Promise modal of Mindfulness Meditation

After integrating the information from the three sources (interviews, Western concepts, Buddhist scriptures), we created a model on the process and mechanisms that lead to the positive effects of mindfulness meditation.

PROMISE model: PROcess of Mindfulness meditation leading to Insight and Equanimity

Mindfulness: nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment.

PROMISE model represents this sequence.

  1. The components of the meditation practice
  2. the mental actions during mindfulness mediation
  3. abilities that are trained by conducting these mental actions repeatedly
  4. profound changes in emotions and convictions
  5. important effects in daily life

1. Components of Meditation Practice

3 Approaches regarding meditation practices

  1. Attentional meditation (Targeting meta-awareness and experiential fusion)
  2. Constructive meditation(targeting reappraisal, perspective-taking and self schema)
  3. Deconstructive meditation (targeting self-inquiry and insight)

In attentional meditation, there is

  • focused attention mediation: “sustaining selective attention moment by moment on a chosen object”
  • open monitoring meditation: remaining “only in the monitoring state, attentive moment by moment to anything that occurs in experience without focusing on any explicit object”

2. The mental actions during mindfulness meditation

The Attentional meditation techniques are characterized by three mental actions to differing degrees:

  1. selective attention and concentration
  2. monitoring of mental experience
  3. deactivation of certain cognitions

Focused attention meditation is characterized by a very high degree of selective attention or concentration.

In contrast, open monitoring meditation is characterized by monitoring one's own mental experience. This state of mind was labeled ‘observation mode’ by many meditators. While being in that mode, inner states (including thoughts, emotions or impulses, but also perceptions obtained through the sense organs) are observed(ideally without judgment).

Both techniques need a further mental action that supports the focusing and monitoring, respectively: the active letting-go or deactivation of expectations, judgments and current thoughts, opinions, ideas, and other cognitive products. In focused attention meditation techniques, this active release is needed when thoughts distract the practitioner from their meditation object and it allows for reorientation.

3. Abilities that are trained by conduction these mental actions repeatedly

  1. to focus attention no a meditation object, selective and executive attention is required. The neural networks required for this will be strengthened by practice.
  2. To observe mental events the practitioner has to step out of their experience - meta-congnitive awareness or decentering.
  3. Adopting an attitude of openness, acceptance and non-attachment to present experiences on a regular basis, you gain the ability to alter the quality of any experience to be more neutral.

4. Emotional improvements and alterations of convictions

The improvement of the trained abilities, the deliberate use of meditative mental actions in daily life, and the other aspects that come with meditation practice trigger mechanisms that bring forth two very important effects of meditation:

  • Equanimity
  • Insight

Buddhist scriptures identify equanimity and insight as the crucial tool to overcome two basic hindrances for enlightenment: “When serenity is developed ... all lust is abandoned” and “When insight is developed ... all ignorance is abandoned”

Equanimity is defined as reduced frequency and duration of emotional reactions, such as boredom, self-blame, anxiety, guilt, greed, envy, and many more. However, emotional activity does not completely cease. A persistent absence of any emotional activity would rather represent indifference, which is seen as a ‘near enemy’ of equanimity. Instead, the old Buddhist scriptures clearly define specific classes of situations in which emotional reactions should attenuate. These are situations that evoke emotions due to the presence of

  • gain or loss
  • honor or dishonor
  • praise or blame
  • pleasure or pain

The reason for a reduced emotional activity in such situations is said to be a weakening in the desire for pleasurable sensual experiences as well as in the resistance against unpleasant experiences.

Insight is defined as the conviction alterations that are accompanied by a feeling of deep understanding and by changes in perception, judgement and/or behavior. There are 2 types of insight...

  1. Cognitively well represented(like the realization of necessities and needs, or changing perspectives or recognizing that own opinions, beliefs and ideas were wrong). In most instances they enabled insights in the functioning of the mind.
  2. Experience based, intuitive, and not yet articulated. The content touched mainly fundamental changes in the perception of the self and world.

5. Endpoints relevant for the practitioners

The emotional improvements and convectional alterations manifest in various changes for the practitioner.

  1. it leads to an increasing frequency of wholesome mind states like feelings of trust, connectedness, and compassion with oneself and with others, strengths, contentment, or well-being.
  2. it makes your behavior more conscious and consequent.
    1. Conscious conduct of behavior: high level of attention concentrated on the current task and it prohibits doing more than one single activity at once.
    2. Consequent conduct of behavior: a shorter delay between the recognition of the necessity of an action and its actual realization. This might be because...
      1. a decreased tendency to ruminate and
      2. a decreased tendency for egocentric influences informing the decision to get an action started.
  3. improve interpersonal relationships - they become more straightforward and uncomplicated. When egocentric tendencies are weakened, they were able to give the other person more space, which is appreciated by that other person. Empathy is strengthened by practicing acceptance, equanimity, and self-insight, allowing the practitioner to infer more reliably what is going on in the other person.

The mechanisms leading to the positive effects of mindfulness meditation

Training effects

All abilities get better with use/training. Meditators train their ability to

  • direct their attention to sensations they want to perceive
  • detach their attention from sensations they do not want to perceive anymore (e.g., negative thoughts)
  • monitor the own experience including the ability to partly step out of the stream of experience.

Role models

They can be meditation teachers or monks. It can be teachings or reading ancient or contemporary books.

New information

People get novel information in the course of meditative practice...

  1. Reading text/ interpretations or contemporary teachings.
  2. Intentional de-activation(the "letting go") of self-relevent concepts stored in your own long term memory. Eg. remembering a childhood trauma and understanding how it affects you know.
  3. Taking an observer stance towards internal experiences and getting to know themselves better.
  4. Deconstruct experiences and learning how you and the world around you operate.

Understanding the teachings follows this process...

  • You get a new bit of information.
  • You have to integrate the information in your cognitive system.
  • You can try to validate it in the course of formal meditation or informal mindfulness practice.
  • When you find supporting evidence, you have to restructure your cognitive system so that it is able to differentiate between the old and the new information.

To give an example: A student learns that there is no stable self. However, his self-perception immediately suggests a stable self. Then, he does formal meditation, gains new experiences and, consequently, comes to the result that there is the experience of a stable self in daily life that is actually an illusion or psychic construction. Furthermore, teachers can give guidance and recommend certain meditation methods or everyday practices that foster certain insights one is able to attain.

You should have a observing stance toward internal experiences as sensorial and bodily experiences. They can be thoughts, motivations, emotions, moods and more subtle internal states. This observation practice should be as non-judging and non-identifying as possible, which allows for letting the observed stimulus go after perceiving it and prevents a subsequent mental activity triggered by that stimulus. In everyday consciousness, such stimuli often trigger mental events like inner stories or conversations. Those occupy processing capacity. As a result, this capacity is not available for processing the information of the present: bodily experiences or mental event(emotional response or automatic thought patterns, exceptions, needs, beliefs, etc.)

Due to the observation mode, practitioners learn about their own mental landscape and gain information that was already there but had eventually to be attended. In formal mediation sessions, practitioners can also gain information that is completely new for them. Many people who have practiced meditation has reported altered states of consciousness during deep meditative states:

  • dissolution of the perception of the body, self, space, and time,
  • states without thoughts
  • states of sensual openness (in which the normal constraints of the sense organs vanished),
  • a deep awareness of single elements of consciousness,
  • experiences of unity, connectedness, pleasantness, and sometimes extreme happiness.

States without thought activity: They seem to be an important facilitating factor for the realization of insights. This state can be called clarity. We defined clarity as a state of consciousness that is characterized by the reduction or complete termination of all automatic conceptual thinking in favor of an improved perception of sensual and mental stimuli.

This state of consciousness gives space for intuition and pre-conscious content to become fully aware. All thought activity is released and ascending impulses and thoughts are observed. You can gain an intuitive understanding for the becoming, maintenance, and ceasing of situations and circumstances. You can attain insights resulting from a change in perspective, from detecting connections between things, or from recognizing necessities. You can even solve concrete problem or find answers to some main questions in your life.

Emotion Regulation

Different ways you can improve emotional regulation thru meditation...

feeling an intense emotion during meditation

Sometimes, you feel an intense emotion during meditation. You should not avoid or suppress them - resulting in a till then unknown intensity of the emotion. If done well, you will experience their impermanence - the emotion will go away. You will get confidence in the impermanence of emotions - making it easier to deal with in regular life - you can stand emotions without fighting them back. This is close to the psycho-theraputic mechanism of exposure and relearning.

mental proliferation

Mental proliferation means that the judging of a sensation as pleasant or unpleasant and the resulting reaction of attachment/aversion trigger mental events that are, in turn, again sensations appraised as pleasant or unpleasant, which again result in reactions of attachment/aversion, and so on. If you observe these emotions without judgement(even analyzing them), and then make a attempt to let that emotion go. That can be done by directing all attention to a sensation of the present moment (e.g., the sensations evoked by the breath), so that no attention is left for continuing the mental process. When the mental process is interrupted for that moment, the emotion vanishes.

“let go”

Let go of expectations, convictions, beliefs, and other cognitive concepts that have been built in the past and are stored in long-term memory. Letting go refers to the intentional deactivation of those concepts that were activated by a stimulus set in a certain situation. Since those concepts are crucial for the evaluation of a situation and the evaluation of the situation is crucial for the development of an emotion, following the deactivation, the momentarily arising or already existing emotion is terminated.

‘observation mode’

By establishing observation mode, meta-cognitive awareness is improved. This leads to faster realization that an emotion is coming up and emotion regulation strategies can be applied earlier and more effectively.

Deep Insights

This is an advanced state - after meditating over a long period of time, you'll gain insights

  • they alter the cognitive representation of the characteristics of the self/person(self-concept). You stop identifying with certain persons, objects or ideas - and related convictions go a way.
  • Experience of the own self in daily life(self-perception) alters - becomes less firm and solid.
  • In extream case, perception of a self that is separate from the world vanishes. negative emotions often function as preservation from physical or psychological harm from the self. In particular, those emotions that are intended to maintain or protect the self-concept should sooner or later disappear completely when your perception of self vanishes.

imitation or ‘from doing to being’. By deliberate and effortful imitation of an intended mental quality, the habitual effortless use of that quality is eventually achieved. Three such imitation processes...

  1. the active letting-go of cognitive concepts may be considered an imitation of the non-attachment to these very concepts. The difference is that before letting go, the concept is activated and gets potentially relevant for eliciting emotions that will be identified in a deliberate process before it is then deactivated. Non-attachment means that the concept possibly exists and gets activated in a certain situation, but since the concept is not connected to the self-concept, it does not elicit or maintain emotions.

  2. the deliberate alteration of the affective quality of an experience imitates the quality of equanimity in a specific situation and in an actively regulating manner. Instead, equanimity itself is universal for all situations and it is automatized (or better de-automatized, because the automatic emotion activation does not happen anymore).

  3. the deliberately controlled observation mode parallels the effortless state of clarity freed from automatic thinking. The observation mode also parallels the state of equanimity.


the PROMISE model highlights equanimity (reduction in emotional reactivity) and insight (alteration of cognitions) as the two key effects of mindfulness meditation. These are the two effects that are actually intended by meditators and lead to positive long-term effects such as more wholesome mind states, improved social relationships, and fundamental alterations of self-concept and self-perception. The model comprehensively integrates the unique experiences of expert meditators, the contemporary Western concepts of mindfulness, and the ancient Buddhist concepts of mindfulness.