The question that everybody wants to know: Does meditation work? Here I am addressing meditation within the tradition of Buddhism (FYI: My selection written here is excerpted from a larger discussion and writing project that took place amongst other philosophers and students of evolutionary psychology). Scientists typically follow a systematic process of measuring the physical or social world whether using the traditional scientific method, systematic observation, interviews, etc. Of course, these processes might be quantitative or qualitative in nature. I should add that more scientists and clinicians are starting to take Buddhist practices like meditation more seriously in the same way that scientists and philosophers have studied the philosophies and religious practices of Christianity or Islam. Note: Buddhism does not purport to be a religion.
To be clear, contemporary scientists and philosophers are particularly interested in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness meditation. As a researcher, clinician, and human being, I am interested in mindfulness meditation; however, I am not an expert in Buddhism (there are multiple traditions) or meditation (there are multiple ways to meditate!). I do not believe in the case of practicing meditation that it is possible to measure any real or tangible changes to the person or the human condition. I am somewhat skeptical of self-reports of changes in attitudes, dispositions, or behaviors.
Can we trust self-reports of spiritual transformation? For me, if someone went into a “scientific experiment” expecting to change or to experience some type of spiritual transformation, then they will subconsciously experience positive outcomes. I believe this is especially true for any believers of a particular faith or religion. For example, if someone signed up for a spiritual retreat (i.e. Buddhism or mediation), especially a retreat that they spent time and a lot of money to engage in, they may emotionally be attached to the expected outcome of the experience. It is like paying to go to Las Vegas, entering a casino, gambling away $500, but only remembering that you won on 3 slot machines. You may fail to report to friends back at home that you spent $500 (plus airfare and accommodations), but you do report back to friends that you won a total of $150 playing the slot machines. In other words, you needed to report your win in order to feel good about your spending or justify time and money spent! Somewhat similar (or not) we expect our investment (e.g., time, money) in meditation to bring us calm, clarity, and insight so that is what we report back to friends and family that this “spiritual sh*t works!” Like gambling (which I do not do nor find pleasure in), meditation is relaxing and offers some cumulated rewards, if we are lucky and invest in it. I invest in meditation and I am lucky enough to benefit from it!
Are you what you invest your time and other resources in? Investments aside, meditators are more likely to report a positive experience with meditation, based on the fact that they committed to it and want to discover some pleasure, or peace of mind from engaging in it--not to mention that some people are beginning to associate meditation with status (yes, retreats and mindfulness coaching cost money!) and even “wokeness”. Meditation and Buddhism are now associated with open-mindedness, acceptance of diversity, and anti-establishment (i.e. organized religion). Let’s just say that it is difficult to know for sure the positive benefits of meditation for the layperson because some flaunt it as a status symbol (as opposed to a process of attaining self-awareness).
Of course, scientists have measured and recorded changes to the brain of consistent novice practitioners of mindfulness meditation. In sum, modern science lends support to the practice of mindfulness meditation and possibly other Buddhist ideas. For example, we can turn on the news or simply continue to live life and know that suffering (i.e. Dukkha) certainly exists and persists throughout the life span. I don’t think that we need science to validate that suffering exists and interventions like Buddhism, religious practices, and other factors can mediate or alleviate suffering, if one commits to such practices on a consistent basis.
Can meditation help the human mind? The human mind is complex. There is not one unified definition of what is the “human mind”. However, most scientists and practitioners of meditation agree there is a concept of the mind some identify as "the self" or "myself" or "I" (I know that is a lot). The “self” is the conscious presence that is always with us, sort of speak, and what makes human beings aware of their own existence, body, biological needs, and feelings. Modern science supports the idea that most, if not all human beings, do identify with the concept of “self” or that a mind exists. Actually, science lends support to the idea that the human mind has multiple selves. If the mind is the self, then yes, modern science supports Buddhist ideas about the human mind--that it can actually be bad (or cause undue suffering via attachment) for us. Buddhist psychology suggests that there is “no-self”; however, some Buddhist practitioners challenge scholarly interpretations of the “no-self”. They suggest that the Buddha meant that there is a socially constructed self that we give meaning to; in giving meaning to “self” we contribute to our own suffering. The Buddha path and meditation can help alleviate suffering because we come to learn that we are not mere matter and that our perceptions are distorted due to this belief in “myself”. Modern science supports the idea that self-perception is distorted, and that human beings’ consciousness is shaped by their environment and possibly internal drives. As a social scientist, I know that the "self" is socially constructed, and as a clinician, I know that people suffer from being attached to their notions of an "ideal self".
Does meditation make sense from a scientific perspective? The logic of meditation as a practice is that we can take time to tune out, sort of speak, the world. Meditation can help us acknowledge our body, breath, thoughts, and feelings without being connected to them, if only for one moment. From a scientific perspective, meditation can deactivate the default mode network part of the brain. Meditation has been associated with relatively reduced activity in the default mode network.
Science supports the idea that mindfulness meditation can at least give us a moment of pause to slow down our conscious and unconscious thoughts to give our minds a rest from internal busyness... Busyness in the sense that we are always thinking of the past (what has already occurred) or the future (what might occur). Scientific studies suggest that meditation benefits us in that during meditation the default mode network is momentarily allowed to take a pause from being driven by our survival instincts. Self-reports from practitioners of mindfulness meditation informs us that a consistent meditation practice can improve one’s overall empathy and manage one's emotional attachment to their own point of view.
So, yes, from where I sit, mindfulness meditation works.
In the struggle for our humanity,
Dr. Venus E. Evans-Winters, LCSW, CCTPI/CCTPII, PhD
~Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach.
The Peer Review Process. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation on the Clubhouse app where the topic was on the peer review process. The organizers of the session were from diverse academic backgrounds including education and artificial intelligence (AI). Also, participants in the Clubhouse room were from different disciplines such as the biological sciences, engineering, cultural studies, etc. And, of course, consistent with the Clubhouse community, the room was packed with people from all over the world which was really cool! The gatherers spent nearly two hours questioning the peer review process. (My video is shorter!)
Judging from avatars (or profile pics) and people's voices, participants were also representative of diverse racial, ethnic, linguistic, and cultural groups. Nevertheless, I listened to students and tenure-track professors raise questions and comment on the state of the peer review process. For the most part, the session might've been described as an informational session on the peer review process, but some of us who are more familiar with the peer review and publication process might've described it as a venting session. I am going to place the tone of the conversation into two categories:
What is the problem with the peer review process? Honestly, I am grateful that the organizers of the Clubhouse room decided to host the discussion. I learned a lot as a research scholar and a person invested in the peer review process. What did I learn as an insider/outsider? What were some sentiments expressed? I would say that much of the sentiments from the conveners and participants (or those making comments and asking questions) were that certain disciplines are harsher in criticism, bias toward so-called newcomers, and/or scientists who present novice ideas are automatically rejected for those ideas. Also, some people seemed to believe that the peer review process itself lacked organization and consistency across organizations. I personally learned that many people are not really aware of the purpose of the peer review process and that there is a lack of trust in the process.
Is the peer review process intimidating for scholars? In some cases, I could also sense a feeling of intimidation or worry about the expectation to participate in the peer review process. Eventually, I did raise my hand to "go on stage" to attempt to provide some insight into the peer review process from two perspectives: as a Black woman scholar and someone who has extensive experience serving behind the scenes in a variety of capacities in the peer review process (e.g. Associate Editor, Series Editor, Review Board, author, conference chair, etc.). I am not sure that I am ready to state unequivocally that there is a lack of transparency in the peer review process, but I do believe that there is a lack of knowledge of the peer review process, which could be related to issues of equity and access. With that said, I created a video to demystify the peer review process. We all can benefit from knowing what the peer review process entails!
Tips for navigating the peer review process. Take notes! After viewing the video on YouTube (and please subscribe so I can continue to make such content free and accessible), be sure to take a look at the list of tips under the video that I provide for graduate students, new authors, and tenure track faculty for navigating the peer review process.
Finally, check out my book, "Black Feminism in Qualitative Inquiry: A Mosaic for Writing Our Daughter's Body" for a straight-forward discussion on bias in the academic/scientific research process itself! ?
Please leave comments here (below) or on Youtube, if you have more questions about the peer review process.
In the struggle for our humanity,
Dozens of parents have asked me about homeschooling. I am honestly back on the fence. Not about homeschooling itself, but about how to homeschool. There are different models of homeschooling and each model can be beneficial depending on the child's and parents' needs. No school system or homeschool curriculum is perfect!
Here are my biggest observations and takeaways (I speak as a mother of 2, Professor, a clinician, and someone who has taught outside of the U.S. in African schools):
1. Many homeschool models are reflective of traditional schooling such as 8am starts and 3pm end times, and math, science, and reading. Other programs are simply "supports" for parents. For me, I loved the shutdown of schools or social distancing from whiteness. I didn't like how school made my child a zombie. I love that she is sleeping in and waking up vibrant, energetic, and is a social being again (she works out with her dad at 4:30am/5am); and she is no longer expected to be a miniature adult attempting to avoid fights with adults or other students.
I'm not in support of homeschool programs that go from 8-3pm. I do not believe a child's brain needs to be guided by adults via technology for 6 hours out of the day. Go read! Sit in the sun! Talk to other people! Color! Draw! Or, just be! (But, no t.v. or too much social media lol). I did find one program whose motto was no more than 4 hours a day of online learning.
2. Some homeschool sites' online presence is "clunky" and/or doesn't provide enough information for parents to make an informed decision. Second, most parents are not experts on homeschooling. An organization's or businesses' online resources should be streamlined and transparent. What are you asking of us? Our children? What are your prices? What is the curriculum?
3. Some homeschool programs center culture (e.g. everything from cooking to travel to Africa courses!), but may lack what I might think is an essential skill such as a foreign language (e.g. Spanish or Swahili). Finally, culture should be at the center of all education. Period. But, we have to be careful of throwing everything in the "pot", because it looks and feels good to adults. For example, the number one language spoken by Africans is Swahili (outside of Africa is Spanish!). Shouldn't Black children be learning one or both of these languages? With that said, how do parents choose a curriculum that infuses culture and practicality?
Okay, this post is now too long!
In the struggle for our humanity,
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
A Boss Chick's Guide to Mindfulness Meditation:
Every Boss Chick needs this workbook. I've compiled a sweet and simple guide to mindfulness meditation with Black women at the center of this practice!
Readers will learn:
In the workbook, I combined everything I've learned over the years as a therapist, who embraces psycho-spiritual psychology, with my research knowledge of Black women to bring you a methodology to begin your personal journey with mindfulness meditation. Trust and believe, if you read my book, "Black Feminism in Qualitative Inquiry: A Mosaic for Writing Our Daughter's Body" (Routledge Press), you already know how mindfulness meditation influenced my research and creative writing process as well.
Grab your favorite pen, light a candle, and start your mindfulness meditation journal today with me, Dr. V!
"I simply want to help Black people reclaim healing practices that are natural to who we are and not depended on Western pharmaceuticals and the oppressors interpretations of indigenous knowledge."
~Empress Dr. V
Activist Scholar. Cultural Worker. Healer. Mother.
Black Feminist Research
Black Women Scholars
Hip Hop Feminism
Lauryn Hill Reader
Urban Girl Culture