How do The 3 Doors programs and practices transform lives? What are the short-term, cumulative, and lasting benefits of these Tibetan meditation practices? How do The 3 Doors research studies fit into the larger field of research on mindfulness and meditation?  We’ll explore answers to these questions and more in our new Research Update series.

For this first update, we’ll talk with The 3 Doors Research Team Lead Claire Clark about a longitudinal research study on The 3 Doors Academy, a two and a half year cohort-based meditation program. This study includes approximately 60 Academy participants, divided between the North American Academy (2015-2017 cohort) and the Latin American Academy (2016-2018 cohort).

Before the interview we would like to introduce The 3 Doors Research Team, whose members are currently working on longitudinal studies, including studies on The 3 Doors Academy and The 3 Doors Compassion Project: Team Lead, Claire Clark, Ph.D., University of Utah School of Medicine; Research Lead, Alejandro Chaoul Ph.D., University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Program; and Compassion Project Research Lead, Mike Gawrysiak, Ph.D., West Chester University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Also contributing are: Academy Researcher Jan Toyota, OTR, M.S. and Ligmincha Institute Researcher Barbara Stefik, Ph.D.

Interview with The 3 Doors Research Team Lead Claire Clark

How could this Academy study contribute to the larger field of mindfulness and meditation research?

Many studies reported in the literature cover mindfulness meditation programs that run for eight weeks or less. The 3 Doors Academy is a two and a half year program. We are collecting data at multiple points throughout the program, and at 6-month and one-year follow-ups, to evaluate the effects of these select ancient Tibetan practices on Western practitioners.  We are using well-known validated research scales to explore correlations with specific practices and their desired outcomes.  By having this amount of time to study the participants during and after the program – to observe its impact over time on their health and wellbeing – we hope to contribute to the growing field of knowledge about the long term effects of meditation. For example, one of the most comprehensive studies of meditation to date is the Shamatha Project conducted by The Saron Lab, at UC Davis.

You are also a 3 Doors Academy graduate. How would you describe the program you are researching?

The Academy is a rigorous meditation program that teaches life-changing practices. Participants commit to 2 ½ years of daily meditation practice, six 5-day group retreats, and 21 private retreat days. Each participant is responsible for documenting 63 life transformations in three areas of life: personal, interpersonal (family and friends), and professional/community. The number 63 may seem random, but these meditation practices and teachings are rooted in specific ancient Tibetan traditions. Bon Buddhist monks have been practicing with these same meditation methods for thousands of years.

This program is much more than learning and practicing meditation methods.  During the program, personal issues arise that may have been holding a person back. The practices and teachings support participants to become aware of obstacles in their lives, transform unhelpful patterns, and ultimately experience the gifts of one’s true nature. The process of letting go and letting be is challenging, and also deeply rewarding. Reflecting and sharing about these experiences creates a cohesive, supportive community of practitioners. The Academy is truly a unique program and we are excited to be researching it both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Could you tell me more about the research methods that you are using?

Yes, quantitatively, we are collecting participant surveys at multiple points throughout the program and evaluating the data with psychometrically validated scales for compassion, self-compassion, self-efficacy, satisfaction with life, happiness, and mindful attention and awareness. For example, we are looking at, Do people increase their compassion to others as well as themselves? Does self-efficacy increase– that is do they feel more confidence in their lives as they work through difficult things? Are people happier, does the joy in one’s life increase? Does the quality of life improve? Does mindful attention and awareness increase?

Qualitatively, we are using open-ended survey questions and conducting participant interviews that look at rich individual experience and any over-arching themes that emerge. One important component of our research is the “Challenging Person” interviews, where we ask, Which area of your life do you encounter a significant challenging person (family, professional, or greater community)? How has your relationship to this person changed over the course of the Academy program? This qualitative portion of the research data provides texture and personal meaning to the experience of participation in The 3 Doors Academy.

Some initial impressions of the Challenging Person interviews reveal similarities in how participants relate to themselves in terms of “having more insight or awareness of the self.” There is also “more trust and confidence in the process and practices of The 3 Doors” to create positive change in relationships with others.

What are the next steps for this study?

Right now we are in the process of collecting and analyzing data. The North American Academy cohort just graduated in fall 2017 and the Latin American Academy wraps up in fall 2018. Some preliminary analyses look promising – people are reporting positive changes in their behaviors, improved interactions with others, and increased quality of life.