The Brain and Spiritual Practices Associated with Altered States of Consciousness
Perhaps one of the best ways of evaluating consciousness would be to study those individuals who are adept at specifically altering their consciousness. For this reason, spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer might be an exciting target for research in both neurotheology and consciousness.
There are a number of reasons why spiritual practices might be so amenable to being studied and yield potentially valuable information in the context of consciousness. To begin with, spiritual practices generally are well described in terms of their process. They have a defined starting point, and frequently have specific goals such as an altered state of consciousness to be achieved. In a prior research article on the taxonomy of meditation practices, my colleague and I delineated such practices on the basis of their goals. While many commonly available approaches today (and particularly secular ones) strive more for stress management and the reduction of anxiety and depression, those practices specifically part of spiritual traditions frequently have the goal of achieving altered states of consciousness in which the individual may have a one or more intense experiences. Some individuals feel that they lose their sense of self, along with their sense of space and time. There can also be a sense of oneness either between the practitioner and some universal consciousness or God, or...
Dr. Mark Pitstick Answers Your Questions About Reincarnation & More
(1) Why is it so important to learn anything in an earth-based reality if it's not "who we really are?" If we're supposedly perfect, why must we learn or grow at all? I'm not even sure that there is a purpose outside what we decide it is. Or is our purpose assigned by something else?
Such deep and important questions! I’ve searched for sensible, evidence-based answers to such questions for 45 years since working with many suffering and dying persons.
We can learn and grow while experiencing the field of all possibilities from a non-earthly observation point. It’s reported to be easier to learn lessons while seeing without human brain induced myopia.
However, the density of the earth experience – while operating under the illusion that we are separate, lose loved ones, die, and other false notions – can deepen growth. Being on this planet is a great testing grounds to see how we do when ‘the rubber hits the road.’ Learning lessons in metaphysical realms is akin to reading a book about how to play tennis. Experiencing reality as an earthling puts you on a court with a racquet in your hand.
Put another way, developing more love, compassion, and strength of spirit can be greatly aided by the challenges of this world and its seemingcruelty and chaos.
Like you, I’ve heard it said that we each are perfect in some sense. In my worldview, we each have the potential to grow...
(1) I would like to know if suicide or murder as well as other heinous crimes, can be a part of a soul contract? I have been told suicide is never entered into a soul contract and is a part of free will. Can you please give me your answer on that?
Suicide is never planned as a certainty prior to birth, but it is planned as a possibility, a probability, or (rarely) a probability so high as to be almost certain. There's an entire chapter about the pre-birth planning of suicide in my second book, Your Soul's Gift: The Healing Power of the Life You Planned Before You Were Born. Cameron, the person who is the subject of that chapter, planned before he was born to bring into body unhealed energies from past lives for the purpose of healing them. He knew before he was born that these energies would cause depression and anxiety to such an extent that a suicide would be highly likely. Why then did he create such a plan? Because some souls are very ambitious, and because not fulfilling his pre-birth plan is not judged as a failure by his soul. His soul simply views this lifetime as incomplete and so feels a need and desire to try again.
I would like to add that the suicide chapter in Your Soul's Gift contains the single most healing piece of information I've come across in all the years I've been doing this work: that every suicide that could have been prevented was prevented (pp.410-411). Why? Because if the suicidal person has any openness or willingness to change his or her mind, Spirit knows and stages an intervention. Understand: if you lost someone...
Nancy Clark has been a dear friend of mine ever since writing to me in 1982 about a very profound near-death-like experience she had a few years earlier while delivering a eulogy – and you will shortly be reading an expanded version of that experience in the post that follows. It is actually taken from a chapter in Nancy’s latest book, Beyond The Mystical Near-Death Experience and into the Unitive Experience.
Nancy is the author of many books (I particularly recommend Revelations from the Light) and has devoted the last two decades to writing and teaching about the importance of NDEs and other spiritually transformative experiences. Among other things, she is also the founder and leader of the Columbus, Ohio, branch of The International Association for Near-Death Studies. For more information about Nancy and her books, visit her website at www.freewebs.com/nancyclark .
Now get ready to read one of the most enthralling and wondrous encounters with the Divine that you will ever be likely to experience. It happened almost exactly forty years ago and was the greatest gift of Nancy’s life, which she wanted me to share with you today.
DOWNLOAD THE COMPLIMENTARY EXCERPT:
(Once on the home page, scroll down a little bit to get to the download button. )
For the past 25 years, I have had the great fortune to be able to work in an emerging field sometimes referred to as “neurotheology" :
The term itself reflects a hybrid, multidisciplinary approach that does not eliminate either the scientific or the spiritual side, but seeks to find ways of integrating them in such a way that helps us more deeply understand who we are as human beings.
I typically like to define neurotheology broadly so that the “neuro” side includes fields such as neuroscience, neuroimaging, psychology, and consciousness studies. The “theology” side includes theology itself, but also religious and spiritual practices, experiences, and beliefs. Today we have the ability to combine the best that both sides have to offer to deepen our understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human.
With that in mind, neurotheology has profound implications for the study of consciousness in terms of both its potential material and non-material aspects (or local and non-local aspects). After all, many spiritual traditions embrace the notion of altered states of consciousness that might arise through various rituals and practices. These altered states of consciousness may manifest as spiritual experiences of varying types, near death experiences, and ultimately some of the most powerful mystical or enlightenment experiences known to human beings. In addition, many religious and spiritual traditions acknowledge aspects of the world that go beyond the purely material and may include spiritual healing, the notion of spirits or angels, psychic concepts,...
Dr, Raymond Moody and the staff of The University of Heaven are not advocating the use of psychedelics. However, we do think that informed discussion about them is important in our exploration of consciousness and end of life.
A high dose psychedelic experience is death practice.
-- Katherine McLean, psychedelic therapist
Lately, I’ve been reading a new book by the celebrated food guru, Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other well-known books about food and the food industry. But his new book isn’t about food. It’s all about psychedelic drugs, and its subtitle tells you exactly what Pollan is on to in this surprising turn in his professional career: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. Wow, about the only thing he left out is the proverbial kitchen sink.
Well, did you know that there is such a thing as a “new science of psychedelics”? Indeed there is, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s actually been going on for the last two decades. And these days it’s legit, too, with research programs being carried out by distinguished scholars and academics at some of the leading universities in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Pollan’s bestselling book, entitled How to Change Your Mind, is an excellent journalistic account of all this work and what we can all learn from it, regardless of whether we have used psychedelics or not.
Rajiv Parti MD, and the Lessons of His NDE
I have written a dozen books on near-death experiences (NDEs), four of which are New York Times bestsellers. The subject of NDEs is one I’m devoted to, and as a result I am constantly in contact with researchers in the field of near death studies as well as those who have had the experience.
NDEs are extraordinary. The idea of leaving one’s body at the point of death, traveling to a Heavenly realm and seeing beloved relatives who have passed, is truly the hero’s journey of our modern age. People who could have died are now kept alive with technology and medicine that didn’t exist just a few years ago. It is because of those advances that the threshold of death is pushed back and NDEs become deeper and the stories richer.
It is these stories that may eventually answer mankind’s greatest question: What happens when we die?
Which brings us to Dr. Rajiv Parti, former chief of anesthesiology at Bakersfield Heart Hospital. His is most likely the best NDE I have ever heard, not just for the experience itself, but for the transformation it led to.
In 2008 Rajiv Parti, MD, was Chief of Anesthesiology at Heart Hospital in Bakersfield, California. He derived his identity and happiness from the incredible amount of wealth and prestige his job gave him. He lived in a mansion, had several luxury cars, and was able to purchase most any material goods he wanted.
For some reason this made him feel invincible.
In August of that year - everything changed. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A routine surgery to treat it, in the...
Raymond Moody answers questions from:
Are there any published studies on the validity of the near-death experience?
First of all, in one of his recent blogs, Dr, Melvin Morse does an excellent job of explaining the science of the NDE and offers many research studies. He will also be offering a workshop this coming weekend January 26th that sheds light on how science answers the question, "Are NDEs REAL?"
The biggest challenge for me in answering your question is in the whole notion of what it means to measure the validity of an experience that is not inherently a materialistic one.
That is, can we measure something immaterial with the tools used for measuring the tangible? Could I, for example, use a hammer to measure love? Are we using two different tools or realities with such different qualities that it is impossible to apply one to the other?
For example, there are research studies in which researchers use pictures on the ceiling tiles in order to determine if people who are resuscitated will see them and identify them if they have an out-of-body-experience.
This assumes that when one is dead and out of body that the same conditions for perception and awareness applies as when we are in our bodies. We do not know enough yet about how consciousness exists to fully measure it.
As I am a philosopher, I just cannot understand how we can measure transcendence with anything in the physical world. However, gratefully, Melvin and others have a different view and might be able to satisfy your curiosity more...
Excerpted from Becoming Starlight: A Shared Death Journey from Darkness to Light by Sharon Prentice, PhD. Copyright © 2018 by Sharon Prentice. https://sharonprentice.com
Heaven. There are many different words for it in many different languages. And each day, it’s a “place” that’s referred to more than any other in the world. Why? Every single race, religion, ethnicity, and culture—members of each one believe in the concept of Heaven. Religious scholars and philosophers have debated, argued, and fought over the very nature of Heaven since time immemorial and they have written reams and reams of papers about it and stockpiled book after book on library shelves for millennia.
But it’s not the conversations or writings of the religious scholars or philosophers that touch the true nature of “that place.” It’s the conversations that take place in the hospices, hospitals, ICU’s and funerals of the world that take us into the soul of humanity and, therefore –into Heaven. It’s in times of great personal trauma that many of these discussions take place. And, sometimes, these private moments can become very heated due to the stress and fear that exist in the trying moments before the death of a loved one. Once the word “Heaven” is spoken out loud, the underlying, unacknowledged, unspoken word that goes with it is death. Fear that death is near--especially in the waiting rooms of the ICU--prompts exchanges that are not normally heard in everyday family...
ANDREW RESPONDS TO PATRICK:
Could the new musical or creative gifts that can come after an NDE be brought on by damage to the left side of the brain, forcing the right side to become more dominant?? Is the soul separate from the brain?
It is possible that as changes occur in one part of the brain, previously dormant abilities are "released". It may not be as simple as a left vs right thing. For example, some elements of music are more left sided because of the mathematical and systematic aspects of music.
The right hemisphere tends to be the more creative side, but often needs the left hemisphere to fully express this creativity. However, the overall thought that as various parts of the brain are affected by a given injury, other parts can take over or become enhanced in their functioning, can certainly happen.
As to whether the soul is separate from the brain, that depends on your perspective of the soul. If you consider the soul the part of us that makes human beings unique, then the soul could be material and based on brain functions that enable us to have language, love, compassion, and creativity.
On the other hand, from a religious/spiritual perspective, the soul is something that is immaterial and connects us with God or some universal consciousness. If that is the case, the soul likely interacts with the brain, but is still separate from the brain. Of course, where the soul actually is may be difficult to determine given such a perspective. My field of work, neurotheology, encourages us to explore all of the possibilities and also take into account the possibility that...