|Title||Journeys towards well-being: men, meditation and mental health|
There is a prominent discourse in academic literature, and society at large, that presents men as ‘damaged and damage doing’ (Mac an Ghaill and Haywood, 2012: 483). Incorporated within this idea is the notion that ‘masculinity’ itself is problematic and represents a ‘risk factor’ for health (Gough, 2006). For example, traditional masculine norms, like ‘toughness,’ have been linked to poor emotional management skills in men, which in turn are implicated in mental health problems (Aldao et al., 2010). However, it is increasingly acknowledged that there is diversity within and across men and masculinities, and that men are capable of positively managing their well-being, although little research exists exploring how they do so. To address this deficit, this study sought to find men – meditators – who were likely to have found ways to positively manage well-being to examine factors relating to this engagement. Meditation was selected as it is associated with positive outcomes on a range of mental health indicators (Mars and Abbey, 2010). Thirty male meditators, mainly from one organisation in London, were selected using principles of maximum variation sampling. The study employed a longitudinal mixed methods design, including in-depth narrative interviews analysed using a modified constant comparison approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1998), and also a cognitiveneuroscience component, involving EEG measurement across a battery of cognitive tasks and
a meditation sitting. All participants were interviewed and tested twice,1 a year apart, between 2009 and 2010.
Drawing on various theories, including Connell's (1995) notion of hegemonic (i.e. dominant) masculinity, and Mayer and Salovey's (1997) model of emotional intelligence, the analysis explored themes relating to men’s involvement with meditation, including how engagement came about, and its impact upon well-being.2 The findings suggested that men negotiated difficult journeys towards meditation: for example, they came up against traditional and other hegemonic forms of masculinity, and most described subsequent strategies to be emotionally 1 One participant did not complete the cognitive neuroscience component.
2 Pollard and Davidson (2001: 10) define well-being as ‘a state of successful performance across the life course integrating physical, cognitive and social-emotional function.’ However, well-being is a contested concept, used in diverse ways according to different theoretical frameworks (De Chavez et al., 2005). The range of meanings attached to the concept is discussed in the theoretical review. tough and/or disconnect from difficult emotions. Meditation itself was linked to well-being in various ways, notably through the cultivation of emotional intelligence via the development of attention – this was indicated by emergent themes in the qualitative analysis, and results from the cognitive neuroscience component.
Overall, the analysis was unusual in exploring masculinities and meditation, as well as the wider social context of practice, and how the social dimensions of meditation also impacted upon well-being. For example, many men meditated within a ‘community of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991), which influenced their behaviour, e.g. reducing alcohol use. The findings also highlighted various problems linked to meditation that have received less attention in the literature, including mental health disorders, and ostracism from peers. In summary, the study discusses implications for helping men to better manage their well-being.