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Science & Spirituality
The Mind of a Mystic
Sri. Nithyananda Swami is a trim, healthy looking young man with dark, shoulder-length hair. Handsome and polite, possessing an open manner and a wealth of curiosity, he could be any ordinary American college student.
The difference is that ordinary American college students do not wear orange robes and turbans, have not experienced spiritual enlightenment and are not regarded as a teacher, healer and mystic by millions of people in all corners of the world.
A mystic? The term is not a bad fit for “Swami,” as he is known. Mystics, popular culture tells us, have direct communion with God. Through means not understood or measurable, mystics are thought to have access to ultimate realities or truths. Picture a mystic and you’ll probably picture someone full of bliss, someone gifted with lofty thoughts and insights the rest of us do not possess. The very presence of a mystic is thought to bring peace and healing to others.
That’s an apt description of Swami, a 27-year-old from South India. He is approached by thousands of people a year seeking relief from diseases and ailments that conventional medical approaches have not cured. Swami’s background lends him the air of a mystic, too. He left his home as a teen, visited ashrams across India, immersed himself in philosophy, read extensively and mastered the art of meditation.
When Swami passed through Oklahoma City recently as one stop in his world travels, I asked him if he would let me use some of modern medicine’s newest technology to peer into his brain while he meditated. My goal: to understand, measure and demystify what happens during the mystic phenomena. Swami, who believes that meditation has a scientific basis, happily agreed.
The procedures Swami went through were administered by some of Oklahoma City’s finest and most experienced physicians, neuropsychologists and researchers: Drs. Fordyce, Ruwe and Higgins of the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center Neuropsychology Department and Dr. Chacko of the PET Center of Oklahoma. These doctors were using technology they use with patients on a routine basis. When they look at images obtained by their technology, they know what’s normal and what’s not.
The results from testing Swami? Decidedly not normal.
Please click here to view the video on reasearch on meditaion.
Imaging Brain Activity
Our first look into Swami’s brain was achieved with the help of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) device. Unlike traditional diagnostic techniques that produce images of the body’s structure or anatomy, such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI, PET produces images of the function of the brain through the metabolic activity of cells. An analog of glucose is attached to a radioactive PET tracer. The PET scanner then images the metabolically active brain areas at any given time.
In the case of Swami, the drug was intended to identify highly active areas of the brain in an alert and conscious state, in the early stages of meditation and during deep meditation.
The results of the PET scan tests were stunning. To begin with, the activity in the frontal lobes of Swami’s brain were significantly heightened, even in early meditation stages. The level of activity was higher than would be seen in the average human brain under any conditions. The frontal lobes are associated with the functions of intelligence, attention, wisdom and judgement.
When we then asked Swami to go into the deepest meditation state, there were two more remarkable findings.
First, the dominant hemisphere of Swami’s brain was more than 90 percent shut down. It was as if Swami’s brain had packed up and gone on vacation. It was quiet and still, completely at peace … and Swami had made it so at will.
A second amazing aspect of Swami’s deep meditation was that the lower portion of his mesial frontal areas lighted up in a very significant way. This area roughly corresponds to the reputed location of the mystical “Third Eye.”
Associated with both cosmic and inner knowledge and thought to be a place of clarity and peace, the Third Eye is considered by many to be the seat of the soul. Were we seeing an indication that deep meditation can open an area of the brain responsible for communicating with the divine, looking deep into the mysteries of self or creation? I believe the PET scan revealed what I call the brain’s “D-spot.” Whether you consider the “D” in D-spot to stand for delight, the divine or even dopamine, the chemical through which our bodies experience pleasure, initial indications are that meditation can stimulate it.
The second procedure we used to look into Swami’s brain is known as Quantitative Electroencephalography, or QEEG. QEEG measures electrical patterns in the brain, patterns commonly referred to as brainwaves.
There are four bandwidths of brainwaves, each different in speed and each associated with a different state of mind. For instance, beta brainwaves are small and fast and linked with an awake, alert state of mind. Alpha brainwaves are slower and larger and are connected to feelings of well-being. Theta waves represent a state of consciousness between that is close to sleep, a stage in which there is a sense of calmness and serenity without active thought.
In a day’s time, most people will experience all four types of brainwaves. The progression from one bandwidth to another, though, is not so easily in their control.
From Swami’s QEEG, though, we can see that he has complete control over his brainwaves. When in deep meditation, his brain smoothly shifted from one state to another, like a talented pianist playing the scales. There was no hesitation and no retreating, just continuous, fluid shifts from one type of brainwave to the next. Because the QEEG represents the five brainwave bandwidths as colors, it was as we were watching Swami float from color to color within a rainbow.
The brain is the body’s most complex organ, containing more than 100 billion neurons, each of them in chemical and electrical conversation with up to 10,000 other neurons. Its sheer capacity to process information is astonishing.
Are there techniques we can learn and teach that will bring balance and peace into people’s lives?
Can we invoke a healing response or accelerate healing through specific training? Can we learn techniques that will allow us to control pain or alter the course of a disease?
Can we learn to activate what I call our D-spot, thus putting us in instant connection to delight or the divine?
The results from our study of Swami are new pages in our world’s growing book of research on the brain. There continue to be indications that the human mind may be able to choose to heal the body. We’re now looking at the possibility of people learning and acquiring these healing capabilities, an event of immense benefit for humankind. The potential for altering the rates and progression of many diseases – heart disease, cancer, arthritis, alcoholism and many others – is beginning to look achievable.
Swami is a bridge between the invisible, ancient world of mysticism and the modern, visible world of science and discovery. As brain research continues on a widespread basis, and as we appropriately bring the phenomena of mysticism into the realm of science for further study, we are taking strides on a path of hope and health.
- A Mind Matters Column™
The Mind of a Mystic
By R. Murali Krishna, M.D.
President, James L. Hall, Jr. Center for Mind, Body & Spirit
President, INTEGRIS Mental Health
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma