July 17th, 2008
According to most spiritual traditions, the path to enlightenment is a slow and tortuous one, only arrived at after years of contemplation, deprivation, or mental and physical discipline.
A number of new organizations, such as the Oneness Foundation, purport to teach people a special meditative and psychological process that will speed up this process, specifically by rewiring the brain.
But is there any evidence that a simple mental discipline is powerful enough to to eliminate mankind’s fundamental sense of separation, and to replace it with a sense of enlightened awareness of universal connection?
Dr. Andrew Newberg, professor of nuclear medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of Why God Won’t Go Away, has carried out studies of the brain activity of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners during meditation. Using special scanning technology, he has discovered that during deep meditation, the brain’s prefrontal lobes show an increase in blood flow and neural activity, while the upper rear part of the brain, or parietal area, registers a sudden drop of brain activity.
Newberg terms that portion of the brain the ‘Orientation Association Area (OAA)’, because it gives us our ability to orient ourselves in space and time and also provides us with our sense of separateness from the rest of the universe. When this portion of the brain is ‘turned off’, the person’s sense of physical limits and personal boundaries disappear.
The brain cannot even locate the body in physical reality and so perceives a sense of blissful interconnection, a state Newberg refers to as ‘Absolute Unitary Being’.
With the intense focus of meditation, the prefrontal cortex, or the Attention Association Area (AAA) – an area most scientists believe is involved in higher consciousness – is strongly activated, with a dominance of the left frontal lobe, which usually occurs during spiritual integration.
In a number of studies of students at the Oneness Foundation recently found a 50 per cent increase in brainwave activity among students, with a vast increase of Gamma wave activity (25-42Hz) in the frontal lobes. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin observed this kind of rapid brain wave activity in monks carrying out compassionate meditation. Gamma band, the highest rate of brain-wave frequencies, is employed by the brain when it is working its hardest: at a state of rapt attention, when sifting through working memory, during deep levels of learning, in the midst of great flashes of insight – and I teach these techniques in my Intention Experiment program Powering Up.
As Davidson discovered, when the brain operates at these extremely fast frequencies, the phases of brain waves (their times of peaking and troughing) all over the brain begin to operate in synchrony. This type of synchronization is considered crucial for achieving heightened awareness.
The gamma state is even believed to cause changes in the brain’s synapses – the junctions over which electrical impulses leap to send a message to a neuron, muscle or gland – and to induce a state of oneness. Newberg and others consider gamma states a signature of enlightenment.
Most of the new techniques like deeksha need more science to support their claims of instant enlightenment. But some of the preliminary findings show that a highly focused mind at a state of peak attention is a fast-track way to get there.
Lynne McTaggart is the award-winning author of five books, including the international bestselling sensations The Field and The Intention Experiment.
She is an internationally recognized spokesperson on the science of spirituality.
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She is also editor of a written master class called Living the Field, the first comprehensive four-year work on how the findings of the new science impacts your everyday life.
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