Experience of enlightenment

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YoganandaWhat does it feel like to be enlightened?  I expect that an “enlightened” person will meet the following criteria:

  • Physical.  Their physical bodies will be in a good general state of health, or if they have some ailment, they will not be unduly troubled by it.  Their physical body is their servant, not vice-versa.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that such a person will not engage in sex, but it won’t be something they will be preoccupied with and do often.
  • Emotional.  They will be emotionally stable.  The limbic brain and primary emotions will be there to serve them, not vice-versa.  In particular, they will remain calm and not be prone to fear or outbursts of anger.
  • No addictions.  They will not have addictions – drugs, sex, money, gambling, power, fame, etc.  They will be quite detached from these things as they will be of little interest to them.
  • Mentally stable.  They will not be mentally troubled.  Many of the mental problems come from a DMN running out of control or through chemical inbalances in the brain.  The DMN will be quiescent.  They won’t be having visions of supernatural beings due to schizophrenia or other mental disorder.
  • Mental control.  They will have full control over the three prefrontal cortex networks, the DMN (Default Mode Network), the Salience Network and the CEN (Central Executive Network).  This means that their DMN will generally be in the background.  The Salience Network will have the CEN switched in and active most of the time.  They may call upon the DMN to use it for abstract thinking, but generally they will appreciate the absence of the monkey brain and be using their mental powers for more important matters.
  • Memory.  Their ability to access memory and recall events will be excellent.  The channels between the CEN and the limbic brain where long term memory, spatial memory and episodal memory will functional efficiently.
  • Minimal expression of ego.  The “ego” will diminish and be replaced by actions performed under “Will“.  Being in greater touch with the world around them through their senses, they will feel as though they are acting in accordance with universal Will, doing what is right and appropriate because it is the correct thing to do; not because some part of their personality wants to do it.
  • Holistic view.  Being in touch with the universe and people around them, with diminished personal wants and ambitions, the qualities we call spiritual such as empathy, compassion, humility, charity, holism, etc. will be their predominant expression.
  • Seeking answers to the big questions.  They will often turn their minds to consideration of the larger questions in life.  Able to consider the big picture and seek alternative solutions.  This is accomplished by using the problem-solving and lateral-thinking capabilities of the mind.  Constantly inquiring and seeking answers using an open mind or steadfastly working to achieve a desired end result.
  • Joyful.  Above all, they will be permanently cheerful and happy.  They will not be troubled by physical or emotional problems.  When the CEN in the prefrontal cortex is not engaged in conscious thinking, planning or problem solving, it will be quietly happy with blissful awareness of the creation.

And perhaps also:

  • Superconscious state.  They will be able to enter an altered state of consciousness where they will feel connected to the world around them.  This could be termed a Superconscious state.  In this state the CEN will be receiving input directly from the sensory cortex and be fully aware of all the sensory inputs that are normally filtered out by the brain.  The experience will require a fully developed sense of proprioception, and it is possible that the most intense experience will be with the CEN connected directly to sensory input with minimal filtering.  Nerve channels in the brain certainly make state this a possibility.  In this state they won’t be aware of “everything“, but their sense of awareness will be vastly larger than what most of us experience.

walkingonwaterThere are no supernatural powers here.  No walking on water, levitating, turning water into wine, zapping people with powerful electric bolts from the hands or superhuman strength.  They are simply using the capabilities of the brain fully and consciously.  It will be a state of energy, power, alertness and happiness.

I have been cautious about the last ability:  entering a superconscious state.  This is the one ability that would really distinguish a self-realized person from the rest of humankind.  It is also the hardest to validate, and very few people can demonstrate it.  We haven’t been able to study such people under laboratory conditions.  Simply being happy isn’t enough.  Indeed, there are examples of people who seem to be naturally permanently happy and this is likely to be the result of favourable brain chemicals (eg Serotonin or Dopamine).  From the biographies of self-realised people it also becomes apparent that most haven’t lived in a permanent superconscious state.  They experienced such as state for a few brief instances during their life.  I’m emphasizing this so we don’t set unrealistic expectations about our own  superconscious experiences.

There are very few people alive on the planet today that use their faculties this way.  What is holding us back?

To be or not to be

tobeornotAnother way is describing this as a state of “being”.  Living in the moment; acting, responding and doing.  But not necessarily engrossed in “thinking”.  Most of the time we don’t actually need to think, and a lot of the thoughts that we have bouncing round in our heads about the things we did in the past that we regret, and the worries about what may happen in the future, aren’t that useful.  This is why many of the great masters, Buddhist teachings, etc., all recommend living in the present moment.  An enlightened person has their higher brain functions active; not the ego.  The ego and the DMN are where all the circulating thoughts dwell.  We live a much happier life by just “being“.  That is enlightenment or self-realization.

There are, of course, times when it is necessary to resort to thinking to work out some difficult issues.  This reasoning can be driven by the Will centre rather than the ego.

How we actually achieve this state of “being” is easier said than done, and we’ll get into more of the “how” in the section on your personal journey.  But it should be evident that if we want to “be”, we have to practice “being”.  Just like everything else, we get good at what we practice.  If we practice being our ego (“little me”), then that is what we will become good at.  Expressing ourselves as the ego is the very opposite of “being”.

Being one with nature

It is relatively easy to practice “being“.  Meditation is one method that works for some people, but it can also be hard work.  Another way that works for many people is to simply get out into nature – sitting out on a mountain top or in a forest or near the sea.  Sitting with the senses open, “experiencing” – without distractions or concerns.  Meditation can also do this, but it depends on the meditation situation and how free the environment is from distractions.  Meditating in a crowded stuffy room with traffic noises and people coughing is not necessarily the most conducive.  You do not need to be an expert meditater to be at one with nature in a peaceful environment.  Anyone can be at one with nature.  It doesn’t mean that you are enlightened, but practising the state of being is laying the groundwork, whereas expressing the ego is not.

Qualities of Spiritual people

Let us review some of the qualities that we said spiritual people will display:

  • Dependable, trustworthy – this comes from the executive functions, having a good set of moral emotions, being organised, not being bound to addictions and being free from the ego and the meanderings of the DMN.
  • Humility and compassion – having a low ego, and with an active CEN responding to sensory information your are receiving about the people around, them and acting in accordance with high moral values.
  • Patience and tolerance – impatience and anger comes from an active DMN, and if often fuelled with addictions.  An active central executive network is much better placed to deal with difficult situations and act appropriately.
  • Self-contentment – this is a natural condition when the ego and DMN are in the background.
  • Unattached – addictions take many forms.  It is wonderful to be free of them, and being “unattached” (non-attached, or detached) is not a negative state – it doesn’t mean that you are unemotional or uncaring.  It means that are you are not enslaved by the dopamine reward network in the brain.
  • Independent (or non-dependent) and open-minded – with the CEN thinking properly you are able to make your own decisions about things, and recognise when others have limited or mistaken views.  Being open-minded means being receptive to new ideas – this means using the senses to listen to others with a quiet DMN.
  • Passionate about a cause – these people are driven by Will (not the ego), and when they make their mind up about something they do not let go until they have achieved their objective.
  • Ability to see the big picture – the CEN is pulling together information from a wide range of sensory inputs, moral value sets and memory, and is using the DMN for abstract thinking such as running through scenarios.
  • Joyful, cheerful, happy – this is natural state of being when the ego and DMN are quiet, the lower bodies are healthy, and the CEN is engaged in productive activity.  This is the state to which we all aspire.