[Buddha-l] The Shamatha Project preliminary comments

S.A. Feite sfeite at adelphia.net
Thu Dec 27 04:57:15 MST 2007

On Dec. 19th B. Alan Wallace gave a lecture on the Shamatha Project  
along with some preliminary findings in Santa Barbara, CA. It sounds  
like it was a great success. A number of retreat members were and are  
now able to go into absorptions of 7 or even 9 hours--yet emerge  

Here's the audio and Powerpoint slides from that presentation. The  
audio is in five segments:


The entire hour and half has been assembled in one file and can be  
found here (slow server though):


The Shamatha Project: Meditative Quiescence, Loving-Kindness, and  
Human Flourishing
Longitudinal Studies of Effects of Intensive Meditation Practice on  
Attention, Emotional Regulation, and Their Neural Correlates

Recent studies of the effects of meditation practices on stress  
management and emotional stability and of meditation as a therapeutic  
agent have produced exciting results. But the studies conducted to  
date have been short-term and have generally used non-intensive  
interventions. We have engaged a team of talented neuroscientists and  
psychologists in a longer-term study, with state-of-the-art methods,  
to examine the effects of intensive meditation training on attention,  
cognitive performance, emotion regulation, and health. This effort,  
the Shamatha Project, has garnered the endorsement of His Holiness the  
Dalai Lama and initial funding from three private foundations, The  
Fetzer Institute, the Hershey Family Foundation, and the Yoga Research  
and Education Foundation. The training methods, taught by Dr. Alan  
Wallace, will include deep, intensive meditation training that fosters  
attentional vividness and stability as well as compassion, loving- 
kindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The expected benefits will  
include greater attentional control and increased ability to regulate  
emotions and apply prosocial values and motives.

The questions we address include: What measurable changes in  
attentional ability occur as a function of intensive meditation  
training? What are the neural correlates of these changes and the  
range of their consequences? Is it true, as Buddhist contemplatives  
claim, that improvements in the voluntary control of attention and  
associated improvements in attention systems in the brain make it  
easier to recognize and overcome negative emotions, maintain  
resilience in the face of stress, and improve relationships with other  
people? Do the changes persist after meditation trainees return from  
the retreat experience to the cacophony of everyday life in a modern  

The Shamatha Project will study participants in two three-month, full- 
time meditation retreats that will be conducted at the Shambhala  
Mountain Center in Colorado. During the first retreat, already  
completed, we studied the retreatants and a matched, randomized wait- 
list control group, who then became full-time participants in the  
second retreat. This allowed us to determine the effects of meditation  
training on attention, emotion-regulation, stress-related hormones,  
and immune-system factors. The retreatants and controls were assessed  
throughout the first retreat with field-laboratory studies of  
attentional vigilance, stability, and freedom from distraction, as  
well as tests of emotional reactions and voluntary control of  
emotions. Participants kept systematic daily diaries of moods and  
personal insights and experiences, which are being studied in tandem  
with data from the quantitative, objective measurements. Participants'  
brain activity was examined using 96-channel surface  
electroencephalography, and changes in autonomic nervous system  
activity was assessed with measures of heart rate, skin conductance,  
and respiration. Participants' emotions were assessed with self-report  
measures, performance on emotion-regulation tasks, and monitoring of  
physiological and behavioral variables. Attitudes and social reasoning  
tendencies were explored with tests of community problem solving. The  
second retreat which began in September 2007 is currently still in  
progress. Overall, we expect that three months of shamatha training,  
combined with cultivation of the four "qualities of the heart," will  
result in improved attentional performance (vigilance, selectivity,  
and metacognitive control) as well as greater compassion, security,  
and ability to down-regulate negative emotions.

Fall 2007 UPDATE:

Among the 70 participants in the two 3-month shamatha retreats, at  
least 14 are continuing in full-time meditative practice, intent on  
fully achieving shamatha. Among them, the Santa Barbara Institute is  
subsidizing their living expenses for those in financial need, and I  
am offering them all continued guidance in meditation without cost.

More information about the buddha-l mailing list