By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD
In Eastern traditions the purpose of subjective states is to be useful, to aid inner work. What kind of work? The ancient texts give various answers. There is control of the involuntary nervous system, as demonstrated by the extraordinary feats of yogis and swamis who can consciously slow down their breathing and heart rate. There is balance, achieving conscious control over homeostatic mechanism and thus promoting health. There is the pursuit of enlightenment – a vast area beyond the scope of this post – and also the same curiosity to explore nature (in this case, inner nature) that drives mainstream science in the realm of materialism.
The fact is that Zen students and practitioners in other traditions routinely move their minds out of their heads. The experience has been replicated for centuries; it isn’t accidental, haphazard or hallucinatory. Having learned how to do it, you discover by playing around with the practice that you can move your mind into your little toe, your shoulder, your elbow, perhaps even across the room. The immediate reflex of most neuroscientists is that such a subjective sense of “moving mind” is the result of neuronal activity, and even if we cannot quantify such subtle and intricate activity today, we will one day be able to as our tools evolve.
The best rejoinder to this claim is that a whole host of subjective experiences in the domain of medicine are self-reported and cannot be measured without asking the patient what’s going on. Statements like “I feel a bad pain here,” “I’m depressed,” “I’m confused,” and “I’ve lost my balance” can sometimes be traced to distorted brain activity on an fMRI scan, but only the patient can relate what is actually happening. The brain scan can’t tell someone he’s in pain when he says he isn’t. To say “I see my fourth chakra” isn’t less valid; it just has far less brain research devoted to it. (When a bacterium avoids a toxin in a petri dish or is attracted to food, can we claim to know that it is not feeling some primitive form of repulsion or desire?)
The Zen practice of placing the mind in the hara is only a minor example, a step along the way to deeper, more profound experiences. There comes a time in nearly all contemplative traditions when one’s sense of mind and even the ordinary self changes fundamentally, for a moment or a lifetime. In Vedic and Buddhist traditions these experiences are called forms of Samadhi, where a connection is made with pure awareness at the deepest level. In Hebrew mystical practice this might be understood as D’vekut, in Christian practice, Cleaving to God. The thinking mind is left behind, and one arrives at consciousness without content.
Here we’ve reached the shadow zone where “my mind” dissolves into mind itself. In this zone reality shifts dramatically. Instead of sitting inside the space of a room, the person sits inside mental space (Chit Akash in Sanskrit). Events that take place are not strictly mental, however. The inner voyager witnesses time, space, matter, and energy being born here. If such an experience is valid, the implications for physics – and for everyday life – are immense. Consciousness is no longer the elephant in the room, the thing science prefers not to talk about. It becomes the only thing to talk about if you want to know where reality comes from. Starting with the undeniable fact that the brain shares mind with the rest of the body, we are on the verge of showing that mind must be shared with everything in existence – going outside the box extends to infinity, a possibility we will unfold as this series continues.
(To be cont.)
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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com