What is it like to meditate? Methods and issues for micro-phenomenological description of meditative experience

Claire Petitmengin, Martijn van Beek, Michel Bitbol, Jean-Michel Nissou, Andreas Roepstorff

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In our society, where interest in Buddhist meditation is expanding enormously, numerous scientific studies are now conducted on the neurophysiological effects of meditation practices and on the neural correlates of meditative states. However, very few studies have been conducted on the experience associated with contemplative practice: what it is like to meditate — from moment to moment, at different stages of practice — remains almost invisible in contemporary contemplative science. Recently, ‘micro-phenomenological’ interview methods have been developed to help us become aware of lived experience and describe it with rigour and precision. The present article presents the results of a pilot project 1 aimed at applying these methods to the description of meditative experience. The first part of the article describes these methods and their adjustment for the investigation of meditative experience. The second part provides micro-phenomenological descriptions of two processes of which meditation practice enables the practitioner to become aware: the process of losing contact with the current situation and generation of virtual ones in ‘mind-wandering’ episodes, and the process of emergence of a thought. The third part of the article highlights the interest such descriptions may have for practitioners and for teachers of meditation, defines the status of these results, and outlines directions for further research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Consciousness Studies
Pages (from-to)170-198
Number of pages29
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • meditation
  • microphenomenology
  • elicitation
  • methods
  • first person methods


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