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Altered States of Consciousness

Dr. Kim Penberthy sitting grey chair office bookshelf in background

Kim Penberthy, PhD, Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences

Mindfulness and Unusual Experiences

Dr. Kim Penberthy and her colleagues are interested in studying meditators and the unusual experiences they report during and around the time of their meditation sessions. We are very interested in increasing our understanding of these unusual experiences and whether they are important to people because they impact their lives in some way, or whether or not these unusual experiences are merely passing curiosities during the course of their meditation practice.

We are particularly interested in whether people experience enhanced psychic or psi abilities as a result of meditation retreats, intensive practice or meditation classes. If you have an account to share of an unusual experience associated with your meditation and/or mindfulness practice, please send it to our Research Specialist – Elliott Gish at ket3qy@uvahealth.org.

Deep Meditation

A robust body of literature indicates that the practice of meditation appears to be helpful for a wide variety of stress-related conditions, as well as enhancing people’s positive qualities and improving overall quality of life. But in addition to these benefits, there are a host of unusual experiences people report having during or as a result of meditation practice that could point to new and expanded understandings about human potential and the nature of reality.

Anecdotal reports and a small amount of research indicate that those who practice meditation have experiences of precognition; telepathy, clairvoyance, and other psychic abilities; increased synchronicities; memories of past lives; out-of-body experiences, and sometimes report anomalous physical phenomena such as clocks stopping, or lights appearing or going out.

After-Death Communication (ADCs)

People sometimes report receiving messages from deceased loved ones through experiences such as memorable/unusual dreams, significant sounds, special smells, particular symbols, or other personal imagery. Sometimes these events are experienced in altered states, such as meditation or hypnagogic states before/after sleep, and sometimes they happen in an everyday state of consciousness.

When people experience these after-death communication (ADC) events, they are often a great source of comfort and healing. ADCs can happen in the wake of a recent death, 1-2 years after a death, or even many years later.

Sometimes an ADC yields information not previously known to the living recipient. ADCs often involve everyday people who do not have a history of mediumistic abilities or special skills. There is much to be studied in this area: the types of people who experience ADCs, the range of circumstances for occurrence, veridical elements, as well as short-term and long-term effects on a person’s grieving process.

Out-of-Body Experiences

Many persons have had the experience of seeming to be located in space away from their physical body, with one survey showing 15% of the population. This experience occurs in more than 65% of persons who come close to death and survive.

The experience of being out of the body is a type of altered state of consciousness. A small number of persons claim to be able to have an out-of-the-body experience voluntarily. Such persons may be suitable for experiments that might demonstrate a paranormal process.

Although many of these experiences do not suggest any paranormal process, two features that sometimes occur do suggest such a process. First, some persons report that while they were “out of body” they went some other place, outside the range of their normal senses, and there observed events that they could not have learned about normally. Second, in a small number of cases, the person who reports having been out of his or her body may be perceived by another person at the place where the first person said he or she had gone.