The Brain & Meditation

by Adithya K.

The brain is essential to human life, and when the brain dies, the entire physical body dies with it. Even in deep sleep the brain is active and aware, and able to direct functions as and when necessary. For example, the brain may create a fearful dream to wake you up if your body is threatened by danger, such as a lack of oxygen due to a difficulty in breathing. The central function of the human brain is awareness.  Awareness is required to know things like boundaries, size, limits, identifications, and the sense of self and the sense of the other. Awareness itself has no intrinsic size, boundary limits, or any other attributes of its own. Awareness is required to know all attributes, but awareness itself can be nothing but just plain awareness. That is the pure awareness of meditation.

     The sense of time, the beginning and the end, the birth and the death, requires memory. Awareness always precedes memory. Awareness serves as the background and base for memory, but memory cannot have any trace of the beginning or end of awareness. This makes awareness feel eternal no matter what the reality.

     We experience everything in our brain: sound, vision, smell, taste, touch, temperature, pleasure, pain, reason, emotion. Everything we feel and see are signals presented inside the brain, from neuron to neuron, in a web of billions of brain cells. When you look at images of distant stars and galaxies, those pictures are formed inside us, not outside of us. When you realign your focus on the background of consciousness during meditation, you clearly see that all outside images are really inside images.

     The sensation *I am body* is itself an effort of the brain.  Brain is our intimate personal reality, not the body. The brain is able to conjure up the idea of the body by repeated practice and focus. The brain can easily convince itself of being anything it wants. After all, there is no one else inside you to question it. The brain is the one that says "I am this!," as well as being the final arbitrator of its own validity. 
     Some may focus on a flower and convince themselves that they have experienced "flower consciousness."  Others go further and convince themselves that they are a great savior, saint, or a heroic world leader. Given enough focus and practice, the brain can convince itself of anything, because the brain is the final judge and jury of our perception of reality. Thus, we all live in different brain worlds of our own creation.  When those brain worlds collide, conflict and wars arise.

     The feeling of solidity of the body is generated by the brain constantly sending and receiving signals to and from different organs. The more frequent and stronger the signals, the more solid the body feels. Mediation is a way to relax the brain and quiet down its constant communication with the body and reduce the frequency of thoughts.  As the brain relaxes and creates less activity and noise, the feeling *I am the body* starts to dissolve.

     Scientists now understand through functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (fMRI scans) that the part of the brain which gives us a sense of location in time and space is less active during intense meditation.  With no sense of location, consciousness loses its boundaries and subjectively feels infinite and timeless.  The body may seem to completely disappear, leaving only pure consciousness in its place.  That is death of the 'I.'  During deep dreamless sleep, the same dissolution of the 'I' happens, but there is no consciousness to experience it.

Thus, if you end desire, the acceptance of *what is* brings an end to stress and creates the sensation of eternal timelessness.

The feeling of clutter we often feel inside ourselves is the brain working too hard, thinking too many thoughts.  The pragmatic working brain requires concentration on the utilitarian tasks of life.  In meditation, peace and relaxation rule, and the brain doing nothing expands its sense of being into the whole universe.  Only the core, essential life saving functions of the brain continue during the deepest meditation.
     Stress is the brain's attempt to drive the body from one situation to another desired situation through the pathway of time.  Thus, if you end desire, the acceptance of *what is* brings an end to stress and creates the sensation of eternal timelessness.  When the brain uproots its self-created need to do work, there is total relaxation and peace. Finally, the brain is at ease and resting in its essential being.

     Contentment is happiness.   Joy is the content of the brain full of energy. Oneness and love come when the brain stops continuously promoting the sensation of *I am this.*  Bliss flows automatically when the brain loses any narrow sense of self-identification. What is left is billions of neurons flowering energy in the brain's primordial form.  When the brain perceives no feelings of subject and object, the brain experiences an indescribable fullness and emptiness. Devoid of object, yet full of energy, the brain goes deeper than the sensation of *I am.* There is no what, no which, no how, and no where.  As Hindus have said, "not this, not that."

     Some may renounce the ordinary life and sacrifice job, society, and everything that requires effort to experience the depths of meditation. Reclusive monks and sadhus may prefer to sit in caves rather than make the brain work more than what they feel is necessary. Those who go deep in meditation often proclaim to the world that they are "enlightened," but that enlightenment is simply a brain gifted with the ability to consciously remain at rest.  Mediation then becomes their default state rather than a practice and effort.  The identity dissolution of deep sleep now pervades all their waking hours. Relaxation, peace, and joy are the natural rewards of continuous meditation.

     The brain stresses and pushes the body and society to achieve its goals. The brain must constantly remember its goals in order to know what action is needed to accomplish its agenda through the pathway of time. The brain may resent the present moment, the *what is now,* because it has not yet achieved its victory which is different from reality in its present form.  When desire drops, so does the goal, the struggle, the conflict, and the dissatisfaction. With no more fighting against the *what is now,* there is no expectation from life and no agenda. This ends what Siddhartha Gautama called "dukkha." Even after all of this, however, the brain is still just a brain. 
Adithya K.

* Dukkha (Pa li; Sanskrit: du' kha) roughly corresponds to sorrow, suffering, affliction, pain, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and aversion.

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