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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Buddhist Deity Meditation Temporarily Augments Visuospatial Abilities, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — Meditation has been practiced for centuries, as a way to calm the soul and bring about inner peace. According to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there is now evidence that a specific method of meditation may temporarily boost our visuospatial abilities (for example, the ability to retain an image in visual memory for a long time).

The question that this study addresses is whether meditation practice, specifically meditation on a Deity, or open presence allows practitioners to access a heightened state of visual-spatial awareness. What “heightened” actually refers to physiologically and behaviorally may refer to the ability to maintain complex images in the visual short-term memory for minutes or hours, which is rather long compared to a normal undergraduate student. Such sustained attention in the visualspatial domain may indicate a more developed attentional system and visual-spatial ability.

The researchers focused on two styles of meditation: Deity Yoga (DY) and Open Presence (OP). During DY meditation, the practitioner focuses intently on an image of deity and his or her entourage. This requires coming up with an immensely detailed, three-dimensional image of the deity, and also focusing on the deity’s emotions and environment. In contrast, practitioners of OP meditation believe that pure awareness cannot be achieved by focusing on a specific image and therefore, they attempt to evenly distribute their attention while meditating, without dwelling on or analyzing any experiences, images, or thoughts that may arise.

In these experiments, experienced DY or OP meditation practitioners along with nonmeditators participated in two types of visuospatial tasks, testing mental rotation abilities (e.g., being able to mentally rotate a 3-D structure) and visual memory (e.g., being shown an image, retaining it in memory and then having to identify it among a number of other, related images). All of the participants completed the tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes, while others rested or performed non-meditative acitivities, and then completed a second round of the tasks.

The results revealed that all of the participants performed similarly on the initial set of tests, suggesting that meditation does not result in an overall, long-lasting improvement of visuospatial abilities. However, following the meditation period, practitioners of the DY style of meditation showed a dramatic improvement on both the mental rotation task and the visual memory task compared to OP practitioners and controls.

These results indicate that DY meditation allows practitioners to access greater levels of visuospatial memory resources, compared to when they are not meditating. The authors state that this finding “has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss, and mental training.” Although, they conclude, future studies will need to examine if these results are specific to DY meditation, or if these effects can also occur using other visual meditation techniques.

Journal reference:

1. Kozhevnikov et al. The Enhancement of Visuospatial Processing Efficiency Through Buddhist Deity Meditation. Psychological Science, 2009; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02345.x

Mind and Life XVIII – Blog continued

Hi all,

Mind & Life has decided to break into the social networking scene. I will continue blogging about my experience in Dharamsala there:

Sunday, April 5th

The monkeys

The monkeys

View from Pema Thang of the temple and residence of His Holiness
View from Pema Thang of the temple and residence of His Holiness








It is a beautiful day in Dharamsala. We woke in our modest suite at the Pema Thang house to a view of the abode of His Holiness and the sound of loud banging….apparently the monkeys were waking up and pouncing over the tin rooftops closely followed by the barking dogs. Soon thereafter, we were able to discern the sounds of Tibetan trumpets and prayer reverberating throughout the foothills of the towering Himalayas. These mountains peak at 28,000 feet while Dharamsala is at around 6000 feet….so the immensity of the raw energy of nature is clearly present all around

Last night, the 9 presenters ate dinner together and mingled over late-night conversation and today we are immersed in the planning process to ensure a fruitful dialogue

Diego, Rob, and Adam immersed in planning process

Diego, Rob, and Adam immersed in planning process

Saturday, April 4th – New Delhi

Rob and I are sitting here in our beautiful New Delhi hotel, The Radisson. Lets be clear, the difference between Delhi and New Delhi is about 2-3 generations of progressive change. The Radisson has beautiful flower arrangements that are changed daily. See the orchids below.


Total travel time was 19 hours from New York to Delhi with a stop in Paris. The auspicious nature of the journey reared its head once again when I was boarding the plane and situating myself for the next 7 hour flight and there was Jon Kabat-Zinn and his family. Jon is always a welcoming face. We met up Rob Roeser at the airport and after our short car ride to the hotel had some Indian whiskey and beer.


Now in New Delhi, a majority of the participants have congregated for breakfast before our flight to Dharamsala. 


Alan Wallace, Diego Hangartner, and David Meyer

Alan Wallace, Diego Hangartner, and David Meyer


The Dosas were delicious (the coconut, mint, chili chutneys)…actually, we are not sure what the green and red chutneys were.

One more picture for the religious heterogeneity of India


Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I don’t know how many details I will be writing about, but I thought I could set the stage as I scramble this evening to make the “to-do lists” that I haven’t already, finish some loose ends on an NIH challenge grant, check the weather in Dharamsala, Delhi, and the phase of moon.

Well here it is:

The moon first:

4 / 2
First Quarter
4 / 9
4 / 17
Last Quarter
4 / 25

The full moon at the end of the meeting. Seems appropriate.

There surely is a stark contrast between the two cities in terms of weather:

Dharamsala’s 5-day forecast:

Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Chance of Rain
66° F | 48° F
Chance of Rain
68° F | 51° F
Chance of a Thunderstorm
68° F | 53° F
Chance of Rain
71° F | 50° F
Chance of Rain
69° F | 50° F
Chance of Rain

20% chance of precipitation
Chance of Rain

30% chance of precipitation
Chance of T-storms

40% chance of precipitation
Chance of Rain

20% chance of precipitation
Chance of Rain

20% chance of precipitation

Delhi’s 5-day forecast:

Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Scattered Clouds
91° F | 73° F
Partly Cloudy
93° F | 75° F
Partly Cloudy
96° F | 69° F
95° F | 73° F
Partly Cloudy
96° F | 71° F
Scattered Clouds Partly Cloudy Partly Cloudy Clear Partly Cloudy