of sampajañña, appreciation of dhamma-niyāma, and stages III, IV and V of the path).
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Engagement with meditation as a positive health trajectory: Divergent narratives of progress in male meditators. Psychology and Health, 29(2), 218-236.
Abstract: Objective: Studying personal narratives can generate understanding of how people experience physical and mental illness. However, few studies have explored narratives of engagement in health positive behaviours, with none focusing on men specifically. Thus, we sought to examine men’s experiences of their efforts to engage in and maintain healthy behaviours, focusing on meditation as an example of such behaviour. Design: We recruited 30 male meditators, using principles of maximum variation sampling, and conducted two in-depth interviews with each, separated by a year. Main outcome measures: We sought to elicit men’s narratives of their experiences of trying to maintain a meditation practice. Results: We identified an overall theme of a ‘positive health trajectory,’ in particular, making ‘progress’ through meditation. Under this were six main accounts. Only two articulated a ‘positive’ message about progress: climbing a hierarchy of practitioners, and progress catalysed in other areas of life. The other four reflected the difficulties around progress: progress being undermined by illness; disappointment with progress; progress ‘forgotten’ (superseded by other concerns); and progress re-conceptualised due to other priorities. Conclusion: Men’s narratives reveal the way they experience and construct their engagement with meditation – as an example of health behaviour – in terms of progress.
Lomas, T., Edginton, T., Cartwright, T., & Ridge, D. (2014). Men developing emotional intelligence through meditation? Combining narrative, cognitive, and EEG findings. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 15(2), 213-224.
Abstract: Traditional masculine norms around emotions (e.g., inexpressiveness) can mean men have difficulties managing their emotions, contributing to potential mental health problems. However, it is recognized that men and masculinities are diverse, and that some men can positively self-manage their mental health, although this has received little attention in the literature. Uniquely, we sought to find men who had discovered ways to engage constructively with their emotions, in this case through meditation. Thirty male meditators, recruited using a maximum variation sampling strategy, participated in a longitudinal mixed-method study in the UK. Participants undertook two cognitive neuroscience sessions – approximately one year apart – comprising cognitive assessments of attention, in combination with EEG measurement during task performance and meditation. In-depth narrative interviews exploring men’s experiences of meditation were also conducted at both time-points, analyzed using a modified constant comparison approach. Taken together, the quantitative and qualitative results suggested men developed attention skills through meditation, although there were variations according to previous meditation experience (e.g., a sharper longitudinal increase in theta amplitude under meditation for novice practitioners). Moreover, development of attention appeared to enhance men’s emotional intelligence, which in turn could be conducive to wellbeing. The paper has implications for psychologists working with men, pointing to the potential for teaching men about better regulating their emotions for improved wellbeing.
Abstract: Against a backdrop of increasing secularization, the number of Buddhists in Britain continues to rise (Office for National Statistics, 2012). However, few studies have explored the reasons people are drawn towards Buddhism, with none focusing on men specifically. Uniquely, we conducted in-depth narrative interviews with 30 male meditators in London, UK, to explore the appeal Buddhism held for them. Buddhism was portrayed as a nexus of ideas and practices which improved men’s lives. Analyzed through the prism of a multidimensional biopsychosocial model of wellbeing, Buddhism appeared to have the potential to promote wellbeing in biological terms (e.g., health behaviors), psychological terms (e.g., generating subjective wellbeing), and social terms (e.g., offering a supportive social network). From a gendered perspective, Buddhism offered men the opportunity to rework their masculine identity in ways that enhanced their wellbeing. This was a complex development, in which traditional masculine norms were upheld (e.g., Buddhism was constructed as a ‘rational’ framework of ideas/practices), yet also challenged (e.g., norms around alcohol abstinence). Our study offers new insights into the hazards and the attractions – particularly for men – of engaging with Buddhism.
Brani, O., Hefferon, K., Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Painter, J. (2014). The impact of body awareness on subjective wellbeing: The role of mindfulness. International Journal of Body Psychotherapy, 13(1), 94-107.
Abstract: Positive psychology has been criticized for the lack of research on the role of the body in wellbeing. As the research into the many variables that influence subjective wellbeing (SWB) continues, the important role of body awareness (BA) on SWB has been neglected. It was hypothesised that there would be a significant predictive relationship between BA and SWB, and moreover that this relationship would be moderated by mindfulness. One hundred and nineteen participants from the general population completed relevant self-report scales through an online survey. BA had a positive relationship with SWB, but this relationship was not moderated by mindfulness. These findings have implications for positive psychology that reinforce the argument for more body-based interventions and overall embodiment within the discipline.
Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2013). ‘I was so done in that I just recognized it very plainly, “You need to do something”’: Men’s narratives of struggle, distress and turning to meditation. Health:, 17(2), 191-208.
Abstract: Traditional masculinities can mean men are unable or unwilling to deal constructivelywith distress. However, researchers increasingly acknowledge that men and masculinities(including hegemonic styles) are diverse. Moreover, men can positively manage theirwell-being, although little research explores how they do so. Uniquely, our study soughtto find men who report finding ways to care for themselves to examine narratives abouthow such self-care originated. We aimed to do this by exploring issues underpinningmen’s journeys towards meditation, focusing on implications for well-being. In-depthinterviews were conducted in 2009 with 30 meditators, selected using principles ofmaximum variation sampling, and analysed with a modified ‘constant comparison’approach. Men’s journeys towards meditation were fraught with difficulties. Mendescribed crossing a threshold from boyhood into ‘manhood’ where they encounteredtraditional forms of masculinity (e.g. stoicism), and most described subsequent strategiesto disconnect from emotions. While men eventually found ways to engage moreconstructively with their emotions and well-being, this article explores the struggle anddistress of their journeys.
Abstract: There is a prominent discourse in academic literature, and society at large, that presents men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill and Haywood, 2012: 483). Incorporated within this idea is the notion that ‘masculinity’ itself is problematic and represents a ‘risk factor’ for health (Gough, 2006). For example, traditional masculine norms, like ‘toughness,’ have been linked to poor emotional management skills in men, which in turn are implicated in mental health problems (Aldao et al., 2010). However, it is increasingly acknowledged that there is diversity within and across men and masculinities, and that men are capable of positively managing their well-being, although little research exists exploring how they do so. To address this deficit, this study sought to find men – meditators – who were likely to have found ways to positively manage well-being to examine factors relating to this engagement.
Meditation was selected as it is associated with positive outcomes on a range of mental health indicators (Mars and Abbey, 2010). Thirty male meditators, mainly from one organisation in London, were selected using principles of maximum variation sampling. The study employed a longitudinal mixed methods design, including in-depth narrative interviews analysed using a modified constant comparison approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1998), and also a cognitive-neuroscience component, involving EEG measurement across a battery of cognitive tasks and a meditation sitting. All participants were interviewed and tested twice,1 a year apart, between 2009 and 2010.Drawing on various theories, including Connell's (1995) notion of hegemonic (i.e. dominant) masculinity, and Mayer and Salovey's (1997) model of emotional intelligence, the analysis explored themes relating to men’s involvement with meditation, including how engagement came about, and its impact upon well-being.
The findings suggested that men negotiated difficult journeys towards meditation: for example, they came up against traditional and other hegemonic forms of masculinity, and most described subsequent strategies to be emotionally tough and/or disconnect from difficult emotions. Meditation itself was linked to well-being in various ways, notably through the cultivation of emotional intelligence via the development of attention – this was indicated by emergent themes in the qualitative analysis, and results from the cognitive neuroscience component.Overall, the analysis was unusual in exploring masculinities and meditation, as well as the wider social context of practice, and how the social dimensions of meditation also impacted upon well-being. For example, many men meditated within a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991), which influenced their behaviour, e.g. reducing alcohol use. The findings also highlighted various problems linked to meditation that have received less attention in the literature, including mental health disorders, and ostracism from peers. In summary, the study discusses implications for helping men to better manage their well-being.