Meditation as Leisure in America

Open Access
Choe, Jaeyeon
Graduate Program:
Recreation, Park and Tourism Management
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 20, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Garry Chick, Dissertation Advisor
  • Garry Chick, Committee Chair
  • Edward Paul Durrenberger, Committee Member
  • Andrew Justin Mowen, Committee Member
  • Careen M Yarnal, Committee Member
  • Meditation
  • Leisure
  • Stress Reduction
A substantial amount of research has demonstrated that leisure can reduce stress, help people cope with stress, improve mood, and contribute to overall health and well-being (Iwasaki, 2010; Mannell, 2007; Orsega-Smith et al., 2004). Similarly, meditation helps individuals reduce stress and alleviate anxiety and depression (Shapiro et al., 2005), it is cost-effective (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992; 1994) and makes people more “insightful” about life (Miller, et al., 1995). The similarities between leisure and meditation suggest that a comparative analysis of them may provide deeper insights into the ways in which both can contribute to improved quality of life. Moreover, since those who engage in meditation do so during discretionary or otherwise unoccupied time, thinking about meditation as a kind of leisure may be fruitful. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine the nature of the meditation experience with the additional goal of determining if/and what experiences and outcomes of meditation are similar to and different from those of leisure. I used participant observation and in-depth interviews to study how individuals experience meditation and its outcomes. I collected data in the spring of 2011 with the Open Meditation Society at Penn State University and a Zen meditation group in central Pennsylvania. I conducted interviews with 16 individuals, including a Buddhist monk, a priest, a teacher, and meditators. Also, in order to assist with study design, I did a pilot study with seven people in February 2009 and a second pilot study using participant observation with a meditation group during the spring and fall of 2010. I participated in the rituals, social events, and other activities with group members, facilitated free meditation sessions, observed them, took notes, held informal conversations and interviews, and conducted formal interviews in order to obtain information that would enable me to address my research questions. Results indicate that meditators experience stress reduction, spiritual health, self-actualization, flow, mood enhancement (emotion management), and quality of life enhancement, during both their leisure and their meditation. Therefore, meditation and leisure appear to provide individuals with similar outcomes. However, the meditation experience for beginning and veteran meditators differed. Inexperienced meditators reported that meditation can be hard work because they have to consciously concentrate, but doing rituals, praying, and meditating can still be calming and relaxing. They also enjoy the quiet time alone (just for themselves) because they always feel rushed. On the other hand, experienced meditators are interested in achieving higher level of freedom and complete relaxation from worries, thoughts and other external environments. They also focus on cultivating their minds by deep observation, and actively integrating meditation methods into their lives in both work and leisure. Nevertheless, the outcomes for both experienced and inexperienced meditators were similar. This may mirror the experiences of individuals who are taking up a new leisure activity versus those who have been involved in an activity for and extended period of time. This study employs a new lens through which to examine positive experiences and outcomes derived from meditation that renders it similar to leisure.