The Power of the Wandering Mind – Nondirective Meditation in Science and Philosophy

Edited by Halvor Eifring

Nondirective Meditation is not about emptying the mind. Instead, mind wandering is seen as an important resource. Silently repeating a meditation sound helps to cultivate a free mental attitude. The activity in the brain’s default mode network increases, enriching the flow of spontaneous thought.

Mind wandering brings rest and recuperation, helps us consolidate our memory of the past, and stimulates our planning toward future goals. It enhances creativity and makes it easier to shift perspective. It is a central feature of empathy and social relations.

In fifteen chapters, experts in neuroscience, medicine, psychology, philosophy and the humanities share groundbreaking perspectives on how nondirective meditation interacts with brain and body, mind and culture.

The Power of the Wandering Mind – Nondirective Meditation in Science and Philosophy
Product type
Book - ISBN 978-82-91405-55-1
Product language
350 g

You may pre-order now. The book will be shipped from April 10. The introduction price is valid through May 31 by ordering from this page. Ordinary price: € 20.-.

On April 10 in Oslo, Norway, several of the authors will present the book and discuss their findings (Norwegian language) - click HERE for more information.

For the full table of contents, see below.


In the last decade, the scientific study of meditation has brought two important insights. First, researchers no longer treat meditation as a unitary phenomenon but realize that different practices lead to different results. Second, the role of mind wandering and the brain’s default mode network in meditation has emerged as a blooming research field.

The Power of the Wandering Mind reflects these two trends. Its fifteen chapters focus on one major type of meditative practice, nondirective meditation. This type allows thoughts to come and go of their own accord, usually while a meditation sound or mantra is effortlessly repeated in the mind. Typical examples include Acem Meditation, Clinically Standardized Meditation, the Relaxation Response, and Transcendental Meditation.

The book approaches nondirective meditation from several angles: the quantitative measurements of neuroscience and medicine, the self-reports and case studies of psychology, the analytic reasoning of modern philosophy, and the historical and cultural text studies of the humanities. The result is a multifaceted view of how nondirective meditation affects brain and body, mind and culture.

Many of the scientific studies presented here had not yet been published when the book Fighting Stress: Reviews of Meditation Research appeared a decade ago, with contributions by many of the same authors. In particular, the study of mind wandering and default mode network activity during meditation had barely started. Fighting Stress is now out of print.

The Power of the Wandering Mind is the product of a collaborative effort. Each chapter has its own author(s), but all chapters have been thoroughly reworked based on intensive discussions in an editorial group consisting of Turid Suzanne Berg-Nielsen, Svend Davanger, Halvor Eifring, Øyvind Ellingsen, Anne Grete Hersoug, and Eirik Jensen. Morten Wærsted and Bjørn Lau have contributed to one of the chapters. In addition to be a co-author of the first chapter of the book, Acem’s founder Are Holen has been a constant source of inspiration. The authors have a research background within their respective fields, as well as ample experience with Acem Meditation. All authors are responsible for the content of their individual chapters. We are particularly grateful for Tongtos Mahasuwan’s creative book design and Ann Kunish’s painstaking copy-editing work.


Chapter 1 • Introduction: Active relaxation

What is nondirective meditation?

Many types of meditation seek to empty the mind of thoughts. In contrast, nondirective meditation activates brain areas linked to mind wandering, providing deep relaxation and processing of memories and emotions.


Chapter 2 • Back to the savanna                                              

How a free mental attitude restores energy and strength

Concentration is tiring. Allowing our attention to float freely, as in nondirective meditation, activates parts of the brain that help us process stressful experiences, and increases self-awareness and creativity.

Chapter 3 • The brain is made for mind wandering                 

Nondirective meditation and the default mode network

Nondirective meditation integrates the spontaneous stream of thought as an important part of the practice. Where in the brain do these thoughts come from, and why is the brain built to generate them?


Chapter 4 • From brain to body                                                      

Autonomic relaxation and mental processing during nondirective meditation

Physiological measurements and functional MR scan- ning show how the changes in brain function during nondirective meditation induce deep bodily rest. Spon- taneous mental processing is associated with marked relaxation responses in the autonomic nervous system.

Chapter 5 • A marker of stress reduction                                     

Blood pressure and disease prevention

Some of the most convincing scientific evidence of the stress-reducing effect of nondirective meditation is a modest reduction in blood pressure. Experts agree that even a small reduction can improve health and longevity.

Chapter 6 • Less stress—more energy                                        

Improving mental health and quality of life

Several studies indicate that meditation increases energy by reducing pain and worries associated with everyday stress. Effects are stronger with nondirective meditation than with directive techniques for muscle relaxation.


Chapter 7 • Self-control                                                             

Controversies in psychology and meditation

What we need to control is external behavior, not thoughts and emotions, as cognitive psychologists and mindfulness practitioners claim. Nondirective meditation facilitates freedom of thought and creativity.

Chapter 8 • Acem Meditation in the workplace                        

A useful tool for stress management

Professionals who practice nondirective meditation find it easier to cope with pressure at work. They experience less muscular pain, fewer sleep problems, fewer worries, less nervousness, and less mental distress.

Chapter 9 • Opening minds                                                     

Stories of change

How can adjustments in the repetition of a meditation sound bring about personal development? This chapter describes two of the many real-world cases that have contributed to our understanding of processes of change.


Chapter 10 • Morality without alienation                                        

Toward an ethics of nondirective meditation

According to both rationalists and sentimentalists, morality requires that we look at ourselves from a distant and impersonal point of view. Nondirective meditation points toward a more integrated ethics.


Chapter 11 • From esoteric science to neuroscience                   

The history of research on nondirective meditation

Ideas, self-reports, and measurements all play a role in our understanding of meditative practice and its effects. In name, at least, a science of meditation has existed since the early nineteenth century.

Chapter 12 • The psychological potential                                     

Acem Meditation and other types of non-directive meditation

Despite their similarities, various types of nondirective meditation are taught and explained in different ways. Acem Meditation has developed a distinctive approach to the processing of deep-seated psychological issues.

Chapter 13 • Learn to meditate without a teacher?                  

Online courses in nondirective meditation

Mobile apps like Headspace and Calm claim to have taught millions of users mindfulness and related forms of meditation. Similar solutions for nondirective meditation are entering the market—how do they work?

Chapter 14 • Self-observation or effortlessness?                     

Mindfulness vs. nondirective meditation

Mindfulness and nondirective meditation have much in common. However, the former emphasizes top-down, intensive self-observation, whereas the latter builds on a bottom-up and relaxed free mental attitude.

Chapter 15 • Histories of mind wandering                                

Spontaneous thought in meditative traditions

“Nondirective meditation” and “free mental attitude” are modern concepts. However, part of what these terms imply has been expounded on in meditative traditions for hundreds or maybe thousands of years.