What is life all about? Why are we here? Why do we have different religions, why do we believe in God? We have been asking these questions for thousands of years. Each culture has its own rituals and traditions that they call spiritual enlightenment. It can be a religious experience, it can also be a state of being reached after years of journey with meditations and similar practices. We want to have the answers because we want to know why we are here. What is the purpose of all this?
Thankfully for us, with the help of neuroscience, we are now able to see what happens to our brains when we reach enlightenment. One of the most thorough researches made on this subject was done by a neuroscientist named Andrew Newberg. In his book “How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain” doctor Newberg demonstrates the scientific data with the help of MRI’s and brain scans along with surveys gathered online from nearly 5000 people.
Enlightenment has different meanings for Eastern and Western civilizations. Eastern civilizations are more concerned with big Enlightenment (which is the end of the journey where you reach a state that permanently changes your being) and Western civilizations are more small enlightenment oriented, meaning, little experiences that eventually take you to the big change, the big transformation.
According to Andrew Newberg there are 5 steps that prepare us to our journey to Enlightenment. The first one is The Desire to change. Of course all of us would say yes if we were asked if we wanted to change or not. But once this becomes our reality, we can then truly say we are ready to take this step. To make this easier, we can take notes and write down what we want from change and what it means to us.
The second step is to be Prepared for the Change. This means we need to be mentally and emotionally ready to change and be determined for it. If we are not OK with it we can not be ready. This process takes a lot of thinking and preparation. We can get help from meditation or yoga, practices that help us be in the present moment and that give us certain kind of spiritual awareness.
The third step is Creating a Ritual for it. This can again be by meditation or prayer. When we get into the habit of this ritual, we slowly start to rewire our brains into accepting and welcoming this transformation. It helps us get rid of our anxiety for future and for the present moment. It also helps us think clearer.
During the 4th step, we Surrender to the Experience. If we are there, then we are already more than half way ready for our spiritual transformation. We feel a sudden drop in ourselves like almost as if we are losing ourselves and our worries. In this step we will still have doubts and many more questions to answer, but we will also be ready to accept whatever answer comes our way.
The last step in getting ready for our transformation is being able to Reflect on Ourselves. This is a level of consciousness where we can go back to who we are and think about and feel what this experience really means to us.
But if we put all of this under a microscope, or in an MRI so to speak in our case, what really happens to us along the way? How does our brain react to all of this? Are there really changes that are visible to us? Does our brain really undergo a series transformations that eventually take us to the big state of Enlightenment?
The MRI’s and brain scans show that our brains really do go through a series of changes.
1. A sense of intensity
The area in our brain that is called the limbic system looks less red and more blue, green and yellow in a normal state. When the activity increases so does the blood flow to that area. When we experience spiritual enlightenment, our limbic system suddenly receives more blood flow and under a scan it lights up with red. This also shows an increase in dopamine. Dopamine facilitates the understanding of greater reality. It gives us a sense of fulfillment.
2. Feeling of clarity
This experience affects our thalamus. In our brain it is placed towards the back with two circular areas side by side. In a normal state, both sides appear similar and equal. However, when we reach a state of mind where we experience a feeling of clarity as if we are looking at life itself from inside out, one side of our thalamus becomes much more active than the other one.
3. Sense of unity
This is the feeling of unity. The feeling of being one with the Universe and being one with the greatest creative force in the Universe. The area affected in our brain when we reach this state is our Parietal lobe. It is in the very back of the brain. Scientists discovered when people reach a deep state of consciousness during a spiritual practice like speaking in tongues, or when they meditate or pray, there is a sudden decrease of activity in this region.
4. Feeling of surrender
This is when we feel we surrender ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally to our experience. Whether it is a religious experience or a non religious experience. The state of Enlightenment does not mean becoming religious. In fact there are quite a lot of people who do not practice any religion and who do not believe in an omniscient or omnipresent God, but they still experience a spiritual enlightenment. Because the true Enlightenment is not connected to any God or religion. It is a Universal feeling. During this state our past, present and future do not bother us anymore. We fully surrender ourselves to the answers that we found. This causes changes in our frontal lobe. The scans and pictures show that the activity in this region of our brain completely melts away. It disappears.
This is the last stage of Enlightenment. During this stage we see a decrease both in the frontal and back lobes of our brains. These areas become completely blue in the pictures. Here, we are capable of remembering ourselves, and reflecting back onto ourselves and who we really are and what we do and how this experience has changed us.
The fact is, every single person who reaches Enlightenment have one thing in common: They’re lives have changed for the better completely. They are transformed and they look at everything from a different dimension where there is no fear or anxiety or worry. We finally find ourselves completely in peace with the truth and with the Universe. We become one and the same.