With millions of Americans practicing some form of yoga and/or meditation, research is advancing on the ultimate goal of these practices — transcendence.
This new article, Transcendental experiences during meditation practice, provides insights into research on individuals experiencing higher states of consciousness. It was published the January 2014 issue of Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
The paper is based on a presentation by Fred Travis, PhD, Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, given at “Advances in Meditation Research” (AMR), a meeting of the nation’s top meditation researchers, which took place at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.
In his paper Dr. Travis explains that meditation can lead to nondual or transcendental experiences, a sense of self-awareness without content. As part of the paper he discusses descriptions of transcendental consciousness from 52 subjects practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique which allows the mind to effortlessly settle inward beyond thought to experience pure awareness, or “transcendental consciousness”—one’s innermost self. Dr. Travis found that these subjects experienced “a state where thinking, feeling, and individual intention were missing, but awareness of pure consciousness remained.” A systematic analysis of their experiences revealed three themes: absence of time, space, and body sense.
Specific physiological changes are associated with this subjective experience of transcendental consciousness. These include changes in breath rate, skin conductance, and EEG patterns.
Dr. Travis further explains that with regular practice of Transcendental Meditation, experiences of transcendental consciousness begin to co-exist with sleeping, dreaming, and even while one is awake. This state is referred to traditionally by the term “cosmic consciousness”—a state where transcendence is established along with active thinking and behavior. Dr. Travis’ paper presents first-person accounts followed by an overview of the physiological patterns associated with cosmic consciousness.
Whereas control subjects describe themselves in relation to concrete cognitive and behavioral processes, those experiencing cosmic consciousness describe themselves in terms of a continuum of inner self-awareness that underlies their thoughts, feelings, and actions. In addition, the cosmic consciousness subjects showed the EEG patterns seen during transcendental consciousness along with the EEG patterns when they were asleep, and during waking tasks. This leads to higher scores on the Brain Integration Scale developed by Dr. Travis.
Dr. Travis suggests that such higher states of consciousness can be seen as normal developments beyond the classic stages described by Piaget. One simply needs a technique to experience transcendence and thereby facilitate the development of these states. The practical benefit of higher states, he says, is that you become more anchored to your inner Self, and therefore less likely to be overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of daily life.
“This research focuses on the larger purpose of meditation practices — to develop higher states of consciousness,” explained Dr. Travis. “This paper is the outgrowth of meetings at the Esalen Institute and the Institute for Noetic Sciences to chart the future of meditation research.”