Waking From Sleep: The Causes of Higher States of Consciousness
By Steve Taylor
Steve Taylor is an author and teacher, whose main interests are psychology and spirituality. His articles and essays have been published in over 30 academic journals, magazines and newspapers, including The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, The Journal of Consciousness Studies, The Transpersonal Psychology Review, The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, The Scientific and Medical Network Review, Anti-matters, Soul and Spirit, Paradigm Shift, Green Spirit, Odyssey (South Africa) Resurgence and The Daily Express. His work has been featured widely in the media in the UK, including on BBC Breakfast, BBC World TV, Five Live and in The Guardian.
Higher states of consciousness – or awakening experiences, as I prefer to call them – are moments of revelation, when we perceive reality at a heightened intensity. The world around us comes to life, and is filled with an atmosphere of harmony and meaning. A spirit-force seems to pervade all things, and the spaces between them, bringing everything into oneness. We experience ourselves as part of this oneness too, and feel ecstatic or serene. At the highest intensity of awakening, we might feel that we’ve become one with the universe, and attain a state of complete fullness and perfection. The whole material world may dissolve away, into an ocean of spiritual radiance.
These experiences are sometimes associated with meditation, nature or psychedelic drugs, but what exactly is it that causes them? Why is it that the limits of our normal consciousness sometimes fall away, giving us access to a world of is-ness, beauty and meaning which is normally hidden from us?
Neuroscientists generally believe that HSCs are caused by changes in brain activity. According to Michael Persinger and V.S. Ramachandran, for instance, spiritual experiences are the result of stimulation of the temporal lobes of the brain. Persinger has even claimed to induce mystical experiences with a ‘helmet’ – now called the ‘Shakti helmet,’ and available to buy – which stimulates a person’s frontal lobes with magnetic fields. However, just because HSCs or awakening experiences appear to be associated with certain brain states, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the brain states produce the experiences. It could be the other way round – increased electrical activity in the frontal lobes, or less activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, could just as easily be the results of higher states of consciousness rather than causes of them. These scientists may only be looking at the ‘footprints’ of the experiences, rather than the cause of them.