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.