Why Spiritual Practices?

Before we set about fixing the world, we first have to fix ourselves. Before we fix ourselves, however, we first have to know what’s wrong with us.

Contents

 

What Have Ancient Cultures Been Telling Us?

Original Sin and a State of Imperfection

As discussed here – ancient cultures often talk about the idea of our living in some kind of imperfect condition. We learn in Christianity for instance that Jesus had to die for our sins. In Buddhism there’s the teaching that our original “Pristine” state of being has been impaired and the Hindu tradition describes the concept of “Karma.” In fact, most if not all religions acknowledge that as a species we need external help and guidance if we are to behave for the greater good of the community and environment. But why should this be for us when it isn’t for the other creatures?

In other words – at this moment in history when it is more important than ever for us to understand our own destructive behaviour – what is the physical anatomy of our ignorance?

Essentially, it is our conjecture that what’s being alluded to by the idea of original sin – in all religions – relates to the fact that unlike all other creatures, our bodies don’t exactly mirror our natural environment – because we physically evolved in the rainforest and not on the savannah. The exodus of our ancestors from the forest was clearly too rapid for their bodies to evolve the physical traits such and claws and teeth that would help them survive predators and catch prey – and they therefore needed to create the workaround of tools and language. Using these they could catalogue and navigate the novel aspects of the landscape; poisonous plants, unidentified animals, scarcity of food and so on.

However, because innovation including the creation of tools is not something that we developed physically to do – rather something we were forced into by circumstances that included but were not restricted to intelligence (again, discussed at length here) – it seems likely that the sections of the brain that we had to apply to engaging in technological behaviours were previously functioning in other ways. As these were repurposed therefore, those former functions were displaced and lost over time – since our use of technology and language had to take precedence in the short term to keep us alive in a hostile environment.

 

The problem with this dynamic is that over time it creates a number of “blind-spots” in our capacity to understand reality so that now we literally can’t see the full picture of what we’re doing. The rate of technological change also precludes the development of any emergent capacity to understand how to use our creations wisely. What’s more – because our survival now depends on insulating ourselves against environmental threats instead of living in symbiosis with our habitat – our endurance requires us to damage our host planet on an ongoing basis – hence we live in a “state of sin” – we’re slowly destroying our creator.

Further reading on this site –

The Path Back To Perfection: A Theory About Christ Consciousness

It could be that the crucifixion of Christ – a story that is mirrored across several belief systems outside Christianity – is a metaphor for the death of the original human condition. This Edenic mind-state in which we functioned primarily on instinct and matched our environment, anatomically, might have afforded us a capacity for “right-seeing” and “right-action”; the propensity towards Universally beneficial behaviour that evolution had encoded into our genetics. The qualities of Christ, such as compassion, bravery and morality are things we strive for today using religion and governments but they may once have been innate and far less muddied by confusing and sometimes destructive emotions.

When however, we were, as a species bound to materialism – perhaps symbolised by the crucifixion – at the point where our move to the savannah invoked our use of technology, our instinctive connection with nature necessarily subsided as – again – we had to apply parts of our brain, vital to detailed acuity, to improvised innovation instead. This may have left in its wake, the “Holy Ghost” – a mere memory of our previously complete connection to those aspects of reality that we vaguely recall today but can no longer apprehend and so refer to as “spiritual” or “supernatural.”

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Illustration:

A student of Buddhism asks: – I understand that controlling my emotions would make me function in a more useful way within the community. I don’t understand however, why there’s a need for me to suppress my emotions like anger and jealousy. Isn’t that simply intellectualising away instinctive behaviours that have come about for a reason? I don’t want to become an artificially detached person who behaves like an automaton…

The response to this is that from our modern perspective, we now only really see two ways of being – the intellectual and the emotional – but in the past there was also a condition that we’d now refer to as spiritual – a state of greater connectivity and perception of “what is.” That way of being has become dormant over time due to fairly mundane processes including Dietary Changes that affected the neocortex (see below) and The Portal Effect.

If we were viewing ourselves engaged in an argument for example, from a spiritual perspective – we would not simply adopt a passive response and let the other person win, to avoid anger – rather, we would have a greater insight into the dynamics of the argument and would be able behave more appropriately and effectively. Anger, for instance – generally a response to “not being seen properly”, would take a back seat to whatever action would rectify its cause – perhaps with enhanced empathy, we would be able to identify why the other person wasn’t seeing us and instead of raising our voice, explain ourselves more clearly. Crucially though, in a more spiritual state – this would be a primary instinct, rather than something we consciously used to suppress our emotion. As we become more “spiritual” – or simply more able to see what is and what is not – we realise that our modern emotions are not perhaps what they previously were – but instead an epitaph to that kind of spiritual insight we used to have, which has become evanescent. This may explain why today they feel so very urgent and often drive us to behave in inappropriate ways – they’re simply not entirely functional any more.

Because the burden of “right action” in any given situation was deferred from the failing “spiritual brain” to the remaining circuitry we have today – our responses to the world around us now, must continually err on the side of caution, if they are to help us avoid physical injury and drive us towards procreation. Operating as we do now, without the full picture of reality that was once afforded to us through instinct alone – we must treat novelty and threat as a serious danger in the first instance, jealously guard our bonds with other people who can help us, and strive to accumulate materials required for our survival in case of environmental failure in the future. We are and have to be – The Paranoid Ape.

The qualities of “bargaining” and “doctoring” are also present in what intellectual and emotional circuitry we still have, which makes for a tumultuous and often unhelpful internal monologue, not reflective of reality.

Illustration:

A woman loses her wallet. The most helpful response to this situation would be for her to accept what has happened and to simply engage in the sequence of actions required to improve the situation – cancelling bank cards, inquiring at a lost property depot and if all else fails, acquiring a new wallet. Instead the woman finds herself lost in a cacophony of castigating assertions; “How could I be so stupid?”, “I have a history of behaving this way” and so on… These thoughts and feelings could perhaps help her to avoid doing the same thing in the future – but why does she have thoughts like, “Please let it be here?” and “If it’s here, I promise to be more vigilant from now on” – who is she talking to? And why does she return to places where she knows it isn’t, because despite already having looked there, she’s adamant that she’s actually correct – and it must have been reality that was wrong?

This could perhaps be due to our learned behaviour in childhood that we have elders who will help us survive if we; communicate our needs to them, clearly convey our contrition where necessary and sometimes even manipulate them into helping us. It could be that as adults, we retain a dialogue with reality that posits it as a parental figure. Understandable perhaps – however – that we may be employing this strategy, even though we have a sense that it’s not a great fit for reality, implies a kind of acceptance in the human mind that mysteriously, we don’t have an innate key with which to accurately decode the world around us. As a result, we’re happy to revert to strange strategies that in more skeptical moments we don’t believe work – but have proven to work for other things.

Perhaps in our original “right-seeing” condition we would have a better comprehension of events as they unfolded and so too a more effective and less painful emotional response to the good and the bad. This could be a condition attainable through Buddhist practices, for example and other paths prescribed by various religions, that ask us to strive for that state of “Enlightenment” which is no longer our default – but something can collectively remember and imagine.

The difficult thing for the modern mind to understand is that this possible historic state of being cannot be striven for as an intellectual pursuit – to attain it or at least move closer to it, one has to enter into the spiritual practices devised by our ancestors as a process of faith. So put simply – it’s no good reading Buddhist texts and really feeling you’re “getting it” – because as with something like the psychedelic experience – you’re only going to fully understand what’s being described if you do what these suggest is required to alter the inner workings of your brain.

The way that “faith” itself has become such a central aspect of so many cultures indicates that humans are keenly aware that we’ve lost the capacity to perceive something that nonetheless remains of vital importance to our survival. It’s clear that the predominant perspective across the globe is that our picture of reality falls short of that required for us to function properly. We therefore collaborate in creating religions – and engaging with these externalised adumbrations of what we imagine the full picture might be.

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So however benign or ineffective certain practices may appear, (isn’t meditation just sitting around doing nothing?) we ask you to reserve your judgement for long enough to give them a go – before drawing your own conclusions. Again – we live in an age where we’re encouraged to believe we’re always right and that others are wrong… and so it’s almost like a creative process to entertain the idea that another might have new and helpful information to share… But our ancestors are the ones who managed to get us here – if their societies all had the common theme of being built in the image of invisible forces that could only be reached through certain practices that we now know physically alter the brain – we owe it to them to engage with their advice…

 

A Few of the Practices Prescribed

Fasting, Veganism and Other Dietary Interventions

Diet is of course fundamental to our capacity to function since it provides the building materials from which our mind – our perceptual lens – is made. As previously stated, our hypothesis for why humans have a fractured and incorrect view of reality is partly due to “The Portal Effect” – but we also believe there’s a major dietary dynamic in place which accounts for why the modern human brain is significantly smaller than that of our ancestors.

In Tony Wright’s book, Return to the Brain of Eden, he details his theory that it was fruit that caused the human brain to suddenly triple in size, several hundred thousand years ago. Fruit, he explains is the plant’s reproductive organ – a bit like a mammal’s uterus – and therefore contains a complex cocktail of chemicals whose job it is to incubate and shape its progeny. Humans, it seems, ate more fruit, by weight than any other species – and in doing so caused our bloodstreams to be so flooded with these chemicals that they became a bit like a reproductive environment. This in turn triggered hormonal switches on our DNA, causing it to be read very differently, and drastically altering our physical bodies in a short space of time.

The reason this affected brain size was that fruit – a juvenile biological environment – caused our actual species to became more juvenile which dramatically extended the window before puberty and so allowed more time for the brain to proliferate cells before adolescence – the point at which this proliferation usually stops. So with the extended window of brain development they were now suddenly gathering cells and therefore volume for many more years, and the result was the appearance of the modern neocortex.

The consequence of humans changing from frugivorous to omnivorous diets as a result of leaving the rainforest and having to resort to foods that required cooking to be edible – could be behind the brain shrinkage we see, beginning at around the time some scientists think we moved to the savannah. Indeed it’s the suggestion of many spiritual traditions to omit meat and sometimes all animal products entirely from the diet and whilst this is often for reasons of compassion – in some contexts it is for the purpose of “purifying the body.”

The science of why a diet high in fruit and vegetables creates an elevated sense of wellbeing is very clear – plants appear to be the foods we evolved to eat. That isn’t to deny a large part of our history has included the consumption of animals, but although we may be able to tolerate animal products and utilise their nutrition, our bodies do appear to remain far better suited to a plant based diet;

Our brains and muscles run on glucose, which also imparts the sweetness that our tastebuds are attuned to. Fruits also contain the most complete nutrition for the human body of any food group, beating vegetables by virtue of the fact they are higher in calories and so more suitable as a human dietary staple. Our sense of smell has adapted so that it detects and favours the perfumes of flowers and the fruits that follow; most would find pleasurable the scent of a peach or orange or mango for instance. This cannot be said for raw meat, which is at best, without a smell to our perception – and at worst, smells rotten and repellant. It is interesting that we respond well to the smell of meat cooking – however, this is an artificial effect of heat releasing compounds in the meat so that the nutrition it contains becomes perceptible.

Our saliva and stomach acid have evolved to break down carbohydrates – and indeed we see the difficulty with which the body processes animal products, evidenced in the weight loss that high meat diets often induce. Thus the popular idea that it was meat that made the human brain suddenly grow to its largest iteration is a contradiction of well established science. In fact, if we believe there to be a correlation between brain size and intelligence, it seems illogical that in order to catch and process the animals required to create the bigger brain, humans would first have had to create tools and fire; innovative behaviours that we generally regard as a product of increased brain size rather than the cause. Furthermore, if we believe our brains to stand apart from other animals in the capacities they’ve afforded us – why hasn’t this phenomenon occurred in other meat eaters? If there has been a strong link between our apparently unique intelligence and our diet, it might be prudent to look at what it was that apes did differently to other creatures – at the point where the brain was expanding – and not at the point, following our move to the savannah where the fossil record suggests it appeared to stop growing and instead start shrinking.

In the trees, it seems, the behaviour that differed from that of other animals was our high consumption of fruit – and this certainly warrants more investigation into the veracity of Tony Wright’s theory. In the meantime, we wholeheartedly recommend you do your own empirical research into how eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables might improve your health and cognitive function. And if you do already engage in spiritual practices like meditation for instance, it may be interesting to record how these change, experientially in relation to your consumption of fruit.

Psychedelics/ Plant Medicines

A hypothesis of Terence McKenna’s was The Stoned Ape Theory – the idea that mankind was fairly boring until we started consuming psilocybin mushrooms, at which point, enthused by the psychedelic experience, we began creating art, language and culture. Whilst we wouldn’t refute the hypothesis that plant medicines such as mushrooms may well have shaped culture – this begs the question – how do plants create the experiences they do? It’s all very well putting on a show, but crucial to the audient’s reception is their capacity to receive it. In other words, plants can’t rebuild our brains in a single psychedelic trip – they can only use what’s there in a way that differs from its ordinary default-network mode of operation. Rather than originating the psychedelic experience, could it be that plants are simply able to kick-start circuitry in our brains that has over time become dormant? If this were the case, it would imply that ancient consciousness was something more akin to the psychedelic experience than our modern perceptual lens is today.

And so… if we subscribe to Tony Wright’s theory that the human brain has been shrinking for hundreds of thousands of years – why was it those states in particular, now only attainable through psychedelics, receded from our everyday awareness? Wright describes our inter-generational consciousness as concurring to a trend of reversion, moving away from the creativity, self awareness and empathy that define us as human and towards a more standard mammalian model of brain – one that operates primarily out of fear and control. The latter has proven to be a very good model for survival within the animal kingdom and the need for fear and control might be further amplified in humans, given our unique requirement to perpetually innovate ways that protect us from the hostile forces of nature as we trespass upon areas of the planet for which we haven’t evolved appropriate instincts or physicality.

In short, psychedelics may afford us a fast-track insight into archaic states of “right-seeing” that the other interventions listed here may be striving for more slowly. If we’re evolving out of our previous state of spiritual awareness, the process would probably involve the circumvention of certain neurological networks in favour of others, so that over time these areas would become dormant before starting to shrink away physically. This could be one interpretation of what the data on brain size is showing us. What spiritual practices do though, is attempt to engage and reactivate the dormant parts over time until they become functional once more – an experience that psychonauts and Buddhist monks alike, describe as some kind of awakening.

If the internal screen psychedelics grant us is a possible state, perhaps this was the original version of our modern imagination, that is now a mere spectre of its former incarnation. Perhaps the self awareness and empathy we sometimes gain from psychedelics was less conducive to us making the ruthless decisions we would have had to to stay alive, historically – such as killing other animals, despite feeling some kind of instinctive love towards them. In fact, once on the savannah, those members of our species who had higher concentrations of Monoamineoxydase – the stomach enzyme that prevents us from tripping when we eat everyday plant foods – may have enjoyed an adaptive advantage over others. If these members of the group were less present in the “psychedelic world” and assigned more brainpower to the physical and rational one, they may well have been better able to deal with the mundane priorities of survival that now required innovative strategic thinking for the first time. If so, this could account for why these old modes of perception were gradually bred out of subsequent generations.

If viewed in this way, it may be the case that the art and the culture that followed, were not innovations that only appeared at the point in history where we start finding their physical remnants – but that these were a reflection of a previously internal state who’s increasing evanescence forced us into externalising it physically. It may then stand to reason that art is not a sign of progress, but rather – reversion; our attempt to hang onto mental capacities that were dwindling. This may also account for our apparently innate need for religion. It indicates our ongoing desire for a remembered state of being whose sense of connectivity, wisdom and morality was far more functional than the strangely destructive behaviours we tend towards today.

Meditation

Meditation has been discussed at length on this site here – which we very much encourage you to read to get the full picture of how and why it works. It is the concentrated practice of focusing on what is; the present moment and its perceptible contents – to the exclusion of what is not; those abstract mental conceptions of things that are not immediately present.

What this essentially achieves is the full application of one’s mental and sensory perception to reality – that archaic condition before the invention of tools and language when our consciousness was like that of the other animals.

After the invention of speech, abstract concepts such as the past and future were now far more tangible than they previously had been. Because as we’ve been discussing, our move to the savannah presented us with a novel environment that confounded the set of instincts we had developed in another, we adopted an ongoing practice of study, experiment and conjecture as we catalogued the new items around us, that we then applied to our future plans and behaviour.

To restate once more though, our shift to this way of being was too sudden for our brains to have time to evolve any dedicated areas for these kinds of calculations – and so to accommodate them, brainpower had to be borrowed from other sections, including mental and sensory perception of the present moment. The condition we strive for in meditation is such focused concentration on the present that if we’re able to achieve it – it registers as an altered state. Experiencing this surprising difference, we may hypothesise that in our everyday state of being, the brain may only take those “snapshots” of our environment that it requires for survival whilst simultaneously applying the spare processing power in between the snapshots to the abstract memories, thoughts and plans that we’re now routinely engaged in.

This is why mindfulness meditation – the concentrated practice of noticing what is around us – may work to soothe our anxiety – because when we fully apply our brains to taking “more snapshots of the environment per second”, that same processing power is simply taken away from our worries, causing them to recede.

**It is our conjecture that there’s a further problem with abstract rumination due to the fact that we originally evolved to engage in this only when it was important to our survival.**

Before language – i.e. before we started creating icons with which we could build our own mental maps of unfamiliar territories, it may have been that we were only presented with concerns when confronting them mentally would be genuinely useful. Our engagement with abstract concepts would have been largely confined to our desires such as hunger for food or longing for companionship or a mate – and each of these were important to act upon for a human to survive and procreate. Therefore it may be that when our brain entertains abstraction now, it still believes the contents of our thoughts are a crucial sign of required action – causing it to hormonally trigger us into pursuing what we’re imagining. Since devising our own mental language though, we now think of many concepts of wildly varying importance – and this may account in part for why our emotions are often unhelpful – because they’re fired off by areas of the brain that we’re “manually controlling” – which were previously more functional when locked into “instinctive automation.”

Illustration 

A man discovers that the woman with whom he hoped to develop a relationship has decided to go out with someone else. He becomes enraged, causing him to argue with her and also fight with her new boyfriend. Unfortunately for him, it’s to no avail so that ideally, he would move on from this setback and seek out another more suitable partner. Instead though, he feels unable to accept reality as it is – hoping that if he objects to it boldly enough… perhaps it might change… If he appeals to a Higher Power, his idea of justice, instead of theirs might come to pass… Under this amorphous aegis of false logic, vaguely communicated through feelings of ongoing investment in his own pain, he harbours a great deal of resentment towards the couple and finds himself running related scenarios, both real and imagined in his mind for weeks, months and maybe even years after the intial altercations. 

He draws conclusions on what the rejection might have meant about him personally, rather than accepting the truth that people’s desires are complex and highly individual – and that their preferences in a partner don’t necessarily relate to any measure of objective value. Instead of being able to abandon the failed situation fully and move on with an intellectual understanding of what happened, he carries the emotional torment with him into his future romantic pursuits. 

We see the same jealousy, anger and conflict arising in the behaviour of animals but it does seem that those in the wild, live so exclusively in the moment that their upsets are forgotten very quickly, freeing them from the pain and energy expended by the states of emotional turmoil that continue to weigh us down, long after being useful.

Here again is a hint at why meditation might help us – if we become extremely adept at seeing and accepting what is and understanding our abstract thoughts and feelings may at times be unhelpful or plain wrong, we may move closer to a state where the body naturally starts to operate in this more optimal way.

**An obstacle to this however, is the ubiquity of external media – which is like a physical extension of abstraction that appears to amplify our emotional confusion by distorting our bodies’ perception of what to prioritise.**

When we spend time watching television for example, the brain may believe that if we’re consciously choosing to reject the physical world in the present moment in favour of information contained in a screen – then what’s on that screen must be of the utmost importance, and something we need to pursue. To help us achieve that, it may do what it does in response to our other more natural drives – which is again, to release hormones that compel us towards our goal and make inaction sufficiently uncomfortable to kick us into active pursuit instead.

This works well for primal preoccupations, as it’s a mechanism, shaped over eons to keep us alive. When it’s applied to media consumption however, we may find we feel inexplicably compelled to get into the screen ourselves somehow. For some people this may manifest as a feeling that the ordinary world is insufficiently rewarding and that the pursuit of fame or famous people might be the solution to this dissatisfaction. This trend that resulted from the rise of television, seems to have created the market for social media – as many youngsters from “Generation X” had a burning desire to make their own way into the screens that society was so obsessed with. This tendency was then further exacerbated by the conflation of our social behaviours with screens, as social media extended into more and more of our every day lives, eventually depleting the real world of attention so that meaningful connection to young people now may actually be more available online than it is in reality.

When using social media one is entrenched in a kind of anti-meditation, incrementally training the brain to reject what is for what is not and in doing so, more and more of the attention we could apply to apprehending the present, is spent on attempting to attain the vision before us. Because the vision conveyed is the product of scripting, acting and editing though, its advertised reward of enhanced connection will endlessly elude us – so that we become locked into an interminable state of pursuit, where what we’re pursuing does not exist. This may account for the seemingly disproportionate rates of mental illness amongst celebrities.

And it feels deceptively real. Many reading this might think – “That’s all very well, but I’m still convinced that the reward of gaining a large social media following/ becoming famous would far exceed any joy I could attain from ordinary life.” That’s not the case. To experience for oneself that a sense of contentment is attainable through the extended practice of meditation, one only has to commit to doing just that.

Meditation is the opposite of passive media consumption so that the hunger induced by the latter is assuaged and destroyed by the former. Instead of opening our minds and unfocusing, so that we may be dragged down many narrative rabbit-holes by media stories – meditation asks us to hone in, solely on what exists. In doing so we are physically strengthening the synaptic pathways and behavioural modalities required for a person to successfully “tune-in” to the present moment. Over time, as we become more adept at doing so, and see this change reflected in our everyday ability to “be in the moment” and “take joy in the small things” we come to feel, experientially that these instructions have never been attainable intellectually – but had to be striven for via a physical process that would help us restructure our brains.

More on meditation…

Yoga

Yoga is the physical, mental and spiritual practice of engaging with the present moment. Having originated in India, the term has been described in many ways by different schools of Indian philosophy;

The Bhagavad Gita from the 2nd Century says “Know that which is called yoga to be separation from contact with suffering” (6.23). The Vaisesika sutra from the 4th century explains that “Pleasure and suffering arise as a result of the drawing together of the sense organs, the mind and objects. When that does not happen because the mind is in the self, there is no pleasure or suffering for one who is embodied. That is yoga” (5.2.15-16). The Katha Upanishad from the 5th Century states that, “When the five senses, along with the mind, remain still and the intellect is not active, that is known as the highest state.” (6.10-11).

The American Indologist, David Gordon White describes Yoga as – amongst other things, a meditative means of discovering dysfunctional perception and cognition, as well as overcoming it for release from suffering, inner peace and salvation.” Yoga is in a sense a set of physical meditations that again brings our attention into the now and also prepares us, via stretching exercises for the practice of sitting in meditative poses for extended periods of time. In the same way that the mantra in some kinds of meditation is able to “jam the linguistic frequency” of our perception and thus reduce the rumination that this part of the brain is usually engaged by, Yoga provides a set of movements that can do the same. By engaging our physical being in this form of movement that is devotional rather than immediately practical – we refocus those parts of the brain that would normally contextualise our movements within a meaningful narrative, and so are able to set these normal concerns down and take respite in the physical experience of being completely in the moment.

Chanting, Sound Therapy, Sacred Drumming and Repetitive Rhythms

What makes Sound so effective at bringing our attention into the present moment is the fact that sound is a temporal phenomenon – meaning its form has to be perceived over a period of time… Well OK – you could say that goes for everything that exists – but put it this way – duration is intrinsic to sound, whereas with vision – a picture or a static image doesn’t require the brain to continually update its impression of what it’s perceiving, to get an accurate sense of its nature.

For this reason, it’s our opinion that sound requires the brain to interact with it at a higher “frame-rate” than is necessary with much of the visual world. And this requirement for ongoing “presence” when getting a sense of a sound might encourage more of our mind’s processing power to be assigned to capturing “what is” (physical sensation) to the point of excluding “what is not” (abstract thoughts of other times and places). Because this is also the aim in meditation – it may be that for many, sound can facilitate their attempt to reach a meditative state of tranquility as it robs the normal internal monologue we experience of the attention it needs to keep going.

Now of course, this is a very reductive explanation – and there are many visual phenomena that do require extended focus – for instance, moving objects – but our mode of perception with sight is clearly very different. Because we have to physically choose what we look at and don’t look at – it’s often sound – which we hear whether we choose to or not – that alerts us to danger and encourages us to look in its direction. And thus the body is attuned to finding sound, especially that which is novel, extremely compelling and worthy of heightened attention.

To see whether something like Sound Therapy can help you personally to get into the mind-state we seek with meditation (which is simply concentrated “presence”), listen to recordings of harmonious sounds with interesting “temporal envelopes” – such as singing bowls for instance. Then if you try meditation simultaneously or immediately afterwards and find that it’s easier to focus on the now to the exclusion of all other thought – it may be that sound, chanting and music, are useful tools for you in attaining those peaceful states of release from your internal monologue, when you want to.

Sleep Deprivation

In our regular waking, sober state, our brains are locked into a default-mode of operation. According to Tony Wright, our left hemisphere is, in this state, the dominant side – performing the executive functions needed for tasks like balance and speech. His hypothesis is that the right brain has many hidden functions related to creativity, empathy and an ability to see the bigger picture – that are usually suppressed by the left brain’s dominance. To awaken these dormant regions therefore, one option is to “tire out” the left brain and have it release its grip on the right – which may account for why sleep deprivation has been one of the means by which the ancients tried to attain spiritual states of being.

His own extraordinary experiments in sleep deprivation seem to closely reflect what the ancients were saying. In his book, “Left in the Dark” he describes several fascinating and mysterious effects that he experienced, including temporarily losing the capacity to speak before recovering the ability but finding he was only able to talk in rhyme. Whilst this sounds bizarre and perhaps even implausible – a reversion to this more musical way of speaking in which mouth noises are being categorised by the brain in terms of their sonic envelope – may hint at Darwin’s hypothesis that humans “sang before they spoke.”

Because the function of sleep is still poorly understood, and because Tony’s experiments included these and many more dramatic side effects, Sleep Deprivation is definitely not something we advise people to experiment with independently. It is however, an interesting area of scientific study.

What Does Modern Science Tell Us?

Modern Science essentially tells us that people who engage in many of the most common religious practices such as praying, fasting, meditation and giving thanks, have lower stress levels, improved recovery times from illness and better longevity. The Scientist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake has discussed in detail a vast body of research in this area along with his conclusions in several of his books including “Science and Spiritual Practices” and “Ways To Go Beyond and Why They Work.”

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