So, not surprisingly, the baseline SPECT scans of Roberts brain taken before his meditation, while he was in a normal state of mind, show many areas of Roberts brain, including the orientation area, to be centers of furious neurological activity. This activity appears on the scans in vibrant bursts of brilliant reds and yellows.
The scans taken at the peak of Roberts meditative state, however, show the orientation area to be bathed in dark blotches of cool greens and blues-colors that indicate a sharp reduction in activity levels.
This finding intrigued us. We know that the orientation area never rests, so what could account for this unusual drop in activity levels in this small section of the brain?
As we pondered the question, a fascinating possibility emerged: What if the orientation area was working as hard as ever, but the incoming flow of sensory information had somehow been blocked? That would explain the drop in brain activity in the region. More compellingly, it would also mean that the OAA had been temporarily "blinded," deprived of the information it needed to do its job properly.
What would happen if the OAA had no information upon which to work? we wondered. Would it continue to search for the limits of the self? With no information flowing in from the senses, the OAA wouldnt be able to find any boundaries. What would the brain make of that? Would the orientation area interpret its failure to find the borderline between the self and the outside world to mean that such a distinction doesnt exist? In that case, the brain would have no choice but to perceive that the self is endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything the mind senses. And this perception would feel utterly and unquestionably real.
This is exactly how Robert and generations of Eastern mystics before him have described their peak meditative, spiritual, and mystical moments. In the words of Hindu Upanishads
As the river flowing east and west
Merge in the sea and become one with it,
Forgetting that they were ever separate rivers,
So do all creatures lose their separateness
When they merge at last into
Robert was one of eight Tibetan meditators who participated in our imaging study. Each was subjected to the same routine, and in virtually every case, the SPECT scans showed a similar slowing of activity in the orientation area, occurring during the peak moments of meditation.
Excerpted from Why God Won't Go Away by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene d'Aquili, and Vince Rause Copyright 2001 by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene d'Aquili, and Vince Rause. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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