Friday, December 27, 2013

Neuroscience and the Spiritual

As someone who considers herself to be spiritual, to say that I have no interest in neuroscience would not be accurate. I take a very keen interest in neuroscience and have long thought that much of what is taken for spiritual experiences, if not caused by, are definitely related to the brain and nervous system.

Having been born with uncorrected right eye amblyopia (lazy eye) and having struggled academically at school whilst being sensitive and intuitive, it was not until I began having spiritual experiences that I looked for a rational explanation, sure that there was one, since, otherwise, these types of experiences are commonly attributed to mystics or saints.

My investigations into amblyopia and its possible effects on the brain led me to form the hypothesis that the lack of stimulation to the left side of my brain through my lazy right eye caused the right side of my brain, which has historically been associated with spirituality, to work harder. This hypothesis has been borne out by Jill Bolte Taylor’s account of her left brain stroke and her observing hyperactivity in her right brain which resulted in what we would recognize as spiritual/mystical experiences.

I studied and practiced Buddhism for almost 10 years, not because of karma, but because of a natural attraction. I was drawn to it, the theory came easy; the practice, well, that’s another story, I struggled with that, but an intuitive understanding of the Buddhist sutras came easy. Then in 1998, and again in 1999, I experienced the rising of energy that we call Kundalini on this Consortium.

Thinking about my experiences, there were two possible origins: I could attribute them either to benevolent karma left over from a previous lifetime or to a neuroscientific explanation. I can remember the day I was walking through my local park asking myself the question "why me" and "why did these experiences happen to me" and getting a straight three word answer "right brain dominant" and then feeling a little deflated that it wasn’t caused by more loftier, more spiritual activity, but this is what came through and I wasn’t going to go against it.

walking through my local park

Thus began a period of writing to both psychologists and opthamologists to learn more. Most never replied to me; those who did dismissed my hypothesis. I was amazed by their reluctance to accept a rational scientific explanation. Things were said to me like, "If you don’t stop looking for a reason, you will lose the gift of the peace and calm that you have been given." In the end, I gave in and shelved my neuroscientific explanation. Even as I was doing so, I felt it was not the right thing to do. I am keenly aware of what goes on in the laboratory of own body: my thoughts, feelings and actions are very much guided by this awareness. However, on this occasion, I ignored an inner feeling of uneasiness and started reading all the books I could find on mysticism and spirituality.

In the days following this decision, I noticed that life was not flowing as well as it had been. I felt lost and ungrounded in a way I never had while attributing my spiritual experiences to being caused by my brain and nervous system. I got ego inflated. I started to believe I was in some way "chosen." And the longer it went on the more superior and ego inflated I became whilst giving the impression of being the opposite. Then I crashed. (I write more about this in my book so I don’t want to elaborate here.) Let’s say that my spiritual balloon was well and truly burst, and I came back down to earth with a bang.

central nervous system
I decided to return to my neuroscientific explanation and trust that if this was wrong, it wouldn’t be other people who would turn me away from this path again, but the Divine. Immediately, life began to flow and harmonize once again. I am much stronger than I had been previously, able to defend the possibility of a link between neuroscience and spirituality. For me, it’s now a very simple equation. I have a neuroscientific explanation for my experiences, and life works and flows.

As I said earlier in this post, I believe there is a correlation between spiritual experiences and "something" going on in the brain and nervous system. I am not saying that it is causative. To say that it is causative is to display a breath-taking arrogance. I am not a neuroscientist, so I cannot speak cause and effect. However, I do speak of correlation because I often ask myself, "If I had two proper functioning eyes, would I have had the kind of experiences I have had?" Not just the experiences, but their transformative physical, mental, spiritual effects, as well.

Spiritual experiences are common. That they happen is no longer in dispute as they are now reported so frequently. What is less understood is how effective they are in bringing about permanent transformation, i.e., a permanent abiding peace and harmony, not only for those who undergo these experiences, but in the lives of those around them.

A famous spiritual teacher once said that he evaluated the effects of his transmission on his devotees not only by the changes in their minds and bodies, but also by the changes in their lives and the lives of those around them. Something about this resonated. Authentic spiritual experiences are those that result in such an outflow of peace and compassion that those around them cannot but be touched. The true purpose of spiritual experience is transformative, both individual and global. And while many people are now reporting energy rising episodes, the world has not yet manifested evidence of transformation. Something is awry.

Why is it that with so many people reporting spiritual experiences the world is not transforming? Again, to give a definitive answer would be arrogant. Nevertheless, I suggest it's due in part to the temptation to inflate one's ego that accompanies many spiritual experiences — unless the subject is vigilant.

I say this based on my own experience. The spiritual ego distorts the nature and quality of such experiences. It does this by taking ownership and making it "my experience" and then following it with an "I am special" and a "I must teach/be a guru." I don’t believe this is the way of authentic spiritual experience. The Tao behind these experiences is to become even more ordinary (which the ego hates). False spirituality wants us to be SOMEBODY; the real is happy being NOBODY. The irony of the process is that you have to desire to become SOMEBODY before you realize that you are NOBODY and NOTHING. With that realization, you become — not by looking for it — a SOMEBODY who can transform, not only yourself, but more importantly the world.

8 comments:

  1. "Having been born with uncorrected right eye amblyopia (lazy eye)!"
    I was born with an uncorrected left eye amblyopia which cannot be corrected with lenses. So we have struggled with a common ailment. I am a long term Christian meditator, and as a result of this, in 2005 experienced a full blown Kundalini rising. I've never attributed any of this with my lazy left eye. I assumed it resulted from my history as a meditation. I've always looked upon it as a spiritual experience, a graced moment.

    However, since my lazy eye is the opposite to yours, I am wondering if this would affect your conclusions that spiritual experiences have something to do with with right brain activity, or at lease right brain activity that may be connected with amblyopia.

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment. I have to be honest and say that your disclosure of your own opposite eye amblyopia together with having experienced 'fulll blown Kundalini rising' rocked my world. I am lucky to live by the sea so I memorized your comment and went for a walk along the seafront pondering your words. I care more about truth than about being right and defending a point of view even if it is my own. And yet my question back to you is that amblyopia is a physical anomaly that has an impact on the brain. This link was strengthened for me when I learned that Gordon Brown who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK a few years ago has a glass eye in his left eye and went on to do what you could argue is the most left brain job i.e economics. So did you never wonder whether there was something more mundane and physical happening? Or did you see it as a reward for the many years you have spent being a Christian meditator? You say you 'assumed' have you ever re-visited that assumption?

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  2. I've read recently that during meditation, the left and right brain lobes draw closer together, thereby creating greater unison in left and right brain functioning. Also, I believe the yoga practice of alternate breathing is tied in with balancing the rational thinking brain on the left with the more global and intuitive side on the right. It seems to be if there were some divine plan for creation, it would involve a more balanced approach. Our Western culture seems to have focused more on rational thinking with an incessant need to know more at the expense of time for meditation, reflection, prayer, and just smelling the roses, all of which is to create a greater harmony and balance for living. Maybe this is why Buddhist emphasize the middle way.

    Your article is excellent. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you. Before Kundalini rose I had experiences but not the words to speak about them (right brain -experience, no words). Since Kundalini I can now voice and put structure on those experiences so it seems like the rising of Kundalini has given more of a balance between my right and left brain- a balance of the rational with the intuitive but I still stand by my hypothesis that it is the activity in the right side of the brain which is correlated (not caused!) in a dance with, in relationship with Kundalini. Kundalini shifts consciousness from the left to the right brain. This is why for many who experience Kundalini there is confusion and fear because it is quite literally a shift from one world to another - the world of the left brain to the world of the right and they are very different worlds.

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  3. "And while many people are now reporting energy rising episodes, the world has not yet manifested evidence of transformation. Something is awry. Why is it that with so many people reporting spiritual experiences the world is not transforming?"

    Yes, there seems to be many more "metaphysical" experiences these days than even 20 years ago. Obviously, the rise of "strip mall" yoga boutiques has something to do with this. More people are thinking along spiritual lines and are practicing a system/method.

    Years ago, persons undergoing these experiences were not as forthright about spirituality as they are today; they kept these experiences to themselves. Nowadays, spiritual discussions are conducted in a worldwide open forum.

    That being said, I'm not sure we should expect a rapid worldwide transformation. Transformation is not something transmitted through the air like a virus. It's passed along through DNA. First, a genetic mutation has to occur. Gopi Krishna postulated that Kundalini was capable of effecting such genetic modifications in a given subject — enhancing the subject's consciousness and even conferring metanormal abilities on the subject during a single lifetime. Once a benevolent genetic mutation occurred in the subject, it must be passed along to the next generation through DNA.

    That process, he said, would effect an acceleration of consciousness over time, but it would be "evolutionary time," not Greenwich Mean Time.

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  4. "So did you never wonder whether there was something more mundane and physical happening? Or did you see it as a reward for the many years you have spent being a Christian meditator? You say you 'assumed' have you ever re-visited that assumption?

    I must admit, you surprised me with your article making the connection between Kundalini and lazy eye. But there was certainly a lot physically happening, and is still happening to a lessor degree. My Kundalini came about during a 40 day meditation retreat, so the assumption was that it resulted ass a result of this intense meditation time. With it I experienced what would be referred to as a "world collapse". The major change that I noticed would not be described so much as a shift from left to right brain thinking, but a renovation of the subtle body system that seemed to eradicate much of my past conditioning. By that I mean, all those engrained ways of thinking that defined my exterior world. It was confusing in that the ways I defined myself before were gone, but liberating in that I was freed from many of my compulsive ways of thinking and behaving. Concepts that defined me before and motivated me to act in a certain way were suddenly gone. I saw the world differently, like the sky without the clouds. Being a strong practicing Christian, many of my previous concepts and constructs of God and religion disappeared with the rest. This was quite confusing in that the things that motivated and drove me before, we not longer there. My perception of God became much more spacious, boundless. This could be considered a move from left brain conceptual thinking, to the spaciousness of right brain activity. I've often felt that my concepts existed like electrical charges that were corrected with this powerful energy force.

    It's funny, but your article brings to mind an episode during the height of this experience when (during the night when I was trying to sleep) I went through this fairly lengthy telepathic image where my left brain and right brain began slowly to be joined through a process whereby all the light gaps between them slowly closed up.
    Many of these early psychotic experiences I've dismissed as effects resulting from the tremendous flow of energy to my brain causing some very unusual phenomena. Fortunately, they were the first to go. Despite this, I always felt very receptive to what was happening, believing it was all leading to a greater wholeness.
    I've described a lot of this on the blog under mehrudanda.

    But to be truthful, I've never made a connection before between this transformation process and my lazy eye.
    Thanks for your additional responses above. Great speaking with you.

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  5. I actually experienced an integration of left and right in my heart one week before my nirvikalpa. I had a "dark night of the soul", and after relaxing my heart and letting my ego "die" by allowing what was in my unconscious to rise to the surface and integrating that, I felt as if a plate glass mirror that had been the barrier between my conscious and unconscious minds crack and then shatter. Then I saw the left and right halves of my heart reintegrate, as small voices from either side greet each other with love.

    A week later I went through the ultimate arousal, ascension, and ecstasy of nirvikalpa. The following year I read about Da Vinci and his mirror writing and began that process. I'll post about it on this site later today. Bottom line is I definitely feel that overcoming this artificial separation of the different sides of the brain is part of the healthy and complete flow of prana/chi around the body/mind of the awake individual.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Neil. I look forward to reading your post on mirror writing as this is something that I am not familiar with. I like in your comment that you explain HOW you let your ego die...so refreshing as most just write 'I let my ego die' which leaves the reader with the question 'how', so it's great that you wrote the method you used. I agree so much with allowing the unconscious to become conscious as the ego is the guardian of the unconscious....integrated consciousness results in no ego or as you say death to the ego.

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