By Richard Miller
I experience meditation as a way of living life that’s designed to keeps us awake, present, and here in this and every moment. To be here, now is the simplest thing in the world, yet one of the hardest things for us human beings to do. Paradoxically, in order to be here, in this moment, we have to let go of imagining our self as only located in time and space. In order to truly be here, now, we have to recognize an aspect of our self that is beyond thought, time and space.
I’ve long experienced how meditation practices such as Integrative Restoration – iRest, helps restore our felt-sense of being an interconnected aspect of the “Mystery” that is beyond time and space, even as we go about our daily life that is unfolding in psycho-physical time and space. Interestingly, Berkovich-Ohana, Dor-Ziderman, Glicksohn and Goldstein (2013) set out to examine where these kinds of alterations in time and space actually occur in the brain. 1
While brain activity was being recorded, meditation practitioners were asked to evoke states within themselves of being outside of time (timelessness) and outside of space (spacelessness) versus being in time (then) and in space (there). Results from their study showed that:
1. States related to time and space (then/there) produced brain activity in default network regions of the brain that are related to autobiographic and self-narrative memory and imagery, which occur in the right posterior parietal lobule (PPL), right pre-central/middle frontal gyrus (MFG), bilateral precuneus; and
2. States that were experiences as outside of time and space (timelessness/spacelessness) were connected to the present-centered network that correlated with heightened theta activity and alterations in experiencing oneself as outside of time and space, which occur in the posterior cingulate, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), cerebellum.
In brief, meditation takes us beyond our narrative sense of being a separate self that is located in space and time, which is sustained by the thinking mind. It reveals an aspect of our self that is beyond thought, beyond self, and beyond space and time. It also suggests that we can nourish these different aspects and potentially weave them together.
In 1949 Donald Hebb coined the phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together.” Studies like the one above show that we can grow our brains ability to fire neurons in one part of the brain (no-self present-centered network) and wire them together with neurons in other parts of the brain (self-narrative default network) so that we are able to have a comprehensive perspective on the nature of reality. We can realize that we are both a self and a no-self and that each offers an ability to enhance our experience of being human.
I’m excited to see neuroscience catching up with what our meditative ancestors revealed long ago. That this is so, we need to change the age-old adage that “we cannot get here; we can only be here”
1 Berkovich-Ohana, A., Dor-Ziderman, Y., Glicksohn, J., and Goldstein, A. (2013) Alterations in the sense of time, space, and body in the mindfulness-trained brain: a neurophenomenologically-guided MEG study. Frontiers in Psychology. Vol 4.