The Brain in Transcendence and Enlightenment
Based on the research of Dr Andrew Newberg (neurotheologist).
These notes are a simplified version of the teachings from the meditation teacher training retreat.
We spent a lovely three hours on a meditation retreat together using focussed attention style meditation, mantra meditation, breathing techniques, individualised prayer, transcendental yoga posturing, gratitude and compassion meditation to take us into heightened states of awareness.
Throughout the retreat, we experimentally explored how meditation and prayer affected the brain and the blood flow to certain areas (listed below), as researched through SPECT imaging.
There are four core areas of the brain we explored and we also ventured into how certain beliefs, practices, and religious experiences produced certain effects.
- The Frontal Lobes
- The Thalamus
- The Parietal Lobes
- The Limbic system
Here are the SPECT Images and research that are worth exploring on Dr Andrew Newberg’s website to understand further the changes one might see when committing to a certain practice:
Five Core Elements of the Enlightenment Experience
Many people will describe the following core elements when having heightened awareness, religious or spiritual experiences:
1. Intensity – This involves the emotionally heightened limbic brain which experiences intensity through spiritual and religious practices.
2. Clarity – This occurs because thalamus becomes deactivated on one side and this is the part of the brain that takes our sensory information and constructs our view of reality. Our view of reality changes.
3. Surrender – This occurs when the blood flow to the frontal lobes initially increases through focussed attention Buddhist meditation, mantra meditation and/or Catholic prayer and then drastically reduces to the bare minimum. It’s the significant change of flow that produces the surrender experience. Certain types of religious practices such as Islam or the Christian practice of “Speaking in Tongues” which have a focus on complete surrender over to something greater (God) will show a significant initial reduction in blood flow to the frontal lobes. This also produces the experience of surrender.
4. Oneness – Through many spiritual and religious practices the parietal lobes tend to show a reduction in blood flow as we experience oneness or unity. The parietal lobes are responsible for our sense of self in relation to the world.
5. Permanent change – This is when total and permanent change occurs in the brain, body and life. This includes changes in who you are, your relationships, your sense of self in relation to the World. Our fear of death may dissipate, our meaning of life may shift and we often gain a new understanding of self, religious or spiritual and often for the betterment of humankind.
What are the five steps we can take towards achieving the enlightenment experience:
1. The desire to make a change and to have enlightenment or transcendence
- Write down two reasons why you would like to have the experience
- Write down what enlightenment means to you to get the brain engaged in the process
2. Practice relaxation exercises
Breathing, prayer, meditation, mantra
3. Most critically, find out the technique is unique to you that you can use that creates a ritualistic and rhythmic process.
Singing, dancing, seated, walking, shaking meditation, yawning meditation, yoga, laughing meditation, self enquiry, asking the big questions, creativity.
4. Surrender. Try and have times in spiritual or religious practice and/or life when you let it all go. It is very hard to practice true surrender, but when you find that you must truly surrender, this is key to the enlightenment experience.
5. Reflection – be reflective of your experiences, small or big as reflection really is how we change the way we see the world or think about it for the rest of our lives.
Read more about Satanama meditation and Kirtan Kriya on our blog: How Enlightenment Affects the Brain
Watch Dr Andrew Newberg understand further: