Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Big Debate

There’s a big debate currently running in the journal Medical Hypotheses regarding whether or not meditating, specifically, Transcendental Meditation (TM), can cause epilepsy. I find this interesting for a number of reasons.

First, it is because in hind-site I recognize a number of the features of the spiritual emergency I went through following my abrupt awakening in 1975 to point to my having episodes of temporal lope epilepsy. I often fell to the floor in seizure-like rigidity (however I never lost consciousness), I would be gripped for hours by the desire to write (hypergraphia). I probably qualified as being hyperreligous. I recall also the day I found myself sitting on my bed with no idea as to how I came to be there or why. When I went downstairs I found a wastebasket sitting in the middle of the living room- oh yes, I was cleaning house. Apparently, I had had a complex partial seizure and had wandered upstairs. To this day, there are times when it feels as if my brain is snapping and popping with electricity. It’s a strange feeling and I don’t understand how one could really perceive such activity. But, I know what I feel and I know I don’t like it.

Secondly, there are the rationales of why meditation may have this effect. In TM EEG coherence and synchrony have been linked to a higher state of consciousness. However, neural hyper-synchrony is also a defining feature of epilepsy. It’s argued that TM could either provoke seizures in meditation or long term as the brain is “chronically kindled” with hyper-activity that develops into epilepsy outside of meditation. Physiologically, TM has been found to enhance glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that an give rise to kindling even in normal brains. TM also increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter with both facilitating and inhibitory effects on seizure.

Finally, it is interesting to watch the scientists who do research on Transcendental Meditation (TM) and who are devoted followers of the TM path. They are not about to admit that TM can do any harm. Yet, they want to argue that the technique has a powerful influence upon the body. To my thinking, anything that can have a powerful influence can also cause an “abnormal” reaction. TM does not have to benefit everyone, every time to qualify as very valuable. But, early on Maharishi made this broad and uncritically examined claim, and so his followers maintain that stance today. That’s disappointing to say the least.

(Please click on the image to read about its commentary. I searched for photos tagged “debate.”)