Is this all ‘Enlightenment’ is?

In 3HO, we were sold the idea that we were pursuing enlightenment, something that our “great” spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan claimed we could achieve the same by following his teachings, meditating and doing Kundalini Yoga.

This former yoga teacher, Rokas Leonavicius, makes the case that enlightenment is actually just an experience that is resource intensive to maintain, and doesn’t necessarily change a person for good.

“… presented a scientific explanation of these experiences: It was Jefferson University neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and University of Pennsylvania neuropsychologist Eugene D’Aquili who gave us our first real insight into this experience.

They were investigating a different version of oneness—the kind produced by meditation. In deep contemplative states, Tibetan Buddhists report “absolute unitary being,” or the feeling of becoming one with everything, while Franciscan nuns experience unia mysica, or oneness with God’s love.

So Newberg and D’Aquili put both Buddhists and nuns inside a single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scanner to try to figure out if there was biology beneath this spirituality.

It turns out that during moments of intense concentration something happens in our superior parietal lobe, a portion of the brain that helps us orient ourselves in space. Newberg and D’Aquili called this part of the brain the Orientation Association Area or OAA.

When functioning normally, the OAA is a navigation system. It judges angles and distances, maps course trajectories, and keeps track of our body’s exact location. But to do this last part, it has to also produce a boundary line: the border of self, the division between “us” and “not us” – or in other words, a division between us and the rest of the universe.

Drawing this border is no simple task. The OAA depends on a constant stream of incoming messages. All of our senses send data here about where our body is located. Incredible calculations occur. But all of this takes a lot of energy. When that energy is needed elsewhere—like during moments of intense focus—the OAA stops performing those calculations because it stops receiving those signals.

Without this data stream, this part of the brain is temporarily blinded — and to an incredible result. “Once this happens,” says Newberg, “we can no longer draw a line and say this is where the self ends and this is where the rest of the world begins, so the brain concludes, it has to conclude, that at this moment you are one with everything.”


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