Meditation creates relaxation, less stress and better focus. I also have read that there is a strong correlation between meditation and mystical experiences. Yet, meditation is basically not spiritual. It is a physical exercise. I decided to research what the relationship is between the two.
What is Meditation?
Meditation means to spend time in quiet thought or contemplation. Probably every religion since antiquity has used forms of meditation. Yoga, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Sufi spiritual practices all have meditation as a prime method of finding faith.
Meditation uses a technique such as mindfulness or focus on one thing. The purpose is to clear the thinking and stop mental chatter. Relaxation and focus on breathing are techniques help in meditation.
The brain waves change in a meditative state to a slower wavelength. The mental state can increase one’s closeness to a higher being and bring about self-realization. Studies using modern techniques have shown that meditation helps with mental health.
Some use chanting, mantras and repetition of prayers to find a meditation state. However, prayer and meditation are not the same thing. Meditation is not necessarily spiritual. Prayer is speaking to God in the form of a request, plea, expression of gratitude, or to show devotion. Meditation is an act that is an effort to communicate with a higher plane. It is not seeking and answer, but rather a closeness to the spiritual world.
What is a Mystical Experience?
The word mystic comes from the Greek word mystikos which means secret. It also describes a hidden ceremony that requires initiation. Mystical means an experience that places one in direct communication with God, the mysteries or the Secret One. The communication is on a personal level. It refers to being in touch with the cosmos, the universe. Mystical experience is outside of space and time. It means to journey away from worldly things and let go of the self or ego. The most common way of achieving this state of mind is from meditation and prayer.
How Does Meditation Affect the Brain?
The tranquility of meditation creates many changes in the body and especially the brain activity. There is a strong correlation between the hormone cortisol and both meditation and mysticism. Cortisol is the hormone steroid that measures stress levels. The adrenal glands produce cortisol when responding to stress within the body. The glands respond the same way to a deadline at work as to escaping a wild tiger.
I have researched a number of Mind Sound Machines. These can be used to accelerate meditation experiences. What normally would take years of practice can be achieved in one afternoon. If you want more information about this, I have written another blog post on the subject. Check it out here.
Studies have shown that meditation lowers a person’s cortisol level. Chanting, mantras, and ritual ceremonial activities also have the same effect. Cortisol will make the body crave sweets as if it needs more energy even the body is sitting at a desk. It sees the stress as something that needs fast energy, even if you are just sitting at a desk. Studies show that meditating people have lower cortisol levels.
When scientists have measured the brain waves in me mystics and spiritual people, the see lower levels of cortisol and stress.
Rituals, chanting and ceremonial activities can create a feeling of timelessness. The brain focuses on the automatic response without conscious effort. Chemical reactions in the brain create dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals as a result of the brain wave changes. This brings about a feeling of tranquility. The altered state of consciousness has a feeling of being in union with the infinite. Research has shown the brain’s frontal lobe hemispheres to be changed. Electric fields are activated the brain that make the tranquillity be as real as anything in the normal conscious state of mind.
It isn’t the words or the exact ritual that cause the experience. It is the repetition of words, breathing or activity that brings about the change in the brain and therefore the feeling.
There is a field of study that concerns itself with brain function in spiritual experiences. See Sacred Pathway – the brain’s role in religious and mystical experiences by Todd Murphy. Also, Neurotheology: How Science Can Enlighten Us About Spirituality by Andrew Newburg.
Another piece of literature is named The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. There are also studies of the brain function in religious and spiritual people as compared to those that are non-believers.
Is There a Connection Between Meditation and Mysticism?
Meditation has more connection to mysticism because it has at its core the letting go of mental and physical wants and the desire to make something happen. It is more concerned with being at peace in acceptance.
There is crossovers between the meditation and mysticism. But in meditation the goal is to be able to mentally step aside and make room for the unknown. Meditation is not so much striving to reach God as trying to be and open channel for a higher spirit to come into your life.
Prayer is knowing what you want and asking for God’s help in finding that. It can go through the same process of quieting the mind as meditation. The goal of prayer is an answer or outcome to some problem. The request might be to be closer to God and live according to His will. But it is still a request.
Meditation doesn’t have the goal to take one away from the world. The purpose is to bring attention to the present. This awareness may at times not always seem rational to the waking mind. Some say that mystical experiences while meditating are a form of dream. Changes in the brain waves in deep meditation can often create a feeling of unity with the universe, mankind, and God. The letting go of the self, allowing openness to transcendence of space and time in other dimensions is what turns meditation into a mystical experience. The effort to quiet the brain allows the mind to be open to what we see, hear and feel without our bodily senses. By meditation one can experience the world just beyond our normal comprehension.
For more information about meditation please see my blog post about Mind Machines and how they can help meditation with sound and light synchronized through goggles that have earphones. Check it out here.
What is Real?
We can hear the voice of God when we stay quiet long enough to listen. The answers to our prayers come to us when we stop chasing the answer that is already there. When we stop fighting and listen to the wind and water, we can hear the solutions to our struggles. A mystical experience may be like entering a different dimension or it can seem like coming home. God’s arms are always open. We may be continually rushing past without seeing them. If we try so hard to seek that our eyes are filled with tears of frustration, we miss the pathway to the stars.
A mystical experience may be what is true reality. In meditation our brain’s simply stop long enough to be aware of this. It is possible that the daily struggles of the world are really the illusion. Mysticism is letting go of that illusion to see what is real.