By Adeline van Waning, published in 2014
The book is published by Mantra Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing, see this link.
In relation with the book a special workshop-bookpresentation can be organized. Adeline will be happy to offer this to your group, institution, sangha – see Programmes, SPECIAL. Below, find a summary of the book, endorsements and some excerpts.
Summary of the book
'This book presents the story of the author’s participation in The Shamatha Project, addressing Buddhism, shamatha mindfulness practices (concentration-calm), and meditation-research. With diary excerpts, dream log, and audio transcripts she gives the reader a feel for her personal experiences. The current research outcomes of this unique ongoing project are reported, focusing on the effects of the various practices in attention and emotion regulation, and on health. They include groundbreaking findings of effects down to the chromosome level. The practice ‘Settling the mind in its natural state’ invites wonder: what is this natural state?
Each chapter includes a guided meditation. The book is structured in a way that it can provide the reader with various threads. It can be read as an overview of The Shamatha Project, meditation and science. Additionally, it can be read as an exploration into Buddhist studies, with a focus on psychological and scientific understanding of meditation. Most importantly: the book can support a personal journey for the reader in practicing shamatha meditations, and experiencing increasing well-being.'
Acclaim for “The less dust, the more trust”
“An impressive view into the vast landscape of the Shamatha Project, this book is a rich account of the practices and outcomes from this pioneering endeavor of mapping meditative experience.”
− Joan Halifax Roshi, Founding Abbot, Upaya Zen Center, author of Being with Dying.
“What I personally find so compelling about this book is its accessibility. By the warmth and honesty of her writing, Adeline van Waning gives one the assurance of a friend who walks beside you, telling you how it was for her and her colleagues as they progressed through their ‘expedition,’ their three month Shamatha Project. She presents the practice guidance that she received in a way that it may offer a valuable path for all readers.”
− Sherry Ruth Anderson PhD, Ridhwan teacher, co-author of The Feminine Face of God, author of Ripening Time.
“In this volume Adeline van Waning admirably brings to bear her professional training and experience as a psychiatrist together with her knowledge and experience as a meditator to explain the nature and significance of these practices from both Buddhist and scientific perspectives … With her exceptional background as a scientist and as a meditator, Dr. van Waning bridges the gap between third person and first person methodologies, showing how each one can complement the other. This, clearly, is the way forward if we are to seek the most complete understanding of the mind and consciousness.”
− B. Alan Wallace PhD, Buddhist meditation teacher, scholar, Director of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, author of The Attention Revolution, and Mind in the Balance. From: Prologue.
“The many examples of shamatha meditation guidance as presented in this book, including attentional practices, the Four Qualities of the Heart and Tonglen, can be very useful for students on various paths in navigating their own journey with meditation.”
− Lama Palden Drolma, Founder and Resident Teacher of Sukhasiddhi Foundation.
“This is an informative and engaging work of a very high standard. It will appeal both to Western Buddhists interested in meditation and scientists interested in the measurable effects of meditation and the implications of this for understanding the brain and consciousness. This very systematic, well structured and thoughtful study is a valuable description, contextualization and analysis of a three month meditation ‘expedition’ led by B. Alan Wallace. It focuses on shamatha meditation as practiced in the Tibetan tradition, accompanied by scientific assessment of effects on participants.”
− Peter Harvey PhD, Professor Emeritus of Buddhist Studies, University of Sunderland, UK, Editor, Buddhist Studies Review.
Endorsement by a co-research subject in the Shamatha Project:
“I am both gratified and relieved that Adeline has written this ambitious book: gratified because our extraordinary opportunity and experiences in this project simply needed to be documented, and relieved because she is exactly the right person for the job. The Shamatha Project set a new standard of rigor in design and methodology for studies of meditation, and this book reflects that standard in its thoroughness and loving rendering. It provides an insider’s view of the gratitude and life-changing shifts we research subjects enjoyed as we daily received impeccable, authentic teachings and then meditated for long hours in an idyllic setting high in the Rocky Mountains, all the while certain that we were simultaneously contributing to science, to Dharma, and to the cultivation of our own hearts and minds. Adeline’s intelligent and thoughtful psychological and philosophical contextualization of her personal experiences makes this book appealing to those interested in meditation, Dharma, contemplative neuroscience, and the many hybrid and integrative disciplines arising from them. May this virtuous effort by my favorite ‘Shamatha Buddy’ enrich your understanding and commitment to your own path of virtue, joy, and liberation.”
− Jim Cahill, BCB, Developer, Mindfulness-based Biofeedback TherapyTM
For more endorsements, including the ones by Roger Walsh, Daniel P. Brown, Polly Young-Eisendrath and Ilse N. Bulhof, up-to-date, see this link.
The book in Spanish:
Summer 2017 the book was published as 'A mayor claridad, mayor confianza - participar en el Proyecto Shamatha, meditación y ciencia', both as paperback and as Ebook. See for instance amazon.de .
Some sections from the book:
A few excerpts from the book:
Full title of the project is: “The Shamatha Project: A Longitudinal, Randomized Waitlist Control Study of Cognitive, Emotional, and Neural Effects of Intensive Meditation Training,” with B. Alan Wallace PhD as the Contemplative Director, and Clifford Saron PhD as the Scientific Director.
About the organisation of the project: (p 25-6)
Since around 2002, Wallace and Saron, with a team of over 30 investigators and consulting scientists, have been involved in planning the Shamatha Project in a very broad set up that would generate a huge amount of data. Saron, in retrospect, describes the Project as unique in the aspect of including measuring telomerase in the meditators. In that way, research on the DNA level is part of the project. Telomerase is the enzyme that repairs telomeres. Telomeres are the very tips of our chromosomes, and a marker of stress and cell aging. In addition to the telomerase research, the project has been unique, Saron feels, because it was “science driven.” As he shares with health and science journalist Thea Singer: “A research team has never set up a three-month retreat before … The way this has always been done is that the retreat is set up by a meditation center and the researchers show up like filmmakers do and film an event. They have nothing to do with who’s in that retreat or with the structure of it. We did something completely unique, which was work with Alan to create essentially an admissions committee, the advertising material, and the retreat logistics. He was in charge of what was taught and the schedule of practice. We were in charge of the testing.” The project evolved into this form of two retreats, with state-of-the-art scientific measures in a randomized wait-list controlled study. The meaning of this is that during the first retreat, the spring retreat, the research team studied the trainees, while at the same time measurements were done on the members of the control group (not meditating more than their usual daily practice, during this period). These persons then became full-time participants in the second retreat, the fall retreat. Practically, this meant that participants of the fall retreat were flown in during the spring retreat, coming over for just a few days of acclimatization and measurements. This set up made it possible for the researchers to use the control group members, first, for comparing the results with those of the retreat participants, meditating full-time. Second, the control group members’ results when they were not on retreat could be compared with their own results when later they were on their own retreat (…)
About the meditation expedition: overview, daily life (p 29-30)
Wallace speaks of an expedition rather than of a retreat: there’s nothing about re-treating, in this project, this is rather about an advance, it is about participating in an exploration into meditation and science that will bear fruit in daily life! It is not turning away from your life but really engaging in it. Shamatha training cultivates relaxation, attentional stability and vividness of perception: abilities that have their value under any and all circumstances.
During this Shamatha expedition, we practiced natural, optimal balance in four `spaces,’ or domains of perception, experiencing and consciousness: body, mind, awareness and `heart.’ Here is a very brief overview.
All practices done during the project retreat comprised training in directing the attention, in these domains:
1. Mindfulness of breathing, with as a focus: the tactile sensations of the breath in the whole body, the abdomen, and at the nostrils,
2. Observing of what takes place in the mind, with focus: the space of the mind, and what arises in it. This is the practice “Settling the mind in its natural state,” and
3. “Shamatha without a sign”: Awareness of awareness, where all information from the five physical senses and the mind are left aside. There is not a sign, in the sense of focus, there is just awareness.
These practices can be summarized, in Wallace’s phrasing, as: soothing the body, settling the mind, and illuminating awareness.
4. The “Four Qualities of the Heart,” also called the “Four Immeasurables:” Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy and Equanimity. These were complemented with Tonglen − the Mahayana practice of giving and receiving. Together they formed a heartful complement to the named attention practices (…)
(p 33) While at the beginning September we were meditating in burning sun, throwing off our clothes to (almost) topless, we had to suddenly shift later that month to many thermic layers. End of September: snowstorms and bitter cold. November showed up even more intense.
Diary, November 2007:
We live here with bears, and with deer and chip-monks on stroking nearness, in a place where fox, mountain lion and coyote reside. In November we measure a temperature of minus 20 C, which is minus 4 degrees F. Curtains of icicles dangling down from the roof, shining in bright winter-sun. The light is so intensely clear, I need sunglasses, sometimes also inside the building. When walking, watch out for slippery ice-tracks…
From Ch 1, ‘The Project, the research, and some outcomes’, more about the research setup (p 40)
During both three-month periods, all participants were “measured” during two days each, at the beginning, then two days each halfway through the project, and then two days each at the end of the retreat. This regarded both meditators and controls. I remember that our science team of six members worked very, very long days during these periods.
Scientific measures, as summarized in professional language, have included established paradigms in cognitive and affective neuroscience, stress and affiliation-related biomarkers, Electro Encephalogram (EEG), physiological markers of autonomic nervous system activity, facial expressions of emotion, daily journaling, self-report and structured interviews.
It sounds like a big range indeed, the way it is stated in a News Release from the Association for Psychological Science in the US: “It’s the most comprehensive study of intensive meditation to date, using methods drawn from fields as diverse as molecular biology, neuroscience and anthropology.” 9 On the one hand, part of the measures used have been from well-known mainstream tests, to make comparison possible. On the other hand, no tests exist that address the attention in its refinement as might be measured in this project. So, as we participants were told, new, innovative tests had also been devised (…)
Second round of measurements, halfway the three months period, p 45
In the second round of measurements, like in the first, there was some felt sense paradoxical “struggling to relax” …
Diary, October 15th 2007:
I hoped indeed that in this second round I would do better and recognize faster whether the line was long or short, and that I would score with less errors, that I would do better and recognize faster when I had made an error, and that I would “recover” quicker. A more relaxed tolerating of my making errors: compassion for myself, and not dwelling in micro-self reproach … There was this aspect in me of doing, grasping, wanting a good score. For loyalty to the others, the project, for my grasping self that wants to achieve. While over time there was also this surrendering to “non-doing” (…)
More tests (p 46-48)
An example of an emotion test was the Emotion-Potentiated Startle Test: in this classical test we were shown slides that included generally strong affective stimuli: positive, neutral and negative. The negative included, for instance, images of an accident, an amputated body part, a mutilated person, blood and pain. Startle sounds were delivered at specific moments after the showing. The initial hypothesis is that the emotion potentiated startle to negative, compared with neutral pictures, would diminish after training, as well as demonstrate a faster return to baseline state. With these sounds, I experienced myself somewhat pulling together, shrinking, with muscle contractions.
Also, tests were done with film clips: an experimental paradigm of a film viewing task. We saw a film clip, a segment from a documentary depicting graphic scenes of human suffering. For instance, one clip contained shocking scenes from the Iraq war. Afterwards we had to describe the contents and rate the emotions they aroused, with the help of a storyboard of individual frames from the film, arranged sequentially. In this way researchers could create profiles of momentary emotional experiences of the course of the film. Later it became clear that by way of unobtrusively taken video clips, material for the FACS (Facial Action Coding System) had been collected. With these video materials, scorings can be made by science team members proficient in the methodology developed by Paul Ekman and Walter Friesen. The FACS system for classifying human facial expressions is a common standard to systematically categorize the facial expression of emotions. So, in these emotion regulation tests retrospective self reports and facial expressions could be compared. Our first person self-report measures were combined with the third person monitoring of physiological and behavioral variables. This combined approach was innovative: it had not been included before in our kind of meditation research. Hypothesis is that there will be less rejection emotion, anger, contempt, and disgust. Additionally the hypothesis is that there will be less defensiveness in the face of viewing suffering. These were terrible movies, with a lot of physical violence between people, in war scenes. While writing now, I remember the strain and pain of them, certainly in the last measurement, when we were so ‘open,’ with a combination of sensitivity and resilience at the same time (…)
In a different ambiance: hooked up to the monitor, EEG caps on, we have also been evaluated while we were practicing meditation. This was done while we listened to Alan Wallace’s instructions in practicing shamatha breathing meditation and in practicing Compassion and Loving-Kindness meditation. It did not feel easy to really relax and meditate with the same mind-set like: being quietly on my own, in my room …