Meditation and Mindfulness Glossary

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Some definitions and clarifications

The Glossary

Welcome to our informal glossary defining some of the terms used in the research featured on this website.

Contemplative science is a large interdisciplinary area that encompasses contemporary and traditional forms of meditation. In due course comprehensive indexes, including a meditation glossary and a mindfulness glossary will be produced. But for the time being we offer some brief definition of key terms below. Please consider there are significant gaps in our overarching understanding of the science of meditation. And so there is a degree of fluidity in the use and meanings of some of these technical terms. If you can suggest any changes or improvements we’d welcome your thoughts.

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Blind or blinded experiments – A psychological experiment is said to be blinded when partcipants are unaware of information likely to influence their expectations of the effect of the intervention. A double-blinded experiment takes place when scientists and participants are both unaware of information able to create an experimental bias.

Buddhism – Buddhism is a term used to describe the many different religious and philosophical schools that broadly follow the teachings of the historical Buddha.

Buddhist – A Buddhist is a practitioner of Buddhism or something relating to or derived from Buddhism ‘a Buddhist meditation’.

Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) – Practices designed to systematically generate compassion.

Cognitive Processes – The mental processes that allow that allows us to engage with the world through sensory input.

Compassion – A term for a wide range of similar or related emotional traits and states. Competing definitions exist linked to different personal approached and social norms. One enduring definition is ‘the wish that all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering’. At the time of writing establishing a reliable construct validity was ongoing.

Compassion Meditation (CM) – Compassion or compassionate meditations is a generic title for any spiritual or secular practice the seeks to meditate levels of compassion in some way.

Default mode network (DMN) – Perhaps the most important area of meditation research, the DMN is a large scale but anatomically diffuse brain network, most active during, introspection, planning and processing autobiographical memory.

Duality-nonduality – Both duality and nonduality are different forms of consciousness that humans experience. Put simply traditional meditation systems are based on training that strengthens non-dual awareness.

Epistemology – Refers to the way we create knowledge. Our understanding of meditation and mindfulness exists in a specific frame, epistemology defines what the frames are (see ontology).

Intrinsic-extrinsic networks (i-eN) – Two separate but negatively correlated network. The intrinsic is largely responsible for internally focused activities (autobiographical memory, moral compass, planning). The extrinsic network supports external activities (tasks).

Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) – Loving-kindness meditation is a traditional Buddhist meditation practice, modern secular versions do exist. Although LKM is often linked with compassion meditation, traditional definitions describe loving-kindness as ‘the wish that beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.

Meditation Adverse Events (MAEs) – Adverse events linked to meditation practice, these can be mild or severe dependent on a number of causes and conditions. Scientific studies indicate that perhaps 1 in 10 people may suffer some form of MAE correlated with the practice of meditation or mindfulness. Although an under researched area, the potential for meditation to provoke negative side effects is well documented in traditional literature.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – It is presumed that human cognitive function declines from the age of about 30 onward. If this decline reaches a particular threshold it may be diagnosed as MCI. MCI can be seen as a movement towards dementia, but this definitely need not be the case. Evidence does show that brain function and structure can be increased in older adults.

Mindful Attention Training (MAT) – A mindfulness practice used to increase attention.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) – A blanket term for a family of mindfulness interventions, typically therapeutic forms rooted in the original MBSR framework. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – One of the first contemporary mindfulness practices, developed in the late 1970s with the intention to reduce stress.

Negative Correlation – A scientific term that describes two entangled systems, that have maximum combined output. When activity in one system is high, it’s reduced in the other and vice versa (see intrinsic-extrinsic).

Nondual Awareness (NDA) – A mental state that is the goal of many forms of traditional meditation.

Ontology – Based on principles articulated by Aristotle,

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) – An anxiety disorder that is caused by exposure to traumatic events.  A condition which is treated.

Prosocial behaviour – A term used to described actions intended to bring benefit to others, such as sharing resources, volunteering, contributing to good causes. Although there is a general understanding of what is termed prosocial. There are many grey areas that make the scientific use of the term problematic. For example the use of philanthropy to maximise tax liabilities or self-promotion.

Side Effects – In common with most other health treatments, the therapeutic uses of meditation may provoke unwanted side effects, some serious.