The Spiritually Transformative Impact of Meditating Using Binaural Beats by Dr.Mike Alan Doogan
The purpose of this study was to discover a theory concerning binaural beats in daily meditation with regard to transformative spiritual experiences in the lives of those who apply this method. Essentially a binaural beat is said to occur as a result of the introduction of two slightly mismatched frequency waves of sound when listened to by a participant using stereo headphones (Oster, 1973). The brain is said to naturally attune to this third beat, which is the slight difference, allowing researchers and participants to entrain brain waves to slower frequencies and potentially induce shifts in consciousness (Harris, 2007). Using this operational definition of binaural beats, this researcher examined the experience of participants using these beats as a meditative tool over a period of 5 weeks with interest in forming a theory based on the perceived transformative spiritual experiences that participants report.
Overarching Research Question
Based on the need for further exploration into the qualitative and perceived spiritual aspects of using binaural beats in meditation, the overarching research question sought to form a theory that spoke to the nature of binaural beats in daily meditation as well as their potential impact on perceived spiritually transformative events in the lives who apply this method. This question served as the guiding focus of this inquiry and was revisited throughout the research process with an eye toward the discovery of a theoretical framework. Due to the inductive design structure of this study, emergent themes shifted exploration in various other directions regarding the process of experiencing spiritually transformative events.
This study was designed according to a constructive grounded theoretical approach. It contained qualitative elements informed by a transpersonal researcher's perspective. The design was meant to honor an inductive, exploratory gestalt in terms of data collection, analysis, and interpretation and was intended to allow for and seek out the transformative elements of transpersonal experiences both among participants and researcher. The inward and outward elements to processing information and experience were attempted to be equally honored in this design and the ultimate aim was to produce a theoretical model that could be applied to future research and learning opportunities for others.
The basic and initial screening criteria for participants in this study were as follows:
• Participants must be adults, age 20 and older.
• Participants must be able to write or type comfortably in English.
• Participants must be willing and able to commit the time and effort needed to abide by the requirements of the study for the entire 5-week duration, including 30 minutes per day of meditation, journaling, interviewing, completing assessments, and creating art.
• Participants must not have previously used binaural beats in a regular meditation practice.
• Participants must have access to mental health support should they experience spirit based emergencies or other related symptoms associated with using this method.
Twenty participants were initially selected for this study. Participants were solicited from online invitations on social websites (e.g., Facebook, Craigslist, Sacred Circle) and a posting on the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology’s (now known as Sofia University) website. In consideration of attrition, 20 participants were initially selected from the screening criteria, providing extra participants to account for any potential unforeseen circumstances and to insure that the goal of 10 to 15 final participants for this study was met.
This study used five assessment tools. These tools were all administered at the beginning and end of the 5-week timeframe. Participants spent practicing meditation using binaural beats and were aimed at documenting the perceived impact of this meditative tool on transpersonal or spiritually transformative experience. The tools were, in the order that they were be administered; an EHE and transpersonal survey, the Spiritual Orientation Inventory, a journal entry on spiritually transformative experiences, a creative expression, and a 60-minute interview on perceived spiritual experiences. Clearly participants found different assessments easier to use as methods of expression than others; however, the intent of the variety of assessment methods and approaches in this study was to offer diverse opportunity for methodological reflection and expression. By providing a wide variety of tools that speak to various levels of consciousness, it was the hope that the most balanced and useful data would be provided regarding subjective transpersonal experiences.
EHE and transpersonal survey. This survey was designed to capture some random, basic data with regard to the perceived frequency and variety of EHE experiences that participants experienced. It was very loosely influenced by a much more extensive EHE survey developed by Genie Palmer and William Braud (1999) at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. For the purposes of this study, the survey developed by this researcher attempted to simplify and greatly minimize the survey to capture more generalized EHE data and streamline the assessment process. The purpose of taking this survey was to provide an initial baseline with regard to perceived EHEs to be compared with following the 5 weeks of meditative practice. It was the hope of this researcher that by testing using this survey before and after, insight regarding each participant's tendency to feel that they were experiencing EHEs were be clarified and compared before and after using the binaural beat tool. By taking this survey, participants were encouraged to reflect on their lives and perceived experiences with regard to transpersonal EHEs.
Spiritual Orientation Inventory. The Spiritual Orientation Inventory (SOI) is an assessment tool that is available to the public for free. It was developed by Elkins, Hedstrom, Hughes, Leaf, and Saunders (1988) and provides an excellent measurement of basic orientation toward a spiritual perspective. For the purposes of this study, the SOI was meant to provide some basic information regarding the general orientation and demographics of participants toward a perceived spiritual experience. In other words, this was meant to provide some basic information on the openness to experiencing something that participants perceive as spiritual. It was useful and included in this study to help the researcher gain information regarding perceived versus actual spiritually transformative experiences and offered before and after the study to compare any changes that participants may have perceived from meditating using binaural beats. It was meant to work with the other assessment tools with regard to subjectively felt experiences and was ordered first in an effort to begin with collective and move to individual measurements. This assessment can be found online and was, therefore, easy to access. It tallied the score for participants so that they could see the results, so it may have been helpful in providing information to participants about their own spiritual perspective to some degree.
Journal entry. The journal entry did not have a specific time duration or length. It was designed to capture an explanation of the perceived subjective transpersonal experiences that each participant shared. Participants were asked to sit and write about a powerful spiritual experience that they had. The journal entry given initially was meant to obtain a baseline understanding of the participant with regard to their notion of spiritual experiences and their impact on their life in a very informal and open way. This was meant to be a fairly loose and abstract assessment tool that could go many different directions. In allowing participants an opportunity to reflect on their transpersonal experiences, this tool sought to open doorways to introspection and writing. It tried to help those that may be more inclined to respond to creative writing with regard to sharing their experiences in other ways. Strong inductive information was gleaned from this tool.
The journal entry assignment was given following the survey and inventory in an effort to allow participants to open their expression. In terms of brain waves and personal experience, this tool was meant to appeal to slower frequencies of expression, hopefully allowing some participants to better explain their subjective transpersonal experiences.
Creative expression. This tool was also at the beginning and end of the study. It attempted to take the effort to open doorways of perception regarding subjective experience made in the journaling a step further by moving to methods of communication with perhaps less conscious aspects of the experience. For some, this may have been very difficult, with the more structured assessments coming easily. Of course the opposite could have been true for others. Participants could take as little or much time working on their piece as they liked. When completed, a photograph was asked to be taken of the creative expression and sent to the researcher. This tool was done after the journal.
Brief interview. The final assessment tool was to complete a brief verbal phone interview. The interview was designed to provide an opportunity to share the same experience, in an extroverted sense, with others. It hopefully allowed for those who are more comfortable in engaged reflection and sharing to provide useful data in that manner. In terms of the pre and post assessment procedure, the interview was designed as an opportunity to perhaps ground participants in their perceived experiences and provide feedback on their experiences.
experience. Expansive explorations were encouraged.
Eighteen participants completed a demographics form at the beginning of this study. The average age of participants in this study was 40.5 years old. Fifty-six percent of the participants identified themselves as female, 44% male. Fifty percent of participants identified as feminine, 41% as masculine, and 8% as androgynous. In terms of highest level of education, 6% had a high school degree, 6% had some high school, 18% had some college, 12.5% had an associate degree, 25% had a bachelor’s degree, 18.7% a master’s degree, 6% a doctoral degree, and 6% a professional degree.
With regard to yearly income, 64% claimed $0 to $20,000 per year, 28% claimed $20,001 to $40,000, zero claimed $40,001 to $60,000, and 7% claimed $60,001 to $80.000. Ninety-three percent of participants were White and 6% Native American. Fifty-seven percent identified as heterosexual, 28% mostly heterosexual, 7% homosexual, and 7% queer. Thirteen percent of participants were disabled or differently abled, 86 % not disabled or differently abled. In terms of religion, 5% of participants were Christian, 5% were Pagan, 16 % were Native American, 22 % said other, and 44% said eclectic or many traditions.
Participants were given the option to check more than one box if applicable. Of the 18 participants that completed this initial demographic form, 3 ended correspondence following completion of this form. The split between masculine and feminine was fairly even. Education level seemed fairly evenly dispersed among participants. A majority of participants were White and most were heterosexual, although some variance in sexual preference was noted. Few participants were disabled or differently abled. Perhaps a reflection of the advertisement choice, most identified as eclectic in terms of religion. This lack of attachment to any one religion indicated to this researcher that overall this sample was a group of people who are open to spiritual experiences that lie outside of the realm of tradition. This distinction is important to note with regard to the result of this study and the data provided by participants, and will be discussed in much great detail later in this work.
Spiritual Orientation Inventory. Nineteen participants completed the inventory during pretesting, compared to 12 in posttesting. This significant attrition rate of 31.57% renders the results of this survey speculative. That said, these results may indicate that in general, participants reported an overall increase in perceptive orientation toward spiritual aspects of life, suggesting that in general, the baseline perception of participants seemed at least open to the possibility that using binaural beats would have some kind of spiritual impact on them. Also among those that completed the survey, in general there was an increased orientation toward the spiritual elements of living.
EHE Survey. Similar to the SOI, there was an attrition rate of 7 for the EHE survey from pre to post-testing. This high rate of attrition rendered these results speculative as well. In terms of baseline data, the results of the survey from pre to post-testing suggested in general that participants remained open to spiritually transformative events throughout the study and that they became more certain whether or not they had or had not experienced a certain type of EHE before. This certainly may support the spiritual orientation of the remaining participants in the sense that they felt more certainty regarding what they had experienced before on both ends of the spectrum of experience.
Journal Entry, Creative Expression, and Interview.The thematic patterns identified from the combined coding and analysis of the journal, creative expression, and interview provided some interesting results. The major themes gleaned from the data are listed below with percentages provided to show how many of the participants reported each theme. The top thematic patterns from both pre and post-testing were compared in order to form a final theoretical foundation. Listed below are those percentages of pre to post-testing among participants and the differences after the 5-week daily use of binaural beat meditation.
1. Faith Pre-81.25% to Post 77.7%, a decrease of 3.55%.
2. Life changing Pre-68.75% to Post-55.5%, a decrease of 13%.
3. Connection to all else Pre-68.75% to Post- 55.5%, a decrease of 13.25%.
4. Energy through body Pre-56.25% to Post-66.6%, an increase of 10.35%.
5. Openness to spirit Pre- 50% to Post-33.3%, a decrease of 16.7%.
6. Suffering preceded Pre-37.5% to Post-88.8%, an increase of 51.3%.
A slight decrease in the experience of faith was noted among participants. This difference
seems minimal enough to support the notion that in general, participants experienced a perceived consistent sense of faith or trust associated with a spiritually transformative event. It is important to note that the perception of faith that participants reported did not seem to be impacted directly by the practice of using binaural beat meditation during this study in either direction.
Larger decreases were noted by participants on perceived experiences of the event being life changing, feeling a connection of all else and being open to spirit. These larger decreases are interesting in the sense that they may indicate almost a sense of decreased overall perceptions of powerfully transformative experiences among participants after the 5-week trial time. This could be explained, of course, by a variety of other factors such as attrition shifts, frustration of expectations not being met by the experiment, or the difficulty of the practice itself, to name a few.
Only two of these top thematic categories showed increases following the trial period. The first of these was the experience of energy through the body, which showed a moderate increase of approximately 10%. Like the other results, this shift is small enough that it could be explained by a variety of other factors. That said, the idea that participants felt more grounded in their bodies and experienced something moving through the body may support the notion that listening to binaural beats did provide some sense of change perceptually in the direction of the body and energy.
For this researcher the most pronounced and telling shift between pre and post-testing and in most regards throughout this study, was that of reported struggle or suffering preceding the experience of a spiritually transformative event. In pretesting, 33.75% of participants shared the experience of struggle leading up to the event that they perceived as spiritually transformative. After the 5-week trial of the binaural beat meditation, this percentage leaped up to the highest percentage of reported experiences, according to coding; 88.8% of participants identified this experience as a part of their reportedly significant event. This increase of 51.3% suggests a significant shift among participants toward a perceived experience of struggle associated with their reported event. Taken into consideration with the decrease in other experiences such as connection with all else and openness to spirit, it appears from this result that the participants increased their awareness or focus in the direction of struggle leading up to the reported event. This struggle pattern preceding such events became a focus of the second literature review, as did the accompanying reports associated with a sense of abrupt shift following the period of struggle associated with spiritually transformative events.
Given that the purpose of this study was to discover a theory concerning binaural beats in daily meditation with regard to transformative spiritual experiences in the lives of those who apply this method, the high percentage of participants who reported a sense of struggle leading up to an abrupt onset of such an event became a major theoretical focus of the study. This was the most significantly substantiated theoretical finding presented in the grounded theory of this work.
Other findings of this work pertain more directly to underlying themes of this study that became increasing apparent to this researcher as it progressed. The importance of careful examination of the type of designs that are now being used as a means of testing perceived experiences associated with transpersonal events became increasingly a source of focus as well.
Creative Expression and Induction Methods.This study produced some extremely interesting and potentially valuable visual results in the creative expressions of participants. While these expressions, like other instruments used in this study did not necessarily show any clearly measurable results to be applied in a statistical sense to this study, the direct expression of subconscious experiences in these images seemed apparent to this researcher. Unfortunately, due to the design of this study and available instruments, the major contribution that these powerful images provided to this study was simply another level of perceived expression by participants to be integrated into those provided in the journal and interview instruments. This writer cannot help but feel that some very useful data were lost in the collection process associated with this tool as a result.
Theoretical Finding 1
There is a relationship between experiences of struggle and spiritually transformative events.
This theoretical stance is firstly based on the significant shift between pre and post-testing results, gleaned from the journal, interview and creative expression results in this study. This 51.3% increase, reported by participants suggests a consistent and valuable collective result that seems directly impacted by the practice of meditation using binaural beat audio meditation. Although these results could reflect other factors specific to the use of binaural beats, the overall expression among participants throughout this study suggested a sense of struggle immediately preceding the events that they reported. This combination increased dramatically when reporting after the trial period, suggesting that whether or not a result of using this form of meditation, participants were significantly more aware of a sense of struggle after attempting to meditate.
The results of the Spiritual Orientation Inventory suggest that overall participants were more oriented perceptually in the direction of spirit during post-testing during this study. This shift supports the notion that this increased sense of struggle that participants reported preceding their experience of a spiritually transformative event in journals, interviews and creative expression came about while being more oriented toward spirit in general. Since participants were more focused perceptually on spiritual issues and simultaneously reporting significantly increased experiences of struggle when sharing spiritually transformative events, this researcher is inclined to argue that these findings suggest a relationship between perceived experiences of such events.
Finally, the results of the literature review conducted by this researcher support the direct relationship between struggle and spiritually transformative events. These writings were gleaned both from current research and writings on spiritual emergency and ancient writings on the experience of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. It is the feeling of this writer that should a more extensive literature review be conducted, much more significant and far reaching literature in support of this position could be gleaned from both Wisdom traditions and current research in the field of consciousness and psychology. The need for such increased research and comprehensive inquiry into the relationship between struggle and spiritually transformative events became increasingly apparent to this writer as this study progress, and it is the theoretical stance of this researcher that the relationship between intensive struggle and spiritual shifts is evident and in need of further research. Given the vast amount of data that were collected on subjective experience, but relatively unrelated to the guiding research question and design, this researcher came to some additional theoretical findings relevant to this work.
Theoretical Finding 2
Inductive qualitative research may be less effective when mixed with pre and post-testing methods.
As this study progressed, it became increasingly clear that in attempting to design a methodology that produced consistent, valid results specific to the relationship between binaural beat meditation and spiritually transformative events, this researcher somewhat undermined the inductive process involved in collecting data using a constructive grounded-theory approach. Essentially, this resulted in what felt like a linear design being used to collect data for what is essentially a circular process. After sharing their powerful experiences initially in this study, participants struggled a great deal to go through the exact same process again during post-testing. While such methods work well in measuring specific stimuli, the conflict inherent in using pre/post-testing in a CGTH approach to gleaning information resulted in a high attrition of participants at a very specific point in the study, namely the onset of post-testing. This high attrition in effect diluted many of the potentially useful results from all of the measurement tools and called into question the results of this study.
While it is very possible that the measurements were accurate despite attrition and as others have found, binaural beat technology simply does not impact participants in the way that its current proponents report, it is the feeling of this researcher that this study would have been better served without the use of a pre/post format with an inductive qualitative design. To be sure there was plenty of data collected in this study without post-testing being needed or of use in seeking to explore the nature of perceived spiritually transformative events while practicing binaural beat meditation. In future research on spiritual experience; therefore, it seems that rather than seeking to meet the expectations for validity inherent in mainstream approaches to psychological research, current and future research in the field of transpersonal psychology may be better served in developing and refining current innovative and controversial approaches to the study of subjective spiritual experience rather than to seek to conform to mainstream pressures regarding such research. In other words, it seems that it is more useful and important to be true to designs that match the abstract, subjective nature of such experiences than to attempt to force a more acceptable type of approach. It is therefore the second theoretical stance of this researcher that inductive design methodologies are better served without the use of pre and post-testing designs, and that such circular methods of inquiry are better served with equally flexible research designs. One such approach that seemed to align extremely well with CGTH was the art based research methods used in this study. Unfortunately, the wonderful data collected during the course of this study lacked a significant method of standardized evaluation, so its value seemed to go largely unused as a source of data.
Theoretical Finding 3
Art-based research methods are in need of further development and use in qualitative research today.
As this study progressed, it became apparent to this researcher that more advanced methods of measurement and assessment for the visual expression of phenomenon are in need and of significant value to today’s research on subjective experiences in general and spiritual events in particular. Often people seem unable to express what is occurring for them in words. Art-based research provides a valuable avenue of expression, however few methods seem to exist or are accepted in mainstream psychological research for effectively evaluating and examining such methods of expression. Certainly this issue is related to the inherently subjective nature of art; however, as qualitative research continues to grow and provide useful information on the subjective experiences of participants, having some kind of agreed upon instrument of evaluation would seem paramount to furthering such methods of inquiring in the field. Although it is entirely possible that such methods are already in existence and developed, their use seems little known and controversial at this point, and it is the stance of this researcher that a very valuable means of gleaning information directly relevant to transpersonal experiences is going unused. It is the third theoretical stance of this study that art based research methods are in need of evaluation and standardization as a form of legitimate research in qualitative design. Another design approach used in the study that seemed to match up extremely well with the overall CGTH design was the use of incubation time in collecting and providing information. This intention to honor the internal as well as external aspects of learning and sharing proved very valuable to this researcher during the course of this work and resulted in many of the theoretical stances presented and subjectively substantiated here. In other words, reflecting on this experience as it unfolded helped in all phases of this work and would seem to have much to offer future research of this kind.
Theoretical Finding 4
Incubation methods in data collection may provide more accurate subjective data in qualitative research.
The use of inductive methods of data examination for both researcher during data collection and for participants in providing responses to assessment tools seems to offer a much needed sense of balance culturally between externally defined and identified experiential data and internalized, holistic data on subjective experiences. In integrating incubation into qualitative research designs, underlying cultural bias inherent in Western approaches to psychological research and those associated with Eastern approaches to religion and spirituality can better be bridged, resulting in a more holistic, accurate and potentially valuable contribution to the advancement not only to the field of transpersonal psychology, but to the study of human behavior as a whole. This is an important, yet seemingly overlooked point in academia today. Therefore, it is the fourth theoretical stance of this study that incubation methods offer an important tool that that is needed in future designs and the study of subjective experiences overall today. This theoretical stance, like most of the others, is substantiated by this writer’s reflection on the experience of conducting this study and therefore admittedly subjective and biased in nature. Such is the nature of qualitative inquiry of this kind, and the value of honoring this kind of approach to learning is strong. The need for more research of this kind is clearly, ultimately what is needed in addressing the primary research question of this study.
Theoretical Finding 5
More qualitative research is needed on the use of binaural beats technology as a method of meditation to determine its safety and effectiveness.
The results of this study specific to the use of binaural beats as meditation were inconclusive overall. As discussed in the initial literature review, a number of other studies conducted on this phenomenon seemed to produce similarly conflicting results with regard to the impact of listening to these recordings while meditating. While some significant research does support a shift in brain-wave function when listening to binaural beats, behavioral implications and subjective experiences remain relatively untested on this experience today. Such limited information makes the extensive popularization of their use suspect to this researcher. Given that numerous proponents of binaural beat audio meditation advertise it and claim to the significant impact that it can have on those who use it, more information seems to be needed before one should endorse this method as a form of meditation. It seems particularly important that this lack of supporting evidence be provided to consumers seeking an effective means of spiritual growth. As the literature review of this study discusses, choosing what is essentially claiming to be a spiritual shortcut to powerful transformative experience is not necessarily the kind of journey that one may wish to take on without the necessary guidance and support that other more time tested methods normally provide. In this society of technological shortcuts, individuality and speed, one should consider carefully the type of practices that they take on. Without the type of support that has been woven into the fabric of most of the existing wisdom traditions, one may pay a significant price for choosing to practice a relatively untested approach to consciousness expansion. They may find themselves experiencing a spiritual emergency that could be more damaging than beneficial. Of course, mystics of all ages have taken such chances throughout history in search of spiritual growth, so for some the chance of enlightenment may be worth the risk.
The relationship of struggle to spiritual transformation reported by participants in this study may suggest that binaural beat meditation produces a sense of discomfort and struggle that ultimately will lead to increased spiritually transformative events. Certainly the increased orientation toward spirit found by the SOI seems to support an overall shift. However, this data may also be suggesting that the struggle that participants experienced brought them dangerously close to an edge in awareness that they may not be prepared to integrate effectively into their lives. Whether or not one is prepared to take this jump and the decision to take this step is one that is better served in a community of seekers that can help provide the guidance and support needed to integrate the event more effectively into one’s life. Certainly the path that this study in giving participants an opportunity to share their experiences suggests that they sought out this study with the hope that they could find the support and guidance to make sense of what they experienced and better integrate it into their world. In other words, participants seemed hungry to make sense of what they had experienced and very motivated to share what they had gone through. They seemed to be seeking a spiritual community that would both legitimize and normalize what had occurred. Currently, such communities for people that are purchasing binaural beats exist in only a limited sense. Therefore, it is the final stance of this study that significantly more research into the subjective experiences of participants while practicing binaural beat meditation is needed. Due to the extensive marketing of binaural beats today, such research is needed right away and of value to anyone seriously considering practicing binaural beats as a meditation.
Posted on 2013 Nov 03 by admin