Meditation And The Brain -2
The Alpha rhythm has drawn particular interest as it appears on its own or with other patterns in almost every study. Researchers have become interested in the effects of sustaining the Alpha rhythm alone. The Alpha rhythm appears when the individual is relaxed and calm. It is found more frequently when the eyes are closed, but with practice it can also be produced with the eyes open. It coincides with a mental state which is described as being free from judgments, tranquil and has the feeling of letting go. This state resembles certain meditational states and describes the preparatory phase in the meditation process itself.
The vast majority of people enter this state of mind quite spontaneously though usually for only short periods. Alpha training sessions have been used to teach people to recognize, sustain and then apply this specific mental state. Training programs invariably use monitoring devices of various kinds which instantly feed back information to the subject. The constant flow of information enables the subject to observe minute physical or mental changes and thereby recognize and sustain the particular state. This process is known as biofeedback.
Alpha training programs have been developed which have focused upon the process of self-awareness or else they have been developed as pilot studies into the effects of this state of mind on various clinical problems. Alpha training sessions have been used with patients suffering from a wide variety of disorders, including alcoholism, addiction, chronic pain, psychiatric disorders and epilepsy.
The results over a wide range of symptoms have been very encouraging. It is interesting that training programs are built around the twin concepts of mental relaxation and creative visualization, which also form the foundation for so much meditational experience. It can only be hoped that research will continue to throw more light onto the complex relationship between mind and body.
Brainwave biofeedback offers new possibilities in the area of health and well-being which might be more completely realized in the future. The work of Maxwell Cade, Nona Coxhead and Geoffrey Blundell has already shown how brainwave biofeedback can be used as a guiding principle in the area of personal growth and self-understanding. Their combined work marries traditional meditation techniques with the most sophisticated of monitoring devices – the Mind Mirror.
This machine gives an instantaneous and easily comprehended display of the brain activity in both hemispheres together with information showing the different brain patterns. The display consists of two banks of light-emitting diodes set side by side, with twelve rows to each bank. Each bank records the activity of one hemisphere through the twelve separate frequency channels.
In practice electrodes placed on the scalp pick up the electrical signals from the brain which are then translated into a light display. The signals appear on the twin banks. The subject is able to watch the results of thought processes in rapidly changing configurations and to observe the subtle effects that different states of mind create. The Mind Mirror is probably the most sophisticated monitoring device to date. It has shown that the altered states of mind which characterize meditation are a physiological reality. Training sessions teach people how to recognize and produce certain states of mind in both the physical and psychological sense.
One of the most interesting findings to emerge from research with the Mind Mirror concerns the different activity of each hemisphere of the brain. The existence of the two hemispheres has been known for a long time but it is only recently that we are beginning to appreciate the significance of this fact.
We now know that the function of each hemisphere is quite different. The left hemisphere is concerned with language, logical thought, deductive reasoning, and all the rational forms of thinking. The right hemisphere is concerned with image creation, shape and pattern recognition, symbolic understanding, abstract and intuitive thinking. Our society in general, and education in particular, places great emphasis on the qualities that are expressed through the left hemisphere.
We tend to devalue non-verbal thinking, distrust the imagination and be suspicious of subjective experience. Our society encourages and indeed rewards activity that reflects this particular bias. This unbalanced development has even appeared in the most literal sense on the Mind Mirror as an asymmetrical pattern expressing dominance of the left hemisphere over the right. This configuration is characteristically found in people who find it difficult to let go and explore any inner feelings. It is significant that this asymmetrical pattern becomes transformed into a symmetrical configuration as experience in meditation practice is gained. Meditation has the power to awaken areas of mind long dormant. Mystical literature speaks of the search for wholeness and here we see a concrete example of it.
We find ourselves at a unique moment in time. Meditation techniques have been used for centuries around the globe but it is only recently that technology has given us a rare insight into the mechanics of the process. Scientific enquiry is the standard Western approach to almost any question. It seems to encapsulate the Western outlook on the world.
We need to understand the process before we feel able to commit ourselves to it; we feel the need to explore intellectually before we feel able to experience personally; we need to prove to ourselves that something will be worth doing before we can act. Scientific results are interesting in their own right and research will add to the body of knowledge. However, even when we understand the mechanics of the process we cannot claim to know any more than that. The mystery of meditation remains and cannot be explored by scientific method. It can only be experienced.
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