THE ART OF MEDITATION:-

THE ART OF MEDITATION: –

As meditation is demystified and mainstreamed, the methods have become more streamlined. There is less incense burning today, but there remains a nugget of Buddhist philosophy: the belief that by sitting in silence for 10 minutes to 40 minutes a day and actively concentrating on breath or a word or an image, you can train yourself to focus on the present over the past and the future, transcending reality by fully accepting it. In its most modern form, it has dropped the creepy mantras that have you memorize a secret phrase or syllable; instead you focus on a sound or on your breathing. The brain like the body also undergoes subtle changes during deep meditation. The first scientific studies in ‘60s and ‘70s basically proved that meditators are really, really focused.

How to Meditate: –

  1. Find a quiet place, turn off the lights. The fewer distractions you have, the easier it will be to concentrate.
  2. Close your eyes. The idea is to shut out the outside world, so your brain can stop actively processing information coming from the senses.
  3. Pick a word any word. Find a word or phrase that means something to you, whose sound or rhythm is soothing when repeated.
  4. Say it again and again. Try saying your word or phrase to yourself with every out breath. The monotony will help you focus.

Which Form of God should we meditate?

Fix your attention on that form which appeals to you most: but know for certain that all forms are the forms of ONE GOD alone. He is blessed indeed who has known all as one.

Scientific Discovery: –

What scientists are discovering through these studies is that with enough practice, the neurons in the brain will adapt themselves to direct activity in that frontal. Concentration- oriented area of the brain.

Frontal Lobe: This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.

Parietal Lobe: This part of the brain processes the sensory in formation about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.

Thalamus: The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper in to the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.

Reticular Formation: As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.

Meditation Flavors: –

The meditation practice itself comes in many flavors, from the purely spiritual to mostly physical.

Concentrative: Meditative technique that directs the mind to a single focus, such as on breath or mantra.

Mindfulness: Teaches an evenhanded, accepting awareness of whatever arises in the senses.

Movement: heightens the awareness of sensations of movement, such as in walking or Tai Chi.

Visualization: Generates a mental image, from simple crosses or a single square of color to complex symbols such as the elaborate mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism.

Loving-kindness: Cultivates a positive mood or beneficent outlook through the contemplation of such feeling as compassion for all people.

Transformation: Seeks Solace or the solution to specific problems by turning negative emotions in to positive energies.

THE MIND IS I (oneself)

THE MIND IS I (oneself): –

Mapping the brain of course has not been an easy task. A dense tapestry threaded by archipelagoes (group of islands) of nerve cells, the brain consists of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses. It is the most complex object on the planet. The heart pumps blood, the lungs ingest oxygen, the stomach absorbs nutrients, but the functions of the brain are manifold. It monitors the body’s basic processes, coordinates physical movement, perceives, thinks, acts and feels. It is an executive branch of government that ceaselessly plans, reacts and interacts with the organic world around it.

But if you define consciousness as mental content – the information contained in the thoughts that is reportable by the person, and which they can reflect on and talk about it, in that sense the consciousness is a valid subject of scientific study.

Consciousness: –

There are many levels, from basic perception of the environment to the higher consciousness, which is the capacity for self-awareness. Sense of identity is probably a mixture – a nested hierarchy – of coordinated functions arising out of several areas of the brain. But the right hemisphere is the dominant source of the self. Some scientists believe that the right hemisphere is not simply dominant in the formation of the self-awareness, but it is essential. There are definite neural correlates of higher order consciousness that, if you mark them out, the person is no longer conscious, no longer capable of self-awareness. Just tenth of an inch beneath the furrowed ridges of gray matter that covers the right front side of the brain, is a layer of tangled cell tissue that makes us uniquely human. There may be other similarly minuscule areas of the brain that contribute to consciousness, but the right prefrontal cortex – located just above the right eye – is the primary source of self awareness.

Nature vs. Nurture: –

Is this a religiosity, a function of environment of how we are brought up, or as many neuroscientists now believe that it is a function or reflection of brain activity. In other words we are hard wired for GOD.

The relationship between brain chemistry and consciousness is one that, in the neuroscience age, is hard to get away from. As neurobiologists have deepened our understanding of the powerful neurochemicals that underlie our moods and motivations, words like adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin have become part of our vernacular. And for those who have spent any time studying the field, it has become increasingly difficult not to think of human behavior in chemical terms.

If the study of brain damage and neurochemistry provides the beginnings of an outline of the profound link between brain and mind, powerful new brain scanning techniques promise to fill out the details in living color. By providing a picture of the brain’s blood-flow patterns when engaged in particular activities, PET, SPECT, and MRI scans are enabling researchers to map the regions of the brain like cartographers once charted the contours of the globe.

Discovering the biological basis of speech and perception is, however, just the beginning. With experimental methodologies improving by the month, even the more complex aspects of our experience, such as emotion, reason, motivation, and will, are beginning to give up their secrets. In Mapping the Mindscience journalist Rita Carter writes: “It is now possible to locate and observe the mechanics of rage, violence, and misperception, and even to detect the physical signs of complex qualities of mind like kindness, humor, heartlessness, gregariousness, altruism, mother-love, and self-awareness.”

The profound implications of these findings are not lost on the neuroscience community. Indeed, one of the more interesting new areas of discussion is what has become known as neuron-ethics. According to psychologist Martha Farah, brain imaging in particular has opened up an ethical can of worms with its unprecedented ability to peer into the previously private reaches of the individual mind. For instance, with neuroimaging, it has now become possible to tell when someone is being deceitful, or even when he or she is deceiving him or her. Enter lie-detection 3.0. Scientists can also discern whether someone was involved in a crime by showing them objects from the crime scene and seeing how their brain responds. Welcome to the new forensics, as marketed by Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, Inc. It is even possible to tell whether someone is an illegal drug user by showing them photos of drug paraphernalia and seeing whether the brain enters a “craving state.” Meet the new war on drugs.

Then there is what Farah refers to as “brain typing.” Using these same methodologies, neuroscientists can now look behind the scenes of your persona and find out what sort of human being you really are. Do you secretly harbor racial prejudices? By watching your brain while you look at pictures of racially diverse faces, brain scanners can provide an answer. How about sexual preferences? By showing you a variety of erotic imagery, we can see who or what turns you (or your brain) on. (And don’t bother trying to suppress your response. Your brain looks different when you do that too.) Are you a risk-taker? A pessimist? An introvert? Neurotic? Persistent? Empathic? Even such core personality traits as these are now laid bare before the new neuron-interrogation.

ANATOMY OF BRAIN

Anatomy of Brain: –

It is hard for most of us to imagine what it would be like to have one of our most taken-for-granted faculties suddenly no longer available to us, like the ability to respond emotionally to our visual experience. Indeed, what is most intriguing about these stories is the way in which they challenge one of our most fundamental intuitions—our sense that the self is a single, unified whole. Repeated throughout the neurology literature are cases in which damage to a specific part of the brain leads to the loss of some specific aspect of our ability to perceive and respond to the world. Damage one part of my brain and I’ll lose the ability to learn any new facts. Damage another part and I’ll be unable to recognize faces. Damage another area and my experience of the world will remain intact, but I’ll be unable to find the words I need to speak clearly about it. Damage still another part and I’ll lose the ability to pay attention to half of my visual field, but I will be convinced that the half I’m seeing is the whole picture. As a result, in the morning, I’ll only shave half of my face. Taken together, the data from neurology suggest that despite our brain’s ability to organize our experience into a seamless unity, we are, in fact, made up of many parts, the loss of any of which can have dramatic effects on the whole.

However ignorant we may be of brain science, most of us are familiar by now with the idea that our brain has two hemispheres, a left one and a right one, each responsible for very different aspects of our behavior. Our dominant left brain, we are told, is more analytical; our right brain more emotional, creative, and intuitive. Although much of the popular psychology literature on the right brain–left brain distinction has been, in the eyes of neuroscience, exceedingly simplistic and inaccurate, the basic fact—known in the field as “hemispheric specialization”—is well established. In a normal brain, these two hemispheres communicate with one another through a large band of nervous tissue known as the corpus callosum (larger in women than in men, incidentally, accounting for their superior ability to multitask, among other things). But what would happen if the connection between these two halves of the brain was severed, leaving us, in effect, with two brains in our head? Would we end up with two different selves? Over the past few decades, a group of neuroscientists have had the chance to find out.

Epilepsy comes in many forms, some mild and some severe. In its worst manifestations, it brings with it nearly constant seizures that make life almost impossible for the patient. In an attempt to control these severe cases, in the 1960s neurosurgeons began cutting the corpus callosum to prevent the seizures from spreading from one side of the brain to the other. The procedure was re- markably successful, and to the relief of the doctors who pioneered the treatment, patients generally recovered well and were able to live relatively normal lives. But in these “split-brain” patients, psychobiologist Roger Sperry soon recognized a rare opportunity to study the differences between the two hemispheres in a way that had never been possible before. Over the decades that followed, he pioneered a series of studies that ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize. Most of these split-brain studies focused on illuminating the functional differences between the two hemispheres, but along the way, Sperry and his colleagues began to realize that there were implications to what they were seeing that went far beyond the scope of their initial questions.

One of the most commonly known facts about hemispheric specialization is that the right brain controls the left side of the body and the leftbrain controls the right side. Where visual input is concerned, the same rule applies. The left half of the visual field (of each eye) is routed to the right brain and vice versa. Knowing this, researchers realized that by presenting information quickly to only one side of the subject’s visual field, they could ensure that the information only reached one side of the subject’s brain. This technique provided the cornerstone of their research.

Employing this method, researchers had learned early on that the dominant left brain, with its ability to reason and use language, is the home of what we usually think of as the conscious mind. For instance, when asked to report on information that had been presented to their left-brain alone, subjects could speak about it quite normally. When information had been presented only topage274image55672192the right brain, by contrast, subjects seemed unaware of it. As the research progressed, however, the picture grew more complex. For instance, when the right brain was shown an image of a spoon, the subject’s left hand (which is controlled by the right brain) could successfully identify an actual spoon from among an assortment of objects, even though the subject claimed to have no conscious knowledge of having seen it. Despite its inability to express itself, the right brain nonetheless seemed to have a will and mind of its own. Eager to test this, Scottish neuroscientist Donald MacKay devised a twenty-ques- tions-type guessing game and successfully taught each of the two halves of a patient’s brain to play it—first against him and then against the other half. But this image of the two halves of one brain competing with one another soon moved from the experimental to the macabre, as split-brain patients began to develop the bizarre malady known as “alien-hand syndrome.”

The idea that splitting the brain amounts to nothing less than splitting the self is a challenging one with enormous implications for our understanding of the brain’s role in creating consciousness and even individuality. Therefore, it is no surprise that it has remained a controversial finding, even among scientists. But for the man who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in this area, the experience of working with split-brain patients for many years all pointed in one direction. “Everything we have seen indicates that the surgery has left these people with two separate minds,” Sperry wrote. “That is, two separate spheres of consciousness.”

Cerebral Cortex (cerebrum): –

This is the most highly evolved part of our brain. The furrowed, quarter inch thick slab of gray matter that covers the surface of the brain is divided in two hemispheres and four lobes. Creativity generally resides in the right hemisphere, analytic ability in the left. Frontal Lobe – Area of brain just behind eyes, which controls intellectual functioning, including thought process, meaning and behavior. Temporal Lobe – Located on lower sides of the brain, the temporal lobes are responsible for smell, taste, hearing and visual associations. Parietal Lobe – Upper portion of the brain, just under top of skull. The parietal lobes are responsible for higher sensory and language functions. Occipital Lobe – located in the rear area of brain, the occipital lobes receive the visual information from the eyes.

COULD THE BRAIN IN FACT BE THE SOUL

Could the brain in fact be the soul?

Who had determined from an early age to disprove the existence of God and the Soul, made a passionate call for neuroscience to begin employing its growing scientific arsenal to demonstrate the material basis of consciousness?

Philosophers have been arguing about over the past few centuries. Ever since René Descartes gave birth to dualism by asserting the separation of Mind and Body, the big issue in the philosophy of mind has been figuring out how these two different substances—the mental and the physical—could interact with one another. On one hand, how could an objective, physical brain give rise to subjective, mental events? And on the other hand, how could those subjective, mental events—presumably not governed by physical laws—impact the objec- tive, physical world?page271image32591808

Through the use of brain imaging techniques, it allows them to compare snap- shots of the brain when a given perception is conscious and when it is not conscious. This, they hope, will ultimately give them some clues to understanding how neuronal activity correlates with consciousness. No matter how clear a snapshot we can get of what type of neuronal activity correlates with which sorts of conscious perceptions, we will still be no closer to understanding how the brain could possibly produce something like conscious experience itself.

Different Theories: –

The first thinker on record to suggest a link between mind and brain was the Pythagorean Alcmaeon of Croton, writing in the fifth century BC. Prior to that, across cultures, it was widely held that the Mind, or Soul, was located in the heart. The priests of ancient Egypt, for example, when preparing the body of the deceased for the afterlife, would pull out the brain, piece by piece through the nose, but would leave the heart intact, believing it to be the center of a person’s Being and Intelligence. In most ancient cultures, the idea of dissecting a cadaver was taboo, so with no knowledge of the nervous system, it was only natural to conclude that the accelerated heartbeat that accompanied an excited mind was a clear indication of the bodily location of mental life. Even such great thinkers as Aristotle subscribed to this view. But, rigorous biologist that he was, Greece’s greatest polymath was certain that the brain must serve some function. Noticing that it was cool to the touch, he concluded that it refrigerated the blood—a conclusion that also allowed him to account for the inordinately large brains of humans. Because of our unusual intelligence, he argued, our hearts produced more heat and, thus, required a larger cooling system.

Alcmaeon’s brain-centered theory, however, did manage to persuade the likes of Hippocrates and Plato to abandon the prevailing “cardiovascular theory,” and despite Aristotle’s resistance to the idea, it was picked up by physicians during the early Roman period who broke the taboo against dissecting cadavers and discovered the nervous system branching out from the skull and spine. Although this view gradually took hold, and has remained dominant ever since, it was still being disputed as late as the seventeenth century, when philosopher Henry More wrote, “This lax pith or marrow in man’s head shows no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet or a bowl of curds.” It is also worth noting that the model of the brain that prevailed through most of the second millennium was very different from the model we subscribe to today.page272image33457664

Whereas we now see a vast, complex electrochemical network of some hundred billion neurons, these early anatomists were convinced that the Mind, or Soul, was a kind of etheric presence that lived in large “ventricles” or chambers in the brain, communicating its commands to the rest of the body through “vital spirits” that flowed through the nervous system’s minute pathways.

Indeed, it has been this move away from a spirit-based view of the brain’s workings toward a purely biological one that has led to the idea, so unpopular with the religiously inclined, that the mind, or soul, is ultimately reducible to brain activity.

ALL IS IN YOUR HEAD

ALL IS IN YOUR HEAD: –

Being an engineer all my life, I have always been interested in matters of the science, and I’ve always had a somewhat conflicted relationship to religion. On the one hand, for anyone interested in humanity’s further evolution, it’s hard not to be excited by the latest findings of a discipline that, in a single 20th century, has managed to cure polio, crack the genetic code, send a probe to Saturn’s largest moon, and invent the Internet. But on the other hand, there is something about science’s tendency to reduce even life’s greatest mysteries to the movements of matter alone that has always left me a little chilled. In the face of this unfolding world of meaning, purpose, and mystery, the notion that science held the keys to ultimate truth began to seem increasingly hard to accept. One result of this split personality is that whenever I’m confronted with the battle between science and religion, I always find it hard to take sides and end up in a sort of internal battle of my own.

The thriving field of neuroscience promises to fill that void and then some. Employing powerful new methods for studying the intimate workings of the brain, the pioneers of this increasingly self-assured discipline aspire to demonstrate once and for all that the mind, emotions, and even consciousness itself are entirely generated by the three-pound lump of gray matter in our skulls. For a generation of researchers in this field, the prime directive is to prove what Nobel laureate Francis Crick, who turned to neuroscience after co-discovering the DNA helix, called “the astonishing hypothesis”:

That “you, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and freewill are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. You are nothing but a pack of neurons.”

Despite the insistence of neuroscientists that our brains are the sole source of our experience and behavior, there are very strong reasons why most of us don’t want to believe that this is the case. For most of us with religious or spiritual inclinations, accepting such a premise would eradicate, in one fell swoop, one of our most basic convictions—the belief in an immaterial SOUL or (if we’re Buddhists) “mind essence” that transcends the physical body. Even for those of us who do not count themselves among the religious people, the notion that we are entirely reducible to brain stuff still seems to take away something essential—our humanity, our dignity, our sense of meaning.

There is something about the experience of consciousness itself, some kind of mystery inherent in the fact that we are conscious at all, that seems irreducible to the mere firing of our neurons. As convinced as the neuroscientists are of their case, I can’t help feeling there must be more to the story.

I would have to dive into the unknown waters of brain science and find out for myself what the fuss is all about. What does it actually mean to say that our brains are the sole source of our experience? What evidence is there to prove it? And assuming it was true, would that mean that all of our spirituality is a trick?