Catherine Kerr of the Contemplative Studies Initiative provides a critique of positive findings in her own area of research. “Is the general public overvaluing and misunderstanding the significance of scientific studies of meditation and the brain?” asks Kerr in her Huffington Post blog. “These were the questions that I and my scientific and scholarly colleagues wrestled with at our 1-day meeting at the Mind and Life House in Amherst, Massachusetts, over the summer that was called in response to fulsomely positive articles in the media.”
Kerr reviews some studies and media stories, and notes some of the factors that were left out, like how many people may have had worse problems after their meditation training. She then suggests that the best solution may be a critical-thinking approach which often itself mimics mindfulness meditation.
“Given the likelihood that some of these trumpeted findings are not true, what should an interested newcomer to contemplative practice do?” writes Kerr. “Here is where an open-minded form of curiosity about one’s own experience could be helpful as one embarks on a practice, asking oneself questions like: what does this contemplative practice really feel like as I do it? What do I feel in my body when I practice? What do I feel later in the day? What does it feel like when I practice two days in a row? By starting to ask these types of questions and then listening deeply to the responses that follow, you may be able to develop your own “gut sense”. Ultimately, it may be this development of “gut sense” (which several early stage brain studies focusing on the insular cortex suggest may be facilitated by mindfulness practice (!)) that will help us as we inevitably, each one of us, have to face situations where a medical therapy or behavioral practice is offered in the context of real scientific uncertainty.”
Why Do Studies of Meditation and the Brain Matter? (Huffington Post, November 10, 2014)