In Search of Tools for Waking Up: The Brain Revolution

The Brain Revolution

We have been living through momentous revolution: the Brain
Revolution. Scientists have discovered more about the human brain in the last few years than they had learned throughout all of previous human history.

What they have discovered is that the brain is far different and far more powerful than most of us imagine. That, given the proper type of stimulation, the human brain can perform seemingly miraculous feats with ease. That the ordinary human brain, in other words, has extraordinary or exceptional powers; that these powers are not extraordinary at all, but, for most of us, simply dormant, undeveloped; and that these powers can be activated or switched on by the right type of stimulation. And, most importantly that we can learn to activate these powers, in the same way, and almost as easily, as we can learn to ride a bicycle or play the piano.

In Search of Tools for Waking Up

We’ve all experienced it—those unexpected times when our entire being seems to shift into a higher gear and function far more efficiently and powerfully than normal. We call it lucidity, insight, mastery, waking up, clarity, wisdom, enlightenment, grace, bliss, satori, creativity, learning, peak experience. . . . It’s a state in which we know with absolute certainty that our normal functioning is just a pale shadow of our actual powers and capacities; that our ordinary state is like a state of deep sleep compared to this rich awakening. And we know this is how we should be all the time. After all, sleep is a fine and restful state, but who among us would choose to spend our entire lives in even the most comfortable bed? Most of us would like to be in this high-gear, high efficiency state as often as possible.

A central thread running through human history has been the quest for effective and reliable techniques for entering these transcendent, awakened states. Humans have devoted an enormous amount of ingenuity and effort to finding gateways to this realm of lucidity. They have pounded on drums, danced, chanted, fasted, tried different ways of breathing, stood on their heads, sat for years in dark caves, prayed, invented and muttered magic phrases, eaten wild herbs and plants, gazed into fires, devised odd sexual practices, contemplated symbols, created colorful rituals. At times over the millennia, they have stumbled onto something that works—pound on the drum at just that rhythm, breathe in just this way, focus the attention in this very special manner—and have passed it down from generation to generation, refining it, perfecting it.

And the ingenuity and effort paid off. Humans have devised a variety of ways of entering peak states that really do work. One example is the vast array of meditative practices. They work. But the problem is that for most people, they only work imperfectly, unpredictably. And, most difficult of all, they usually require enormous amounts of practice—hard, rigorous discipline—before they really work powerfully and reliably. Studies of Zen monks, for example, have shown that for the most part, the only monks who can get into the deepest state of Zen meditation quickly and at will are those who have meditated for over twenty years.

So throughout human history, the awakened state has been, for many, tantalizing but elusive—sometimes it comes, out of nowhere, spontaneously, and for a few moments we are there. And then it is gone again. As most of us have discovered, it’s no easy thing to enter these peak performance domains at will.

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