A fundamental aspect of the sense of self is its pre-reflective dimension specifying the self as a bounded and embodied knower and agent. Being a constant and tacit feature structuring consciousness, it eludes robust empirical exploration. Recently, deep meditative states involving global dissolution of the sense of self have been suggested as a promising path for advancing such an investigation. To that end, we conducted a comprehensive phenomenological inquiry into meditative self-boundary alteration. The induced states were systematically characterized by changes in six experiential features including the sense of location, agency, first-person perspective, attention, body sensations, and affective valence, as well as their interaction with meditative technique and overall degree of dissolution. Quantitative analyses of the relationships between these phenomenological categories highlighted a unitary dimension of boundary dissolution. Notably, passive meditative gestures of “letting go”, which reduce attentional engagement and sense of agency, emerged as driving the depth of dissolution. These findings are aligned with an enactive approach to the pre-reflective sense of self, linking its generation to sensorimotor activity and attention-demanding processes. Moreover, they set the stage for future phenomenologically informed analyses of neurophysiological data and highlight the utility of combining phenomenology and intense contemplative training for a scientific characterization of processes giving rise to the basic sense of being a bounded self.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding: This research was funded by the Bial Foundation (grant number 45069 to A.B.-O.). F.-M.T. was funded by a DFG individual fellowship (GZ: TR 1587/1-1). O.N. was funded by the Buddhist studies scholarship of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, made possible thanks to the generosity of Kyhentse Foundation.
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
- Empirical phenomenology
- Minimal self
- Self boundaries
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuroscience (all)