D E V E L O P M E N T A L • T O O L S • F O R • S E L F • M A S T E R Y
other is alternately dominant overthe other, depending upon the task being performed, advancedmeditators seemed to develop theability to use their whole brain andto live in a more balanced statecharacterized by brainsynchronization and whole brainfunctioning.This and other research hasdemonstrated that this balancing,or synchronization, of thehemispheres of the brain happensin all forms of meditation. Thedegree of hemisphericsynchronization can be veryprecisely determined by measuringthe meditator’s brain wave patternswith an electroencephalograph(EEG) machine.
hen the brain is very lateralized(one hemisphere being verydominant over the other), the brainwaves are in what is called the betarange. This is the brain wavefunction of normal wakingconsciousness characterized byexternal attention. At the extremesof the beta range one feels stressed-out, uncomfortable, and (literally)out of sync. Dysfunctional andaddictive behaviors, neurosis, andfeelings of separation—in otherwords, all the extremes of duality —are common experiences when the brain is in the extremes of the betarange.
f the brain begins to synchronize, if the two sides of the brain begin tocommunicate more, theseexperiences begin to dissipate andthe brain finally moves into an alpha brain wave state. This is a state of pre-sleep/pre-waking drowsinessor, if one remains alert, lightmeditation. Ironically, alpha is alsoa state of increased focus; it is in thealpha state, for instance, thatlearning, including so-called “superlearning,” takes place.
f synchronization continues, onenext enters a theta brain wave state,the state of dreaming sleep, or if alertness is maintained, a deepmeditation. Theta is also the brainwave state of heightened creativity.The “ah-ha” experience of suddenlymaking a creative connection isaccompanied by bursts of thetawaves in the brain.
f the brain synchronizes still furtherone finally enters the delta brainwave state, ordinarily a state of deep, dreamless sleep, but also, if one can maintain alertness, a stateof extremely deep meditation.Finally, in the deepest part of thedelta range, the two sides of the brain become so balanced that anytension between opposites istranscended. At this point thenormal conscious mind is bypassedand the “transcendental” experienceof oneness and harmony with theentire universe is revealed.
ny kind of focusing will bringabout a degree of brainsynchronization (i.e. meditation).The greater the focus, the greaterthe synchronization (and the deeperthe meditative state). The mystic,then, sitting to meditate, balancesthe brain through some form of focusing, whether by repeating aprayer or mantra, keeping theattention on the flow of the breath,staring at a candle flame, or by usingone of many other techniques.Whatever the technique, the effecton the brain is substantially thesame—brain synchronization, andafter much practice, transcendentalexperience. As the meditatorfocuses, he or she moves from a beta brain wave state into an alpha state.After many years of disciplinedpractice the meditator gains enoughexperience to begin accessing thedeeper theta brain wave state (andwith still more practice, the deltapeople the two hemispheres areunbalanced, a state called brainlateralization. Since the brain filtersour reality in this split-brain way,we tend to see things in terms of duality rather than the onenessspoken of by mystics. If the braincould somehow learn to operate ina more coherent, holistic manner, if the two sides of the brain couldsomehow balance, interact more,and function as one, then possiblyour experience of reality would bedifferent.
ur childhood associations andprogramming may tell us what toseek or avoid in order to gainpleasure or avoid pain, but at aneven deeper level the dual structureof our brain tells us that we are partof a world of separation, that we aresomehow separate from and inopposition to the rest of the world.The more lateralization in the brain(in other words, the more tension between polar opposites) the morefeelings of separation, fear, anxiety,and isolation. In fact, as we shallsee, only a lateralized brain cancontinue to entertain the types of beliefs that result in dysfunctionaland addictive behaviors and thepainful feelings that accompanythem.
odern brain research indicatesthat long-term meditation does infact balance the brain, creating asynchrony between the twohemispheres. Many researchershave studied this phenomenon overthe last twenty years. One suchresearcher, Dr. Charles Stroebel,Ph.D., M.D., director of the Institutefor Advanced Studies in BehavioralMedicine, performed a series of experiments on meditators duringthe 1970s. He discovered thatelectrical brain wave patterns of meditators changed, in periods of deep meditation, to a single,coherent pattern, indicating that both sides of the brain — ordinarilyout of phase — were workingtogether in a balanced, synchronousmanner. While in the vast majorityof people one hemisphere or the
If the two sides of the braincould somehow learn tooperate in a more holisticmanner, interact more, andfunction as one thenperhaps our experience ofreality would be different.