Mapping the Awakened Mind

Mapping the Awakened Mind

Beta activity is associated with alertness, arousal, and concentration; alpha waves with relaxation; theta with creativity, memory, integrative experiences, and healing; and delta with sleep, profound rest, and the release of growth hormone. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could combine all of these qualities?

One common misperception is that when we’re in the “alpha state,” our brain is producing nothing but alpha, when we’re in theta, our brain is producing only theta, and so on. In fact, when we observe brain-wave activity on a full-spectrum EEG (one that shows the activity of all the frequencies at once), we quickly notice that the brain is constantly active to a greater or lesser degree at all those frequencies simultaneously. When we’re in an alpha state, for example, the amplitude, or power, of our alpha waves is much stronger than the amplitude of beta, theta, and delta, but there is still (except in exceptional cases) noticeable activity in those other ranges as well.

Some twenty years ago British biofeedback researcher C. Maxwell Cade began working with an EEG specifically designed to show full-spectrum brain-wave activity. As he worked with hundreds of people who were able to function exceptionally well, who were able to enter heightened states of consciousness easily, he began noticing similarities in the patterns of brain waves they produced.

As he compared these exceptional people with his thousands of other subjects, he noticed that there was a distinct progression. In the first stage, most people could soon learn to enter the alpha state, in which beta diminished and alpha became the dominant frequency. As they progressed in their practice, many of these people learned to enter the theta state, in which beta, alpha, and delta diminished and theta became dominant. In this, his findings matched those of the EEG studies of Zen monks.

But Cade found that the exceptional people, those who were peak performers, soon moved into a different pattern. When they were in their peak state, their EEG patterns showed that their brains were producing large amounts of alpha and theta as well as strong beta and delta activity—all at the same time.

Cade called this extraordinary brain-wave pattern the Awakened Mind. He found that these peak-performance individuals could maintain this pattern even while reading, performing mathematical calculations, and carrying on conversations! Apparently these individuals were able to draw upon the relaxing, centering properties of the alpha state, the creative, memory-accessing properties of the theta state, the healing, “grounded” properties of the delta state, and at the same time still maintain the alert concentration and external orientation of the beta state. (Cade’s EEG was of a unique design, so it’s possible that the Zen monks studied by earlier researchers also produced this Awakened Mind pattern. In fact, it sounds very much like the “Zen mind” state that Zen monks carry with them through all their daily activities—and the researchers simply did not notice it because their EEG equipment was not designed to monitor it.)

Using his full-spectrum EEG (which he called the Mind Mirror), Cade was able to teach many “ordinary” people how to enter this Awakened Mind state. He found that by learning to produce brainwave patterns identical to those of peak-performance individuals, these ordinary people were transformed into peak performers themselves.

As we shall see later, many of the new mind technologies have been designed specifically to stimulate the brain to operate at several frequencies at once.

Mapping the Brain Paths to Transcendence

Meanwhile, other researchers have been using sophisticated EEGs with twenty or more electrodes, which permit them to monitor the activity of the entire cortex simultaneously and present it visually in the form of colored “brain maps.” These investigators, including F. Holmes Atwater, of theMonroeinstitute, and Dr. Ed Wilson, of the Colorado Association for Psychophysiologic Research, have been able to observe the brain maps of numerous individuals as they move from ordinary waking consciousness into peak experience or transcendent brain states. They have found that in progressing toward transcendence, the brain goes through or produces several distinctive whole brain patterns.

Resting-State Alpha

Normalwaking consciousness, these researchers have found, is characterized by dominant beta activity, along with a lot of alpha activity in the rear part of the cortex. This back-of-the-head alpha is called “resting-state alpha.” It seems to be an “anchor,” serving as a stabilizing force, linking us with our “normal” and familiar modes of mental processing. It’s like the alpha observed in the early stages of Zen meditation.

The Dissociate State

However, when subjects enter expanded states of consciousness, they lose awareness of the physical world and reach a point, as Atwater describes it, “when non-physical phenomena constitute the whole field of perception; when there is no impression of being ‘normally’ in the physical body; when the physical body is asleep or fully entranced.” This is whatAtwatercalls the dissociative state.

In the dissociative state, resting-state alpha disappears and is replaced by high-amplitude theta and delta activity, centered at the top of the head (the median of the central cortex). Interestingly, this high-amplitude theta and delta activity is synchronous. This dissociative state seems to be essentially what earlier researchers, such as the Greens, have been describing as the theta state and is equivalent to the state reached by experienced Zen meditators as they sink downward past alpha. It also seems to offer access to what has been called the unconscious mind or the personal unconscious.

The Transcendent State

Beyond theta, the personal unconscious, beyond the dissociative state, is the stateAtwatercalls transcendence. In this state, individuals move beyond their own ego, beyond the personal unconscious mind, into a peak state of universal awareness. AsAtwaterobserves, “Experiences in this state are many times ineffable and cannot be explained or described in words. Experiences in this realm are more than passive diversions. Their creative power can change the very nature of the participants’ reality.”

As they observe the transition from dissociation to transcendence on their EEG brain mappers, these researchers have found that something very odd occurs. First, the high-amplitude and synchronous theta and delta activity of the dissociative state continues. However, it is accompanied by bursts of very high beta activity in the temporal regions of the brain (in the area of the temples). This, apparently, is a state similar to Cade’s Awakened Mind. However, Cade’s Mind Mirror EGG only measured brain waves up to 40 Hz. His Awakened Mind subjects may have been producing other brain waves higher than 40 Hz.

Intriguingly, Atwater found that not only is this temporal beta activity during the transcendent state of high frequency (ranging from over 40 Hz to at least 128 Hz), but the amplitude of this beta activity increases as it rises in frequency. Since the EEG equipment now available has been able to monitor brain-wave frequencies only up to 128 Hz, investigators have no real idea what might be happening above that level. It’s conceivable that these transcendent moments may be associated with bursts of temporal beta in the range of 200 Hz, 300 Hz, or even more. At this point, no one knows. And no one knows the implications.

Inducing Transcendent Experiences and UFO Abductions

These findings become even more intriguing—and lead to even wilder speculations— in light of the amazing findings of Dr. Michael Persinger of Laurentian University. He was fascinated by evidence that people who had been abducted by unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and had a variety of other sorts of extraordinary or transcendent experiences were influenced by changes in the earth’s magnetic field. He began placing electromagnets on subjects’ temples and pulsing them at various frequencies. To his amazement, he found that many of his subjects had transcendent or extraordinary experiences. Even when subjects knew they were seated in a laboratory, with pulsed electromagnetic fields at their temples, they would emerge with realistic reports of being abducted by UFOs, having out-of-body experiences, communicating with God, and so on. Apparently, high-frequency, high amplitude activation of the temporal regions of the brain is linked with extraordinary experiences.


For a good introduction to EEG biofeedback and excellent information about theta brain waves, see Beyond Biofeedback by Elmer and Alyce Green (New York: Delacorte, 1977). For information about the “Awakened Mind” EEG patterns, see The Awakened Mind: Biofeedback and the Development of Higher States of Awareness by C. Maxwell Cade and Nona Coxhead (New York: Delacorte, 1979). For a discussion of the work of Peniston and Kulkosky and the “crossover point,” see my article “At the Crossover Point,” and William Beckwith’s “Moving Beyond Metaphors of the Mind: Addiction, Transformation and Brainwave Patterns,” both in Megabrain Report 1(3) (1992).


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