Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Enlightenment is like the Moon Reflected

A Spot of Sun
Originally uploaded by

“Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.”

From The Moon in a Dewdrop; writings of Zen Master Dogen.
Translated by Dan Welch and Kazuaki Tanahashi

I’ve been mentioning enlightenment without defining what I mean. Although its generally taken as having achieved some “saint-like” state, the actual characteristics seem to vary considerably in different traditions. The above description from Zen, “The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken,” sounds to me like the Zen equivalent of what Maharishi called “Cosmic Consciousness” or the first stage of an enlightened consciousness. More precisely, he described it as having the ability to maintain transcendental consciousness (an awareness cultivated during mediation) along with the ability to be moving about in daily activity. Practically, this means that one perceives the self as Self- the capital S referring to the realization that the true self is Unbounded Silence, an Infinite of Pure Consciousness- and “I” am thus no longer really a teacher, doctor, parent, homemaker.

The awareness of Silence gives rise to a feeling of separateness or witnessing. It was this Silence that descended upon me in the midst of turning to a friend to share a joke. Boom! Silence was everywhere. I could no longer identified with any “thing” out there in the world. I watched it all from an immovable silence and unbridgeable distance: “The moon does not get wet” – the world cannot penetrate the Silence. “Nor is the water broken.” – nothing has the power to move that which is already infinite and immovable. Not even one’s thoughts.

I recall taking a walk, back Then- in the Silence. I moved very slowly. Moving was exhausting. Eckhardt Tolle writes of having his awakening and then simply sitting on a park bench for six months. I can see why. One has lost the impulse to move. Physiologically you have adapt to your nervous system functioning in a manner that was previously experienced only in the deepest meditation.

And how do you meditate? Sit down, close eyes, don’t move…. Don’t even breathe. Now, I had to walk. And it was hard! But as I did, eyes focused on the black top road, I realized that my thoughts were no longer part of my Self. My thoughts were like small, hard rubber balls ricocheting off the blacktop of my Self; as separate from my Self as my feet were from road. “The moon can not get wet.” Even my thoughts are not my Self.

Maharishi described this step in Self realization as being accomplished by the intellect. It is an act on intellectual discrimination that separates Self from non-Self. Most people find it a rather lonely process and somewhat uncomfortable. There is simply this “gap” between Me and all Creation. And while I feel Real, viewed from across the gap, the material world now seems quiet unreal. Early on, people complained to Maharish and he introduced “advanced techniques”- different ways to meditate so that one did not transcend as quickly. S ettling into the depths at a slower rate gave the mind the opportunity to become familiar with subtler levels of perception and just the gap was not as stark.

This “rate of transcending” and cultivation of subtler levels of perception seems to me to be the essence of different paths and techniques, and may ultimately give rise to the difference in the qualities or experiences described as “enlightened.” In fact, the differences are so wide (even within the TM tradition) that Maharishi outlined three stages or states of enlightenment. As Cosmic Consciousness ripens one progresses to God Consciousness- an awareness of Creation in terms of God and finally, after time Unity Consciousness.

“In Unity Consciousness either I drop off or God drops off. Out of respect we say, I drop off.” Maharishi

Different traditions describe this final step as either annihilation or expansion of the ego. Buddhists tend to annihilate. Vedantists tend to expand. Buddhists describe the Absolute as Nothingness. Vedantists refer to it as the Source of All. I think these differences arise not from differences in the Truth, but rather how each individual nervous system is trained and cultivated to perceive. Though reviews of meditation lump the physiological finding into one “physiology of meditation,” if you read the research on brain physiology, it is clear that different types of meditation activate different areas of the brain.

In his book, Naam or Word, Kirpal Singh relates a story from Buddhism, the Surangama Sutra, where the Lord is sitting in Heaven surrounding by Bodhisattvas and Arhats. The Lord is inquiring as to how each enlightened being first experienced their enlightenment. He asks:

“…of the eighteen spheres of mentation in contact with objects by the sense organs…which of the spheres first became thoroughly enlightened, by means of which you attained Samadhi?”

One reply is, “… by means of development of my sense of hearing… I am conscious of the Transcendental Sound of the Dharma reverberating like the roar of a lion.” Or as I experienced, Silence crashed upon me.

Here, I think we have some indication of the many paths and varied physiology that may be involved in becoming enlightened. Note, there are 18 spheres of mentation because there are six “senses”: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, as well as cognition (not a skill we usually attribute to a sense). The six senses are then multiplied by 3 since each sense involves the trinity of experience: experiencer, process of experience, object of experience- or in this case for example: an organ of sight, the consciousness or experience of sight, and the object of sight.

It Changes Everything: In the Twinkling of an Eye
Compared to God Consciousness or Unity, simply witnessing the Self as separate from Activity (as happens in Cosmic Consciousness) seems a minor accomplishment. People even complain when coming to the state. Yet, Cosmic Consciousness changes everything- for it requires living complete paradox. Maharishi even warns that people can be totally confused if not intellectually prepared:

“As the practice ... advances, one begins to feel one’s Self as separate from activity. This experience brings with it a feeling of confusion. One finds oneself active and yet inwardly one feels somewhat aloof from activity. Doubts begin to arise in the mind, and the intellect seeks an explanation…Without proper understanding, even direct experience of eternal freedom may be found to create confusion and fear… in this state he fails to live Being fully, fails to possess the Self in Its full glory and grace.”

I had my first glimpse of this vision when I was about nine. I was walking home from school with my older sister, Sandy, when I noticed a large oak tree. Its trunk, the entire tree, plainly were not real. Suddenly, to my eyes what was Real was an invisible, Nothingness out of which the tree arose. The whole situation was clearly impossible. I was “seeing” Nothing. The Nothing penetrated everything material around me like some invisible ocean. And somehow from out of this three dimensional Nothingness Ocean, the tree sprang into existence. The tree was like some movie, merely projection, and not real. What was Real was the Nothing. I t was so strange and so obvious. I turned to Sandy and started telling her the news. My efforts were rewarded with a quick slap and, “Stop it! Don’t talk crazy.”

It was years before I could explain that experience satisfactorily to myself. I had to hear about Cosmic Consciousness. I had to hear about paradox and the integration of opposites. I had to hear the phrase, “Reality is different in different states of consciousness.” A statement I am still digging into; isn’t Reality that which doesn’t change?

Once, to encourage those who disliked meditating all day, Maharishi told us just to sit and sit again, for “you never know when the last stress will go.” (To him, it is stress or abnormalities in the nervous system that prevent enlightenment.) I did not believe him. I thought it was a trick to keep the itchy meditating. I thought that enlightenment was slipped into the way you might lower yourself into a hot bath. The process was… S... L…O…W… I still believe this, given the physiological changes required by the purification of “unstressing.” But on the other hand, there I’d been leaning over to tell a joke. So does enlightenment happen gradually or in a moment?

There is a phrase in Handel’s Messiah, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” Actually, it’s from First Corinthians and the complete libretto runs like this:

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised, the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption.”

There it is, with all the elements. Perhaps this is the Christian rapture. But, it can also describe enlightenment.

How is it we awaken? It can happen in a moment; “In the twinkling of an eye,” as the trumpet of Silence sounds. We are raised from the field of death and the ever changing Relative. We are raised to the Absolute, Non-changing field of pure existence, and purified.

And it is still a mystery. A mystery some have simply attributed to Grace.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Wraith of the Desert

Wraith of the Desert
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao.
How 'bout some Rumi today -
searching for God in the desert.

The Funny Thing Is…

When I want to leave
You hold my feet and won’t let me go.
You steal my heart,
and sit on top of it. …

You saw me lost, waving and crying
and said, “I am the guide.
I’ll show you the road
for which you have been searching.”…

My friend, you thought you lost Him;
that all your life you’ve been separated from Him.
Filled with wonder, you’ve always looked outside for Him,
and haven’t searched within your own house.

The funny thing is
that in this search,
Beauty has always accompanied you.
Wherever you have been,
He is the One holding your hand.

Keep looking for Him with Him;
You and He are on the same road.
O Beloved, You’re so obvious
You’re hidden from sight!

Love Is like a Lawsuit

I am amazed at the seeker of purity
who when it’s time to be polished
complains of rough handling.
Love is like a lawsuit:
to suffer harsh treatment is the evidence…

That harshness isn’t toward you,
But toward the harmful qualities within you.
When someone beats a rug,
the blows are not against the rug,
but against the dust in it.

The Edge of the Roof

I don’t like it here, I want to go back.
According to the old Knowers
if you’re absent from the one you love
even for one second that ruins the whole thing!...

When you want dessert, you choose something rich.
In wine, you look for what is clear and firm.
What is the rest? The rest is mirages,
and blurry pictures, and milk mixed with water.
The rest is self-hatred, and mocking other people, and bombing.

So just be quiet and sit down.
The reason is – you are drunk,
and this is the edge of the roof.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Words Today

Goose flash
Originally uploaded by zenera.
Again, a day of no words. Just images.
Images are filling my mind's eye these days.
A form of meditation


Originally uploaded by algo.


Originally uploaded by algo.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sacred Language

"A mind can be overthrown by words; that’s the point. What is happening to the brain of a person who uses the passive, who writes, ‘Delay should not be allowed to take place,’ instead of ‘Hurry’? The user of the passive verb doesn’t want a universe where responsible agents do their acts. You see? Bad language ultimately is immoral.

…It eats me up, keeps me awake at night: thinking about the origin of language. In my heart I’m convinced that it began as poetry. “Golden Destroyer” was the name of the animal before it was called “lion.” The English language may be the greatest symbol system the world has ever devised. Yet we grow up practically mute."

Richard Mitchell, grammarian quoted in Time Magazine in the 1970’s

Maharishi went far beyond the morality of language. He introduced me to the concept that language can be sacred when spoken from the depths of consciousness- from the finest level of Creation. Maharishi described a particularly deep level of awareness as “the self-illuminate effulgence of life.” This level of awareness was, “The field of almost Absolute intelligence which underlies and pervades all activity responsible for creation and evolution of life.” This is also the finest level of the individual ego.

Maharishi further explained that Vedic Sanskrit, as opposed to present day Sanskrit, was sacred because in it “name and form” are one. He was unaware that this link of name with form is also found in other traditions. In fact, anthropologists suggests that sacred or “mantic” language appears in almost every culture. To ancient Hebrews the name of God, Yaweh, was too holy too be spoken- for the name itself evoked the Presence. Kototama teaches the 50 sacred sounds of Shinto and was an integral part of the martial art Aikido. In Pagan times, Poets stood next to the throne of the ancient Druid kings, as the power their words could control Nature herself.

How could a poet control the rain?

When name and form are one, “phonology becomes physics.” As vibration, sound has structure and this structure can exert an effect upon objects. Thus, phonemes can have a form and function arising totally from their own vibration. And since all objects of Creation consist of matter and thus ultimately vibration- “deep inside” each object – deep inside its physics, one can locate the sound and phonology of sacred language. That is how human language merges with the laws of Nature. And that is how practicing his Kototama, Aikido master Morihei Ueshiba could make the dojo lights go out.

Or, if you prefer (I do), poets also address the power of language, from a different angle:

She was sixteen when she found Jesus
He was a Puerto Rican kid
And he lived next door…

This song pokes fun at the “arbitrary” nature of everyday language- linguist assure us that phonemes have no meaning. And in that disconnect, all power is lost from any word. Parents may name their child Jesus, but he will probably turn out very differently.

By contrast, Sacred language is not “arbitrary.” Nor does supposed arbitrariness of even everyday language fool poets:

… a noun is the name of a thing, and therefore slowly if you feel inside that thing you do not call it by the name which it is known. Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion about whatever is the object about which he writes. And therefore I say it again more and more one does not use nouns… I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.

Gertrude Stein

Poets know that language becomes sacred when it arises from deep within, from the heart and subtlest feeling level; from the subtlest level of Creation.

This endlessly elaborating poem
Displays the theory of poetry
As the life of poetry. A more severe

More harassing master would extemporize
Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life…

It is not the premise that reality
Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses
A dust, a force that traverses a shade.

Wallace Stevens

Returning to a “more urgent proof,” Maharishi explained that in Vedic Sanskrit name is so intimately related to form that the two may be considered equivalent. In sacred language speech runs parallel to the structure of Creation. He described four levels of speech: spoken or gross speech (baikhari); mental speech or thought (mahsentah); the subtle mental or finest impulse of thought (pashyani); and finally the transcendent level or the silent preverbal source of speech (parah).

At the levels of baikhari and madhyama one experiences speech through the “trinity of experience” (subject: process of experiencing: object of experience). The subtler two levels are experienced through the “unity of experience” (subject and object are one). The finest impulse, pashanyti, is experienced at the juncture of transcending as waking state of consciousness combines with transcendental consciousness. Here, speaker and speech are one. Para, the Absolute, is a purely transcendental experience and in the beginning is only experienced deep in meditation. It requires an enlightened consciousness to be experienced “actively,” i.e. while walking around. For example, the seers, Charack and Sushu, wrote the Nyava Veda describing herbal medicines. Legend has it that as these seers walked through the forest the herbs spoke their qualities to them on the level of pure consciousness. These insights became their herbal treatise.

So, Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama, Baikhara, the four stages of the development of speech, parallel the steps of manifestation of the whole of Creation: Finest and then the grosser, and the grosser, and the grosser… Or, using modern English and the language of science: vacuum state, sub-atomic particles, molecules, chemistry, and finally Life.
Maharishi applied Vedic grammar to the first word of the Rig Veda,“Agni ," to describe the mechanics of Creation. “Ah,” the opening of the mouth was the start of activity. Absolute begins to manifest. “Guh,” the second sound, stops this nascent activity. “Ni,” a drilling sound after the stop, creates the leading edge to the starting after the stop. The letters combine into a word: Ah + guh + ni, the mechanics of Creation, becomes Agni, a god. Agni then becomes elaborated upon by the Vedic hymn, “I adore Agni, the fire god.”

Back in 1974 when I first heard Mahrishi explain all this, a biologist in the front row pointed out to him that “the central dogma” of biology presented a similar unfolding. The DNA of our genes is “transcribed” into RNA. RNA is composed of a long string of four different bases signified by the letters (A, C, G, U) the sequence of which is set down by the DNA. These bases are then “translated,” three at a time, into any one of 64 possible “codons.” As this string of codons itself is translated, amino acid after amino acid are linked together to form a protein. Ultimately, this string of amino acids spontaneously folds into a functional, three dimensional protein.
From DNA to RNA to Protein to ultimately living cell. I learned this Central Dogma of Biology some five years after its discovery. My seventh grade science teacher wrote it down in large letters on the black board and called it … “the secret of life.” I ran all the way home that day, calling to my mom, “They’ve discovered the Secret of Life!” Notice, the biologists used metaphors to language: transcribe, translate, genetic code. No one forced them to this. They chose the terminology that made the greatest sense to them.
A skeptic, or linguist, would seriously question the possibility of sacred language. A biologist would have to also. But, to date, I have found no better illustration, suggestion, if not proof of the depth to which language is embedded into Creation. Some other day I will write about “molecular linguistics.” For now, let me just say that biologists now contemplate that the origin of Life and the origin of Language had to solve the same problems. The solutions came at different times- probably 4 billion years apart. The solutions came at different levels- one within a primordial soup of chemical, the other within the human psyche. In fact, its now argued that every major evolutionary transition over the last 4 billion or so years involved new ways of processing information.
Perhaps, following this pattern, our next evolutionary leap will involve consciously living with language being sacred as we process from the depths of consciousness.

So, that’s it for today…. I will try to add some good links for expanded the info on all this. But, that is going to have to wait! Bye!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Full Moon

Originally uploaded by MacroFocus.
The milk’s been spilled.
Don’t cry.
That pool of white
is the light of God spreading cross the
kitchen floor.
That kitten lapping at the edges
will become an ocelot.

The lone survivor

Originally uploaded by Breigh.com.
an ocelot ... one day

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Little Levity

Originally uploaded by antimethod.

Here’s another old entry from my journal. I was 27 years old and teaching TM. Maharishi had begun teaching a collection of practices called sidhis, or “perfections.” They are techniques for cultivating consciousness found in Patanjalai’s Yoga Sutras. Included in the sidhis are happiness, compassion, invisibility, and flashiest of all: levitation.

May 27, 1977:
“These are historic times. On the 24th and 25th we publicly announced the sidhis. I sat in on the press conference. I have never been so close to history, and yet each day is still so ordinary. A wave of new knowledge has been slowly approaching and now it’s here. A new age is being ushered in and we are playing our part. Somehow, I must swallow that.

“First the rumors, then the little details. Pop called from Connecticut. I know his den. I know the carpet in there. I know the bookshelves. And Pop says Peter shook the entire place. It’s no longer some story in a book, or even friends of friends. House guests are levitating in Pop's house. A new age has arrived. Man’s mind can be in such unity with the laws nature that he can manipulate them and fly.”

.... Of course, May 27, 1977 turned out to be an historical non-event. Nothing developed as I had expected. I never learned to “fly.” But, all my TM buddies did, as did my brother, Andy, his wife, Carolyn and Mom, by then a grandmother. Of course, Mom did it in her own style. Apparently, she misunderstood just when and where she was to practice. So, one evening as she presumably lay “napping” on the bed and Pop sat reading in a nearby chair, a supine Mom flew up into the air, straight up over a foot, then slammed back down, only to take off again repeatedly.

“Whop, whop, whop! Your mother is a big woman and flying up like that startled me!” Pop was rattled even at the thought- misguided wife practicing levitation unannounced in bed. Everyone else sat in the lotus position upon a cushion. Mom didn’t like that. She said it hurt her back. Like the others, Mom had an adequate enough take off, but the landing came down hard… so hard that eventually she gave up the practice.

Carolyn, also a mother, practiced yet another variation with her little girl, Evie. She’d place Evie in her lap. She loved the hop, hop, hopping around. But, when I asked a twenty-four year old Eve about her early flying, she was amazed.

Had that really happened? She never even knew. For by the time Evie was seven, Andy and Carolyn had three children to raise and a business that needing building. They never had enough time and practicing the sidhis required two hours a day of meditation. Eventually, they stopped meditating and in time Andy developed a somewhat dismissive chuckle for friends who suddenly “discovered” spiritual interests. Grounded in the daily do, raising capitol and raising children, cultivating spirituality seemed a youthful, Utopian adventure in which he could no longer indulge.

Still in 1977, I assumed that levitation once accessible would become acceptable. With hundreds of Westerners able to demonstrate the feat in public and be guinea pigs for science- our understanding of life’s potential would change over night. Then, comes the revolution, or so I thought.

In 1977, Andy - a newly minted PhD neuroscientist, assumed that oscillating neural activity must generate a field of antigravity. He began assembling an electronics workbench hoping to duplicate biology by building the world’s first anti-gravity machine. He spoke of a new economy based upon clean, cheap nuclear energy since all the waste could be loaded onto rockets propelled by antigravity right into the sun. No more pollution. No more problems with the Middle East.

We were so naive. Through the years the TM’ers held many public demonstrations all to no avail. In 1977, reporters decided that lift off was a gymnastic trick: meditators were slapping down their folded legs in a manner that flipped them into the air. It was just a trick, a contraction of the gluteus maximus. So gymnasts were brought out to duplicate the feat. They quickly grew exhausted. By contrast, the meditators continued rising up, often over two feet before falling back to earth having progressed forward by a yard. Still, people were not convinced and the story hasn’t changed in a quarter century.

Seeing is not believing. We live in a world of special effects and cynicism. While in New York a street magician grows famous performing a levitation trick and those who didn’t succeed in lifting off sued Maharishi for their money back. It would make fascinating social commentary, if it weren’t so disappointing.

Revolution was reduced to carnival.

And I think the real lesson from these intervening years is that "We are in this together." In past millenia, it was enough for individuals hidden in some cave or forrest to quietly become enlightened. This time round, we have to do it as a species. If we are to make the quatum leap, we're going to have to do it in great numbers. The planet's future, not just ours depends upon it. And before we take that leap (of faith and heart), we will have to first conceive of it.

To date, the experience with levitation demonstrates one thing: seeing is not believing.

We live in an age of science. Today, many people use their heads before their hearts. And if they don't think something is possible, then by god, it's not.

Here-in lies a role for science. We need an explanation, some intellectual framing, of how man's consciousness might become one with the law of gravity, with all the laws of nature, and with all the archetypes of psyche. Perhaps then, our hearts will lift us high.

What is Real?

water droplet
Originally uploaded by Uggla.
I began meditating in 1969 to see for myself whether there was more to our minds, and to Life, than commonly accepted. I wanted to see for myself because I didn’t trust the second hand reports available in bookstores. In the intervening years I have seen plenty: devas, demons, and the hand of God at work. For a time, I saw myself as unbounded and transcendent, in tune with and in command of the laws of Nature. But, the bottom line is this, “Was it really Real?” Having never fully trusted the writings of a disembodied author, now I have to wonder, can I even trust myself, my own experience? Have my perceptions been real or are they simply delusion? Even if we can physiologically identify the neural circuits used in generating beatific vision can this question be addressed. We may just be identifying the neurophysiology of real, brain based hallucination.

Strangely enough, objective reality has this huge social component. There is this “consensus reality” that stands for what is Real. We’ve agreed that dreams are not real, or that the image in the mirror is not real. But my bodies, cars and trees are real.

Everyday consensus reality depends upon a certain solidity. This solidity is “objective proof.” On the other hand, what we feel and see inside our heads falls into the notoriously suspect category of “subjective experience.” Of course, everything we perceive is a mental construct and thus subjective experience. But, in ordinary parlance when we talk about something being real there is a solidity to that reality that we all appreciate.

“Yes, the truck is out there, bearing down on you.” There will be real consequences.

Here is where levitation might come in as data for the grandest experiment in human history. I think a fair test for the Absolute, and by extension the reality of a meditator’s subjective experience of Pure Consciousness, is to ask if we can see some concrete effect stemming from that experience.

Levitation occurs when you settle deeply into meditation. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the practice in these words:

By making samyama on the relationship between the body and akasha and/or by acquiring the lightness of a cotton fiber, passage through the sky can be secured.

Commentary describes samyama as consisting of three elements. It begins with concentration or Dharana in which the mind is fixed upon an object. It’s as if the mind finally sees and manages to take a snap shot of the object of perception. The next stage is meditation, or Dhyana, in which thought becomes an unbroken flow toward the object of concentration. The snap shot is now transformed into a frameless motion picture. The third and final stage is absorption, or Samadhi. There is no longer a duality between object of perception and perceiver, between the object and subject.

Yoga Sutra commentaries explain that by being absorbed into the relationship between the solid body and akasha, the element of space or ether “and/or” [translations vary] absorption of the lightness of a cotton fiber, the mind becomes lightness itself, and as the mind changes, so does the body. Thus the physical body looses its heaviness and lifts into the air, thereby revealing that the solidity we had perceived as our body was all along created by our consciousness.

If levitation is actually occurring, it means that a specific subjective experience correlates with the ability to counteract gravity, one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. More concretely you can argue that to pop a body into the air, consciousness must have the ability to overcome, to actually do away with (if you believe the above commentary) the body’s mass and inertia. Andy thought in terms of the nervous system generating an antigravity force. And here we can get into actual physics.

Soviet dissident and physicist, Andrei Sakhorov, was the first to conclude that gravity, could be understood as the effects caused by changes in quantum fluctuations of the vacuum state in the presence of matter. (Elsewhere, I’ll have to talk about the vacuum state. It’s an invention of theoretical physics and it seems remarkable analogous to what the East calls Pure Consciousness, or the Absolute.) Through the years, Sakhorov’s speculation has been refined into a literature of quantum-fluctuation induced gravity. The argument has grown to include a similar connection between vacuum fluctuations and inertia- the resistance of a body to being accelerated. Inertia arises when a body is accelerated relative to a frame of reference. We are pushed back into our seats when a jet takes off down the runway. While it appears that our acceleration is relative to the earth, actually it is relative to the stars. To make the point more graphically, H.E. Puthoff writes that “one could say that it is the stars that deliver the punch.” However, the mechanism by which the stars manage to connect to us remains unexplained. Puthoff and others believe that the force is transmitted to us by “the wall of vacuum fluctuations acting as proxy for the fixed stars through which one attempted to accelerate.”

Here is the abstract from an article entitled “Mass Modification Experiment Definition Study” published in a 1996 report to the Advanced Concepts Office of the Propulsion Directorate of the Phillips Lab at Edwards Air Force Base:

“Many researchers see the vacuum as a central ingredient of 21st-Century physics. Some even believe the vacuum may be harnessed to provide a limitless supply of energy. This report summarizes an attempt to find an experiment that would test the Haisch, Reuda and Puthoff (HRP) conjecture that the mass and inertia of a body are induced effects brought about by changes in the quantum fluctuation energy of the vacuum…. It was possible to find an experiment that might be able to prove or disprove that the inertial mass of a body can be altered by making changes in the vacuum surrounding the body.”

To me, it seems that a meditator levitating would also be the proof-of-principle that physicists go after. And I can think of no greater scientific discovery than that of human consciousness (and by extension human physiology) being able to interact with a physical force that permeates the spacetime continuum (i.e. gravity). To show that levitation actually occurs would be to demonstrate that our inner, subjective experience can intermesh with and modify objective reality. Or as Stanislov Grof has written, it proves that the Self does indeed extend “beyond the brain.”

So what is real? Maharishi use to say, “Reality is different in different states of consciousness.” To most people, a truck is real. To a mystic, the truck can be taken on entirely different levels. It can be part of the Cosmic Game, a delicious play of Self. Or, it can be “non-self” and thus not real with a capital “R.”

Maybe one day May, 1977 will be regarded as an historic moment. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to see that levitation is possible and we will have a science that can explain how such an impossible event can transpire. Maybe then, we can heed these words:

“You never identify yourself with the shadow cast by your body, or with its reflection, or with the body you see in a dream or in your imagination. Therefore you should not identify yourself with this living body either.”

Viveka Chudamani by Shankara (788-820 AD)
Quoted in “Consciousness and Body Image,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. (1998)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Words Aren't Always Needed

Living Light
Originally uploaded by etravus.
So today I want to offer two photos. I went for image first and only later discovered they both were about "Light" to the photographers.

You can click on the images. Enjoy!

the road was blocked by light

the road was blocked by light
Originally uploaded by algo.
"...I was confronted by what looked like a road block- it was the light..."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The C.C. Flu: Energy or Allergy ?

fever curve
Originally uploaded by Desideria.

The summer of 1971 at the University of Massachusett, Amherst, Maharishi held the first symposium on the Science of Creative Intelligence. Speakers included a bevy of scientists and educators sharing the stage with Maharishi to discuss physics, chemistry, psychology, and the arts. But, the speaker I was most eager to see was Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, coiner of the phrase “spaceship earth,” and author of, "No More Secondhand God. " The symposium began some three weeks into a concurrently scheduled month long intensive of meditation- the first step of my TM teacher training.

In my eagerness to see Bucky, I stopped the meditation routine I’d been following. For three weeks I had been meditating for 6 hours a day. Then suddenly, in a single day I dropped down to the usual TM routine of 20 minutes twice a day.

The day after that I was sick as a dog.

All I could do was lie in my bed with high fever, clogged head, aching all over. Even my hair hurt. Apparently, if you stopped a routine of extensive meditation abruptly, the body rebelled with fever. I discovered more experienced meditators called it the “CC flu.” This so called “Cosmic Consciousness flu” was one hazard to negotiate as one cultured the body for enlightenment.

Now this is a fascinating experimental result.

While easily repeatable with TM, I have since discovered similar flu-like symptoms arise from other practices. The first year I practiced Sum Faht, I joined a meditation group that met for an hour and a half Saturday mornings. On the drive home I’d begin to feel feverish and many a Saturday afternoon was spent lying in bed. It took about a year for my body to adapt and remain symptom free. Recently, in her blog devoted to understanding Kundalini, Dorothy Walters introduced the phrase, “Is it energy or allergies?”

What are we to make of these aches and pain that arise from meditation?

In 1971, I assumed that meditation was stirring up impurities to be thrown out of the body. This is, after all, the definition of unstressing- the most immediate purpose of meditation. While methods and terms vary, all spiritual paths devote efforts towards purification. But, there seemed no science here: only words like unstressing, tapas, alchemy, baptism by fire…

Today, immunology has discovered the molecules that cause fever and the aches of flu. There is a whole family of related molecules called cytokines. These molecules are secreted from certain white blood cells (macrophages and neutrophils). Three cytokines in particular: interleukin-1, interleukin 6 (IL-1 and IL- 6, respectively) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNK-alpha) are secreted as part of the immune response to bacterial infection.

Cytokines are also called endogenous pyrogens. That’s “pyro” from the Latin root for fire and “endogenous” because they arise from within us. Carried by the blood stream these endogenous pyrogens make their way to sites within the brain. Binding to receptors in the hypothalamus, they cause an increase in body temperature. Fever not only makes it harder for bacteria to growth, but also helps to activate other immune responses, changing liver function, mobilizing immune cells from deep inside the bone marrow, and altering fat and muscle metabolism- creating all that muscle ache.

How does meditation stimulate production of cytokines? More precisely, why does a sudden decrease in meditation create a surge in cytokine expression and symptoms of the “CC Flu” in TM? Why would Sum Faht meditation create a fever in one beginner's session? Or, ranging further- Why does a fresh juice fast, another means of purification, also lead to running nose, fever and aches?

“I don’t know,” is my short answer. But, it is instructive to consider the HPA axis- a pathway that links the brain (Hypothalamus and Pituitary) to the Adrenals. The HPA axis lies at the core of the body’s ability to handle stress. What is obvious is that meditation affects the HPA axis in a manner exactly opposite from that of cytokines.
Meditation lowers HPA activity, resulting in lower levels of cortisol- the traditional molecule that’s measured to see how “stressed out” you are.

The interleukins and TNK-alpha bind to receptors in the hypothalamus and pituitary and activate the HPA axis at all levels generating a classic stress response that culminates in not only fever, but the adrenal’s increased production of cortisol. Eventually, the cortisol feeds back to macrophage and neutrophils and shuts down cytokine secretion and re-establishes homeostatic balance. But, in the meantime, you burn.

Cross-Talk: Immunity and the Psyche

Swallow Chicks
Originally uploaded by steen heilesen.
Discovered in the early 1980’s as immune system components, nobody predicted that cytokines would be recognized as “communication molecules” that linked the immune system to the psyche. “Cross-talk” is the jargon for this type of interaction as the same molecules are used to regulate totally different systems.

The breakthrough experiment for this discovery came with cancer patients suffering from hepatitis. Injected with cytokines in the hopes of boosting their immune protection, these patients instead developed acute psychosis or depression. In the experimental “infection protocols,” increased cytokine production led not only to fever and elevated stress hormones, but also to a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin.

This may be the way to connect meditation and cytokines, for meditation has been tied to serotonin for some time. Several studies show that there is a significant increase in the urinary excretion of the serotonin metabolite, 5-HIAA, in people practicing TM. This increase in serotonin metabolism may indicate an increase in the functioning of serotonin in the brain. The author of a 1976 study dubbed serotonin “the rest and fulfillment hormone.” Serotonin is a potent modulator of limbic/amygdala activity- the brain center controlling our emotions. In 2003, an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded that the serotonin system may serve as the biological basis of spiritual experiences. Curiously, humans appear to have a wide genetic variance in this system, which may explain why people vary so much in their “spiritual zeal.”

The subtleties of serotonin physiology are so complex that in the end, even after the millions of dollars spent in research by the pharmaceutical industry on serotonin-we don’t even know how Prozac exactly works. By comparison, meditation is a vast, unexplored territory. However, I think it is safe to conclude this much: Cytokines affect serotonin metabolism. Meditation affects serotonin metabolism. Since biology always strives for balance, I will bet anything that as serotonin metabolism is changed through meditation it pushes back upon the cytokines

Maharishi, in his mystic wisdom, often described stress as “tying knots in the nervous system.” What does this mean beyond the simple metaphor of stress giving you a knot in th stomach? Curiously, neuronal plasticity (an obvious candidate for the tying and untying of the knots) now appears mediated in part by IL-1, IL-6 and TNK-a. In fact, in another great surprise and example of cross-talk, other immune molecules, those from the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), have also been found to “remodel the nervous system.” At first blush this is the strangest of results a biologist might come across. MHC molecules shaping neural circuits! These molecules gained fame by establishing tissue type and causing problems in organ transplants. They are why transplant patients have to have their immune systems knocked out before the transplant can be accepted.

Why would these molecules be used to change neural circuitry? No one ever expected them to be used in brain development, but in the definition of immunity lies a metaphor of beauty. By definition the immune system is that which defends us from infection. The immune system can only do this by discriminating between what is self and non-self. Biologically, this means recognizing what tissue is mine and what tissue is other, which cell in mine and which cell bacterial. That’s what immunity is all about.

And how might one define meditation? It too is the process of discriminating self from non-self. In an unenlightened state we mistake our true Self for all those external things: the roles we play, the status we obtain. We are totally identified with our senses and desires. The first steps to enlightened vision must separate Self from all this non-self and little self. And so each tradition introduces a favored means of purification.

The immune system at one level roots out non-self by rejecting foreign tissue or bacteria. This purification creates wars of allergies and fever. On another level it may root out non-self by altering our nervous system. In his commentary on the Bhagvad Gita, Maharishi spoke of the “battle field of life.” Here, the struggle is fought within our own consciousness as we master discrimination of the Self. Perhaps it’s only parsimonious that the body uses the same molecules at both levels of endeavor.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

One Breath Qi Paintings

Annie's Wraith 1
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao.
I took my guided movement practice and applied it to painting. I allow the energy of one breath to guide the movement of my hand and calligraphy brush. I often begin with a photo I have taken. I bow, stand meditatively over the printed photo until I feel the energy build, then exhale down my arm.

Here is an example of such a attempt. I call it “Annie’s Wraith” in honor of the spirit of my little cocker, Annie. I’d just been told she had a very aggressive cancer and hadn’t long to live. I’d been too sad to do much and was simply lying on the sofa staring out the window, when I had the idea, “Go mix water, honey and ink on a plate and take its picture.”

I did that and was shocked by what the camera captured. Then, I added the calligraphy. I have made more joyous paintings, but none speaks deeper to my soul.

Guided Movements

Ripples, I
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao.
Guided Movements, also called Spontaneous Qigong are part of my Taoist meditation practice. In the Sum Faht tradition, this practice is begun by standing, closing the eyes, and bowing to the four corners of the universe. Then, mentally, one requests guided movements. Next one waits for one’s internal energy to shift. You have to feel the energy or qi build until it is strong enough to move your limbs and body on its own accord. You must allow yourself to follow the energy, never rushing or anticipating. The mind must be kept out of the process.

Most Qigong practices or forms follow a specific pattern and sequence of movements. For example, in the Five Animal Play system movements of the deer, tiger, monkey, crane and bear are mimicked. Bone Marrow Cleansing or Eight Pieces of Silk Brocade will have other patterns of movement.

In spontaneous qigong the body may shake, gently sway, dance or reel, perform martial art moves, mimic any number of animals, or adopt a mudra-like pose. Movement can occur on one side of the body only, or be performed bilaterally. Whatever movement appears is deemed appropriate for that person at that moment given his or her own, unique physiological and psychological needs.

Often the effects of guided movements can feel very cathartic, allowing one to release deeply held emotions. Afterwards one may also feel relaxed and harmonious. The practice is one way to strengthen the body so that it can handle the flow of energy accessed in the deeper levels of sitting meditation.

The poet Rumi has written,

The spiritual path wrecks the body
And afterwards restores it to health.
It destroys the house to unearth the treasure,
And with that treasure builds it better than before.

Some schools of Taoism have emphasized the necessity of strengthening the body prior to instruction in meditation so that the fire and destruction, so beautifully described by Rumi, may be ameliorated if not avoided. A stronger body will also support a clearer psychology.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Now We Have Visions

Chinese reverie
Originally uploaded by IrenaS.
Today I have learned how to blog photos from Flickr (a great website for sharing photos that you and others take).

While exploring that site I have discovered some wonderful images. This one, called Chinese Reverie was taken at the Chinese Pavilion at the Montreal Botanical Gardens.

It was shot with an infrared filter...... change wavelength of light, change what the senses perceive, change how consciousness is enlivened.

In praise of slow

In praise of slow
Originally uploaded by IrenaS.
This photo, entitled "In Praise of Slow," made me so eager to get back to my painting. I would love to add the spontaneous qigong strokes I use in painting to these images by "IrenaS"- or work with them in a collage format.

If you go to the Flickr website and search for "IrenaS" you will find more wonderful photos by this Canadian woman. Or, simply click on the blue links under the photo. ...learning as I go here....

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Artist, Artifact, and Aberration" - Meditation and Epilepsy

"Artist, Artifact and Aberration," is the title of one of my journal entries dated 1984. It shows the direction that my mind took in the years after the Silence swept through me in 1975. I held a job three days a week as housekeeper for a family with two boys and two Dobermans. The routine kept life structured yet undemanding enough for a mind that was often barely under my control. On my days off I read and studied. I was still trying to figure out how consciousness escaped its biological confines. Sometimes I taught meditation and often I wrote essays and poetry.

My prose was getting published. The poetry was not. Neither did “Artist, Artifact, and Aberration,” which I share here as an example of the energy that was flowing through the cognitive and linguistic centers of my brain.

• • • •
Bill sings to Sarah. Sarah sings to Bill. Perhaps they will do
other dangerous things together. They may eat lamb or stroke
each other. They may chant of their difficulties and their happiness.
They have love but they also have typewriters. That is interesting.

From The Policemans' Beard is Half Constructed, purported first book of prose and poetry ever written by a computer (1984).

Can you find me a home.
We can all find you a hole. I hope not.
Then keep warm. I cannot have that announcement.
Very well then elect him. We can be suggestive.

From a poem by Gertrude Stein (1917).

No, I haven't had any dreams. They took the Ladies Home Journal
out of my room and I haven't had any dreams. I seem to have become
so to speak the property of other people.

From an interview with a schizophrenic patient (1961).

These quotes exemplify how my mind goes out of control, when I sit without speaking, almost in tears, trying to keep the jabber from escaping from my mouth, knowing the alarm the phrases would create in others. It's all poetry and prose. Writing spews forth with this outpouring from somewhere other than me, linking divergent ideas via imaging. The line between creative and crazy is at times a dangerous tightrope.

Think of it. A computer programmed to create strictly from rules in the absence of divine spark. Structural grammarians posit a hierarchy in the making of a sentence. Rules for making words with only certain letter combinations: thistle, grissle but no crissle; “pn,” “kn,” but no “xn” (at least not in English). Secondly, rules for categories: all nouns, all verbs, all adverbs, etcetera, and categories within each of these, and more rules for selection. Steve, Phil, Frank, Hank: one you loved, one you played with, one you married, one took off with someone else. Let your Freudian slips slide loose. In speaking you have an entire pool and slips of the tongue can be revealing, but that's not craziness.

The schizophrenic also has his categories. One fellow was convinced that Jesus, cigars and sex were identical because they all shared the element of being encircled: Jesus encircled by the halo of the saint, a package of cigars by a tax band, and a woman by the sex glance of a man. The schizophrenic can logically say, "the house burnt the cow horrendously," because his categories are more unique than yours and mine. But are they so different from computer’s or poet’s?

I cannot control the electrifying nature of the vision: left sided linear, linear, linear, until bang the integration. Right side of brain kicks in and sees all those little pieces simultaneously. The bright idea consumes in flame and becomes electric storm. So, I basket weave. No more verbalizing to set things off. The essayist in me must rest, as did Virginia Woolf. Her husband, Leopold, knew just how to manage her, resting now or busy. He piloted her to productivity until she jumped off of a bridge with stones stuffed into her pockets, convinced the Nazis were about to invade.

The first sign that my mind is going is when everything appears stunningly significant. Scientific American reports our solar system has two suns, Sol, and now a dark dwarf, perhaps "George." Orbiting through the planets every 24 million years, it causes mass extinction of the species. Now, why was I not informed!
Harpers reports the Soviet Government's restrictions on artistic expression, a list 8-10 points long, all of which I'd urged upon an aspiring writer recently. Now, I am horrified.

Nutrition Today reports that in the last twenty years birth intervals between Eskimo siblings shrank in direct relation to parents' mileage from trading posts. The shorter the distance, the more frequent the births. Switching from breast to bottle-feeding precipitated a population explosion. Now what, I have to ask.
I discover that the word "Hippy" derives from the west African Wolof word, "hipi", which means to open ones eyes. I find it ludicrous.

Yet, I cannot stop, and start composing paragraphs, an outpouring so profuse a dozen ideas come and go while standing in the shower. After a week of this I am ready to collapse. I sit twisted in my chair, trying to ignore the shadows in the corners whispering in low tones, clutching at my mangled body parts- illusions both real and imagined. Real illusions, yes. And it’s all imagination. The crazy cannot think straight. Perhaps he's right in that. So I write in that. See. I could drive you crazy too. But forgive me, I'm just a little schizo and it’s getting on my nerves.

I was speaking of computer choosing- the damn phones at work are programmed now, the software’s in the closet with the furnace. Is normality simply choosing the 50th percentile rather than the 1st or 95th? Decide this, not that. The crazy cannot think straight. Choices cause a panic, seeing life as labyrinth, endless banquet forks there in the road. Linear thought, the logical, left side of verbal delineation cannot handle deciding, in part because the terrain is too grand. But, we were meant to eat it all. "Neti, Neti," the mystic says in the context of enlightenment, "Not this. Not that." I hold my head and cringe. The crazy cannot think straight, nor does mystic, nor the poet.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is Richard Hofstader's "metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll." His final chapter, XX (like some cartoonist’s starry eyed knockout punch) is called "Strange Loops and Tangled Hierarchies," "a grand windup of ideas about the snarls that arise when systems turn back on themselves." You might call it a retrospective on introspection, or how a computer scientist deals with the mind's transcending. Expansive collapse. Yes, English let's you say that and label life. So let me end by adding- punning is a play on words, the joke rests on the words themselves, actually a self referral logic loop, as is all of literature and life. Thus, the end of this and any essay is never really that, which is why I cannot sleep. Creativity is self-propelling until you simply burn out. More like that final luminescent blue-white spot in the middle of your TV tube, sitting there a dying glow, in the middle of the cathode ray tube. Boink.

Or as Gertrude Stein has said:
The composition is the thing seen by everyone living in the
living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition
that at the time they are living is the composition of the time...

∙ ∙ ∙ ∙

So ends my journal entry.

I assumed that the word flow I was wrestling with was akin to the hebephrenic schizophrenic babbling I had seen at college in a Psych 100 video. Disturbances in word associations were among the first clinical symptoms reported for schizophrenics. A 1999 report in the journal Biological Psychiatry describes schizophrenic patients as “characterized by a pattern of indiscriminate or random spread of activation in their semantic network.” Or, as I commented above, everything is connected, everything significant. The 1999 report continues, “Schizophrenic patients were characterized by a failure to discriminate between associated and unassociated semantic contexts.” Or, as Becky’s mother, a well-published writer, was to comment later, my writing style was “charmingly loosely associated.”

I simply worried that I was losing my mind. To my fears was added the strongly stated belief of one of my dearest friend’s that I was simply not trying hard enough to control myself. With growing frustration and shame, I pounded on myself to shape up, to just stop and be normal once again. And I could not do it.

It was not until 1995 that a report on National Public Radio alerted Becky to the fact that temporal lobe epilepsy, or TLE, also creates prolific verbage and writing. That was when I started wondering if my heavy “unstressing” was actually something akin to epilepsy. From the beginning there had been these fit-like episodes: the falling to the floor, the stiffening of limbs, the altered consciousness, the difficulty in responding to verbal inquiries.

Once I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed, hands folded in my lap, with no idea of why or even how I had come to be there. It was quiet unnerving. Downstairs I discovered a wastebasket sitting in the middle of the living room and remembered that I had been cleaning house. Apparently I’d simply stopped and gone upstairs. Such behavior I now know can be a little seizure.

The report Becky heard on the radio also spoke of an “interictal personality,” specific traits displayed by many epileptics between seizures. These traits are include 1. Hypergraphia or verbosity. In response to a question, TLE patients write an average ten times more than do normal controls. 2. Great interest in the religious or philosophical. 3. Hyposexuality, a true loss of libido. 4. An increase in irritability, anger and rage. Becky thought this all sounded quite familiar, and I had to agree. Was epilepsy making me write all night or fall upon the floor in flashbacks?

Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
I do not wish to pathologize my history, and I do not believe that I now have epilepsy. But, there are too many parallels between TLE and my experiences to ignore a closer look.
I froze in place when I first read the title, “Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial-epileptic like signs- evidence for ‘cognitive’ kindling?” In this article, the Canadian psychologist, M.A. Persinger, argued that meditators show a significantly wider range of complex partial epileptic-like signs than non-meditators. His study was based upon a written questionnaire, the Personal Philosophy Inventories. Persinger considered reports of feeling vibrations, hearing one’s name called, paranormal phenomena, finding profound meaning in poetry or prose, and religious phenomenology as signs of TLE. Persinger’s theory is that the repetition of the mantra promotes “cognitive kindling” in the brain. Kindling is the increased, rapid firing of neurons in a process that spreads through the brain ultimately resulting in the electrical storm seen in epilepsy. Persinger even had a few EEG studies to back up his argument.

This claim was rebutted immediately by David Orme-Johnson who argued that Persinger’s research shows that people practicing TM do have more spiritual experiences: heightened meaningfulness, expanded sense of self, and a sense of knowing. But, Orme-Johnson faulted Persinger’s conclusion that people experiencing profound meaning in poetry and heightened awareness are actually showing signs of epilepsy and temporal lobe microseizures. Orme-Johnson cites a clinical trial specifically designed to test the effects of TM on epilepsy. The study showed that meditation correlated with less frequent and less severe seizures. Another 5-year study showed that TM meditators had 87% fewer diseases of the nervous system than non-meditators.
Today, this debate continues. The April, 2006 issue of the journal Medical Hypothesis carries an article, Meditation and epilepsy: A still hung jury. I have the feeling that Orme-Johnson would never admit that TM might produce an ill effect. On the other hand, I doubt that Persinger would be happy to credit anything beneficial to meditation. I also know that to this day, there are times when I feel my brain is crackling. I tell myself that no one could possibly feel the electrical discharges in their brain, even as I wish the crackling would stop and rub my knuckles over my head. It feels electrical. But, I do not drop down in seizure, or stumble in my speech, or for that matter enjoy a special relationship with either God or poetry. These days, I simply go to work.

Epilepsy is called the sacred disease because it can make its victims feel as if they have been touched by God. Dostoevsky knew this first hand and put his own experiences into the mouth of Myshkin in The Idiot :

“[He] remembered among other things that he always had one minute just before the epileptic fit (if it came when he was awake), when suddenly in the midst of sadness, spiritual darkness and oppression, there came at moments a flash of light in his brain, and with extraordinary impetus all his vital forces suddenly began to work at their highest tension... His mind and heart were flooded with extraordinary light; all his uneasiness, all his doubts, all his anxieties were relieved at once; they were all merged in a lofty calm, full of serene, harmonious joy and hope. But these moments, these flashes, were only the prelude of that final second (it was never more than a second) with which the fit began. That second was of course unendurable… And yet he came at last to an extremely paradoxical conclusion. ‘What if it is disease?’ he decided at last. ‘What does it matter that it is abnormal intensity, if…remembered and analyzed afterwards in health, turns out to be the acme of harmony and beauty, and gives a feeling, unknown and undivined till then, of completeness, of proportion, of reconciliation and of ecstatic devotional merging in the highest synthesis of life?’ …That it really was ‘beauty and worship,’ that it really was ‘the highest synthesis of life’ he could not doubt…at that very last conscious moment before the fit, he had time to say to himself clearly and consciously, ‘Yes, for this moment one might give one’s whole life!’

“for all the joys that life may bring, I would not exchange this one.”

Dostoevsky’s commentary stirs my own regrets. You have to call it disease to fall upon the floor, and yet the price seems inconsequential to the beauty. So, you must go around again and reconcile. You have to choose health and functioning. You have to be practical… when you could have been with God. Having your hands upon Infinity you have to let it go and hold on firmly to the insignificant. It breaks my heart every time I see that I made this choice.
I saw an interview on TV a few years ago. A young man was having seizures. He began with the comment that he had never been religious, not before the seizures. Then, he grew quiet as tears came into his eyes. “I take the medicine for my family, for Dad. It is so hard for them.” Then struggling against what looked to me like loss of hope he added quietly, “…but to have seen and understood… it doesn’t matter. Not to me.” In the end, he made the same choice as I did, and it seems to break ones heart.

The most common experience during an epileptic aura is a feeling of fear and dread. The Merck Manual states that these feelings are often accompanied by discomfort in the epigastric region. So, there I was walking down the hall in South Fallsburg. One moment I was fine and the next my stomach felt weird, and I was asking a stranger to bring help. The parallel continues as the fear and dread are often followed "by an animal-like roar and the falling forward to the ground," which was exactly what I did that night.

Usually, in the actual seizure one loses consciousness. I have always remained aware. Usually a scene and story are played out, as if I dream while remaining awake aware of the room in which I lay. For years I had flashbacks of World War I.

Is this what doctors call "mental diplopia" or double consciousness? The aura creates the experience of remnants of normal consciousness along with a new “parasitic” consciousness consisting of another reality. So, there is a name for it: I was in my hotel room, yet superimposed upon that was the battlefield. I slept upon the floor, even though I knew it was illusion that the bed sheets were covered deep in blood. I avoided part of the room even though I knew there were not the burned out tree trunks and ditchs of the battlefield to trip over.

Based upon the physiology of TLE, near death experiences, and hallucinogen ingestion, UCLA psychiatrists Jeffrey Saver and John Rabin in 1997 constructed a theory of the neural substrates of religious experiences. These brain disorders all produce experiences that may be interpreted as the religiously-numinous. One suddenly sees through the mundane and previously real world into a new and deeper reality. Through a doubling of consciousness one can simultaneously perceive a higher, purer self, and a lower, irreligious self. Saver and Rabin note that the medical literature describes a number of historical religious figures that appear to have had epilepsy. These include: St. Paul, father of the Catholic church; Muhammed, the Islamic prophet; Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers; Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism; Emanuel Swedenborg, scientist and founder of the New Jerusalem Church; Joan of Arc and no less than four female Catholic saints.

Saver and Rabin also point out that religious emotions are like the ordinary emotions of joy, love, awe, fear except that they are now directed towards a religious object. Similarly, religious thinking or Talmudic reasoning, is ordinary logic applied to the religious. Religious language depends upon the language cortex. Prosody and other emotional contributions to religious discourse arise in the right hemisphere. Thus, it appears that most of the brain is involved in one aspect or another of religious feeling and thought.

What appears unique about religious experience is a direct sensory awareness of God. Perception of the divine occurs and all else in life is changed. However, there is no identifiable region of the brain specifically responsible for divine perception. Thus, Saver and Rabin propose that apprehension of the divine occurs in part through the ordinary systems of sensory perception (tactile, visual, auditory, and olfactory perception) upon which other signals are superimposed. They hypothesize that the temporalimbic system tags external and internal stimuli with greater meaningfulness.

Persinger found that poetry seemed more significant. I once directly perceived that Elton John’s Crocodile Rock was a gift from God. In “Artist, Artifact, and Aberration” everything was stunningly significant. If Saver and Rabin are right, my temporalimbic system was simply “adding” importance and meaning to ordinary perception. In The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, Alice Weaver Flahert, MD and an instructor of neurology at Harvard Medical School writes of her experience with hypergraphia triggered by postpartum mood disorder following the death of her premature twins.

It seems a brain-based shift in information processing can put the sacred into the everyday. It’s as if one part of the brain becomes more active, and new circuits are created, no different really from the amplifier on the guitar adding a reverb to the sound. This is not necessarily disease nor even hallucination. On the contrary, it could be called the pathway to sainthood.

During my early struggles to stabilize and understand what was going on in my mind and body, I found only one book documenting similar experiences. Kundalini, the evolutionary energy in man is the autobiography of Gopi Krishna.
One day, I was telling Andy about the book and he asked, “Well what happened to him?”
“He became a saint,” was my reply.
“So what’s your problem?” end of discussion and sibling sympathy.

Now, as I flip through the pages, I find that I underlined these words:

…the fear of impending madness never left me completely.
The magnitude of the risk that one has to run in the event of a powerful awakening all of a sudden, can be gauged from the fact that simultaneously with the release of the new energy, profound functional and structural changes begin to occur in the delicate fabric of the nervous system with such a rapidity and violence as to be sufficient to cause unhinging of the brain instantaneously if the organism as a whole does not possess enough power of adjustment to bear the tremendous strain…
By Way of Introduction……
In 1975, after several years of diligent practice of meditation, I suddenly fell into a sustained transcendent state. I was attending an advanced trained course for teachers of Transcendental Meditation. We were watching a videotape and I turned to whisper a joke to my friend sitting next to me. Half way through that turn there was a clap of resounding Silence that jerked me to my feet. There was Unbounded Silence, an Nothingness Ocean of Silence permeating the same old room and TV set and people sitting quietly in chairs.
Just like that my consciousness had changed. Just like that my life took a turn I never imagined. The experience (which lasted for some weeks and with varying intensity for years) showed me beyond doubt that the mystics have it right. There is an immaterial reality beyond this material Creation. An Absolute, eternal Silence permeates this world. If we have our senses trained we can perceive and live a beauty not of human imagining, but Divine design.

There are some very smart people investigating the nature of consciousness: theoretical physicists and mathematicians, cognitive scientists, neurophysiologists, philosophers, and a fistful of Nobel laureates to categorize a few. Of course, these brilliant minds have not agreed upon even a definition of consciousness, although they do speak in terms of both the “hard” and “easy” problems. One estimate suggests that the easy problem will take 100-200 years to solve. What is clear is that to participate fully in this dialog one needs years of training in some sophisticated areas.
My approach is simpler. I’m going to tell you a story- my story, the experiences I have had and the questions I have faced. The shorthand that I use to myself is that “I saw God.” Or sometimes, enjoying framing it as having gotten caught up in some bad Country Western song entitled, “I saw God and all Hell broke loose.” Back in 1970’s, my father simply called it “kundalini burnout.”
Whatever words you choose, the experience sent my mind and body into a chaotic gyration from which it took me years to recover. After all, sensory perception is a subsystem of that complex system called our brain and physiology, and complex systems are renowned for chaos. So, while I count myself blessed to have had the vision, I feel extremely lucky to have survived the experience intact.
My struggles were compounded by the fact that I had no satisfactory explanation of their cause. TM is Advaita Vedanta, an Eastern philosophy. For the last 10 years I have practiced Sum Faht, a Taoist-Buddhist blend of meditation and spontaneous Qigong.
Yet, I was born and raised and breathe the Western scientific path. Both my grandfathers were engineers, building bridges for the railroad in its golden era. My father was a polymer chemist around the time the Guest whispered to the Graduate his famous wisdom, “Plastics.” My sister is a physician, my brother received his Ph.D. in neuroscience. I am a molecular geneticist. Thus, I am one in a long line of brains that require a “scientific” explanation. Denied the denouement of logical explanation we can become neurotic or even worse.
So, I am stitching together a Western explanation of the events that I’ve experienced through meditation. It’s a very personal story, at times embarrassingly so. But, the details, presented as truthfully as possible, are the data I’ve amassed in the experiment I conducted.
The chaotic reaction I had to meditation has elements of temporal lobe epilepsy and post traumatic stress disorder. I was never diagnosed with either of these conditions and I have no desire to pathologize my experience. I present the physiology as the most thoroughly researched phenomena paralleled by my own experience. In genetics mutants are created to demonstrate exactly what function a gene normally performs. So it is with bringing out apparent pathology, when advocates of meditation wish to argue only for the benefits.
In 1989 the Journal of Cognitive Science was founded. Consciousness and Cognition was started in 1991. In fact, several new branches of science have arisen since1975. We now have PET scans and functional NMR to look closely at the brain. Genome projects have mapped genetic potential and revealed our evolutionary history. There are thousands of mature Western meditators to serve as experimental subjects. Research on dreaming has provided lessons about different states of consciousness. Psycho-neuro-immunology and psycho-neuro-endocrinology are beginning to explain how our minds are tied into our bodies. In short, science has advanced enough to begin to shed light upon what mystics have described for hundreds of years.
I also want to tell my story because it seems what I have to offer in the way of Seva. I don’t feed the homeless. I don’t participate in runs for charity. But, perhaps I can share what I have learned and help easy the path for others.
By and large, science still refuses to acknowledge all the lessons we should learn. Francis Crick, Nobel laureate and one of the founders of molecular genetics, entitled his book on consciousness The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul. But Crick does not believe in soul. His title reflects his belief that a hopelessly naïve and religious public would find his proposition- that the mind/soul arises from the physiology- to be astonishing.
Well, of course states of consciousness are supported by ones physiology. What is astonishing, to me, is that the mystics also appear correct: Pure Consciousness itself gives rise to material creation, and thus creates my body. Pure Consciousness, gives rise to matter. Matter then evolves in complexity and organization, until the inanimate becomes animate. Alive and still evolving, matter gives rise to a consciousness conscious of itself, and ultimately conscious of the Self.
Meditation is more than a technique to reduce stress. Meditation is a means to evolve our minds. Science has already put evolution into our hands. Science saves lives everyday. That we are smart there is no doubt.
But where is wisdom or even being kind?

Ultimately, my story is not about me, but every one of us. And I do believe we have to help each other grow if wisdom and goodness are to overtake our intellects.