Meditation Alters Sense Boundaries

Meditation Alters Sense Boundaries


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“higher states of consciousness are a natural development of long-term meditation practice facilitated by regular daily experience of transcendental consciousness.” – Ravinder Jerath


Millions of people worldwide seek out transcendent experiences by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Transcendent experiences have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of transcendence is a sense of oneness, that all things are contained in a single thing, a sense of union with the universe and/or God and everything in existence. This includes a loss of the personal self. What they used to refer to as the self is experienced as just a part of an integrated whole. People who have had these experiences report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. Although transcendent experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness. Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of systematic research on the alteration of the self, produced in meditation practice.


In today’s Research News article “Self-Boundary Dissolution in Meditation: A Phenomenological Investigation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Nave and colleagues recruited healthy adults who were experienced meditators and provided them a 3-day intensive meditation training. They had brain activity measured with magnetoencephalography (MEG) while performing 2 meditation tasks, the first to envision the boundaries between self and the external world, the second to envision a loss of those boundaries. Before and after the meditations they completed several tasks and questionnaires and a phenomenological interview regarding their experiences during meditation.


They found that the participants were able to produce altered states of self-awareness during the meditations. Analysis of the interviews yielded 6 categories of alterations; sense of agency, self-location, first-person perspective, attentional disposition, affective valence, and body sensations. They report that during the loss of boundaries meditation the participants reported lower levels of self-location, loss of body sensations, and greater experience of space. They report that participants “letting go” was the most effective technique producing a dissolution of self-boundaries. “Letting go” reduced attentional disposition and the sense of agency, that is a loss of attentional focus and sense of control of experience.


This study demonstrates that it is possible to experimentally investigate phenomenological states experienced during meditation. In particular, it demonstrates that a dissolution of body boundaries can be produced and studied in the lab. These kinds of investigations are important as a loss of boundaries is essential for the oneness experience and oneness is central to spiritual awakening. So, the study of this dissolution should help in understanding the most profound experiences of meditation.


So, meditation alters sense boundaries.


mindfulness training alters practitioners’ experience of self, relaxing the boundaries of the self and extending the spatial frame of reference further beyond the physical body.” – Adam W Hanley


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Nave, O., Trautwein, F. M., Ataria, Y., Dor-Ziderman, Y., Schweitzer, Y., Fulder, S., & Berkovich-Ohana, A. (2021). Self-Boundary Dissolution in Meditation: A Phenomenological Investigation. Brain sciences, 11(6), 819.



A fundamental aspect of the sense of self is its pre-reflective dimension specifying the self as a bounded and embodied knower and agent. Being a constant and tacit feature structuring consciousness, it eludes robust empirical exploration. Recently, deep meditative states involving global dissolution of the sense of self have been suggested as a promising path for advancing such an investigation. To that end, we conducted a comprehensive phenomenological inquiry into meditative self-boundary alteration. The induced states were systematically characterized by changes in six experiential features including the sense of location, agency, first-person perspective, attention, body sensations, and affective valence, as well as their interaction with meditative technique and overall degree of dissolution. Quantitative analyses of the relationships between these phenomenological categories highlighted a unitary dimension of boundary dissolution. Notably, passive meditative gestures of “letting go”, which reduce attentional engagement and sense of agency, emerged as driving the depth of dissolution. These findings are aligned with an enactive approach to the pre-reflective sense of self, linking its generation to sensorimotor activity and attention-demanding processes. Moreover, they set the stage for future phenomenologically informed analyses of neurophysiological data and highlight the utility of combining phenomenology and intense contemplative training for a scientific characterization of processes giving rise to the basic sense of being a bounded self.


Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Quantum Entanglement

Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Quantum Entanglement


“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr


The idea of Quantum Entanglement has shaken the world of physics contradicting classical physics including relativity. It is a very complex notion that is difficult to express outside of complex mathematical expressions. But in its essence, it suggests that matter is entangled with other matter with the states of particular particles linked to the states of other particles even over large distances. So, when a photon (quantum of light) changes its state, an entangled photon simultaneously changes its state even far away.


Quantum entanglement is a label for the observed physical phenomenon that occurs when a pair or group of particles is generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the pair or group cannot be described independently of the state of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance.” – Wikipedia,


This is not just a theoretical notion. As strange as it may seem there has accumulated evidence that Quantum Entanglement occurs ubiquitously in nature. Its implications are profound and revolutionize our views of the nature of the universe including notions of space and time themselves. Without belaboring the immensely complex physics and mathematics underlying the notion, the idea of Quantum Entanglement fits amazingly well with eastern spiritual thoughts, including the notions of mindfulness and enlightenment.


Everything is interconnected. This is a notion fundamental to eastern spiritual teachings. The Buddha referred to this as interdependent co-arising. The teaching was that everything arises in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions; nothing exists as a singular, independent entity. Indeed, it is evident to anyone who wishes to look closely at anything that it is connected to everything else. In other words, everything that happens is entangled with everything else and nothing can be viewed solely alone without reference to other things.


The paper that this may be printed on is in one way or another connected to everything else in the universe. The paper was manufactured from tree pulp. For the tree to have grown and produce this pulp there was sunlight, soil, water, and seeds provided by prior trees. The harvesting of the trees required lumbering and transportation of the trees to a mill. The manufacturing requires machinery that was invented by people who were trained based upon the accumulated knowledge of generations. After manufacture it was transported by truck requiring trained drivers, fuels, roads etc. all of which required a myriad of other components and actions. The actual atoms of which it is composed were created billions of years ago in the explosions of stars called supernovas. These, in turn stretch back to the Big Bang itself, where all matter and energy emerged at once. Perhaps by now you get the idea that the piece of paper is connected to everything else on the universe.


The notion of Quantum Entanglement indicates that all particles created at the same time are entangled and the state of any one of them is affected by all the others no matter where they are. Since, all particles emerged with the Big Bang, then all of them are entangled. This notion then is the science of physics way of expressing that everything is interconnected even on the quantum level of subatomic particles. This includes us. We are all entangled both on the fundamental quantum level and also on the perceived physical level. Each of us is connected to everyone else and to everything else in the universe. It’s all one.


The notion of Quantum Entanglement indicates that the linkage of particles can occur simultaneously over very large distances, distance large enough that any effect of one particle on the other would have to move at faster than the speed of light. This suggests that their entanglement is in the now. Time is irrelevant. Just as consciousness exists only in the now where there is no time. This suggests the interesting possibility that consciousness itself is an entangled phenomenon.


Consciousness has been termed as an observerless observer; a phenomenon where causes have no further effects. Something registers what is going on but is not itself changed by it and doesn’t affect anything else. It’s an end point on a chain of causation. This is much like the effect of a change in a particle producing instantaneous changes in another without further consequence. Perhaps, then, consciousness itself results from Quantum Entanglement.


Consciousness itself may be also entangled at the quantum level. It’s long been an understanding in quantum mechanics that the act of observing something fundamentally changes it. As a result, it is impossible to determine more than one aspect of a particle at a time. The act of observing one aspect changes the others. This gets even deeper on the quantum level where the classic double slit experiment demonstrated that observations actually change the behavior of particles. Indeed, observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it… We compel [a quantum particle] to assume a definite position. In other words, we ourselves produce the results of measurements.” – Pascual Jordan


These strange phenomena at the quantum level appear to defy our understanding of the universe just as the existence of awareness and consciousness appear to defy understanding. This suggests that they may occur for similar reasons. The fabric of the universe may well be entangled with consciousness.



Nobody understands what consciousness is or how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics either. Could that be more than coincidence?” – Philip Ball


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Meditation on Different States of Consciousness Produces Different Brain Activity

Meditation on Different States of Consciousness Produces Different Brain Activity


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Meditation is just self-directed neuroplasticity. In other words, you are directing the change of your brain by inwardly and consciously directing attention in a particular way. You’re using the mind to change the brain, like a child crafting a Playdough structure.” – Liam McClintock


Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. How exactly mindfulness practices produce their benefits is unknown. It is known that meditation practice alters states of consciousness and alters brain activity.


It is possible to investigate the relationships between consciousness and brain activity. One way is to measure changes in the electroencephalogram (EEG), the rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. The recorded activity can be separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-8 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 15-25 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 35-45 cycles per second band. Changes in these brain activities can be compared during different forms of meditation with different conscious content.


In today’s Research News article “Large effects of brief meditation intervention on EEG spectra in meditation novices.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Stapleton and colleagues recruited healthy meditation-naïve adults and had them attend a 3-day meditation training workshop where seated meditation to music was practiced 3 times per day. The participants were instructed to focus on different states (emotions, gratitude, surrendering, emotions, future events, oneness, energy, future intentions, and moving energy) during the meditations. During before, during, and after each meditation brain activity was recorded with an electroencephalogram (EEG).


They found that from the baseline to the end of the meditations there was a significant global increase in both Theta (4-8 hz.) and Gamma (35-45 hz.) rhythms in the EEG. These activities normally occur during information processing in the brain. They also found that different meditations produced different patterns of EEG activity. Delta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, elevated emotions, and energy. Theta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, elevated emotions, and future intention. Alpha activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, oneness, and future intention. Beta activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, future events, elevated emotions, and future intention. Finally, Gamma activity was increased to the greatest extent by meditations on gratitude, energy, and future intention.


These results suggest that different conscious content during meditation is reflected in differences in the activity of the brain in novice meditators. These understandings may be useful in identifying conscious content in real time during meditation. But these results need to be replicated in experienced meditators.


So, meditation on different states of consciousness produces different brain activity.


mindfulness . . . has come to describe a meditation-based practice whose aim is to increase one’s sense of being in the present, but it has also been used to describe a nonmeditative state in which subjects set aside their mental distractions to pay greater attention to the here and now.” – Alvin Powell


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Stapleton, P., Dispenza, J., McGill, S., Sabot, D., Peach, M., & Raynor, D. (2020). Large effects of brief meditation intervention on EEG spectra in meditation novices. IBRO reports, 9, 290–301.



This study investigated the impact of a brief meditation workshop on a sample of 223 novice meditators. Participants attended a three-day workshop comprising daily guided seated meditation sessions using music without vocals that focused on various emotional states and intentions (open focus). Based on the theory of integrative consciousness, it was hypothesized that altered states of consciousness would be experienced by participants during the meditation intervention as assessed using electroencephalogram (EEG). Brainwave power bands patterns were measured throughout the meditation training workshop, producing a total of 5616 EEG scans. Changes in conscious states were analysed using pre-meditation and post-meditation session measures of delta through to gamma oscillations. Results suggested the meditation intervention had large varying effects on EEG spectra (up to 50 % increase and 24 % decrease), and the speed of change from pre-meditation to post-meditation state of the EEG co-spectra was significant (with 0.76 probability of entering end-meditation state within the first minute). There was a main 5 % decrease in delta power (95 % HDI = [−0.07, −0.03]); a global increase in theta power of 29 % (95 % HDI = [0.27, 0.33]); a global increase of 16 % (95 % HDI = [0.13, 0.19]) in alpha power; a main effect of condition, with global beta power increasing by 17 % (95 % HDI = [0.15, 0.19]); and an 11 % increase (95 % HDI = [0.08, 0.14]) in gamma power from pre-meditation to end-meditation. Findings provided preliminary support for brief meditation in altering states of consciousness in novice meditators. Future clinical examination of meditation was recommended as an intervention for mental health conditions particularly associated with hippocampal impairments.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Procedure can Alter Meditation and its Effects on the Brain

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Procedure can Alter Meditation and its Effects on the Brain


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


The nature of the high noise levels present during fMRI makes total elimination of imager noise perceived by subjects impractical at this time.” – Michael Ravicz


Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. There are a number of ways that meditation practices produce these benefits, including changes to the brain and physiology.


The premiere way of measuring brain size and function is Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). But the recording of the MRI can be difficult for the participant as they are confined in a narrow tube for an extended period of time with very high noise levels. There are attempts to mitigate the effects of this recording environment but even at best it is noxious for the participant. It is not known how this environment of MRI recording may affect the results of studies of meditation effects on the brain.


In today’s Research News article “Does the MRI/fMRI Procedure Itself Confound the Results of Meditation Research? An Evaluation of Subjective and Neurophysiological Measures of TM Practitioners in a Simulated MRI Environment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ) Travis and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and recorded their brain activity with electroencephalogram during a single session while they had their eyes closed and then meditated for 7 minutes. This sequence was repeated in counterbalanced order for sitting, lying down in the quiet, and lying down in a simulated MRI tube with 110db recording of the noise sound level of an MRI machine. The participants then completed a questionnaire about the depth of their meditation and their subjective experiences.


They found that the participants rated their depth of meditation and experiences of pure consciousness significantly lower and interference and distraction/agitation significantly higher during the simulated MRI condition. The power in most frequency bands significantly decreased in the EEG from sitting to lying positions and further significantly decreased during the simulated MRI condition. In addition, during the simulated MRI condition, there was a significant increase in activation of the precuneus area of the brain, a major component of the default mode network.


These findings are interesting and important for the interpretation of meditation research employing MRI to investigate its effects on the brain. The results suggest that the conditions of MRI recording, including confinement and loud noise levels alters the nature of the meditation and the brain’s responses to the meditation. This environment appears to interfere with the depth of the meditation and inserts greater distractions producing agitation. The MRI environment also appears to decrease the power of various waveforms in the EEG and activate the default mode network of the brain.


This represents a problem for interpreting MRI data recorded during meditation. Of course, the effects of the MRI recording environment would be the same during different conditions. So, differences between MRI data recorded during meditation and during other mental states should not be due to the recording environment. In addition, the disruption of the meditation produced by the environment would likely make it more difficult to detect changes produced by meditation. So, the actual observed brain changes during meditation in the MRI environment may underestimate the true effects of meditation practice on the brain.


So, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) procedure can alter meditation and its effects on the brain.


claustrophobia is common in the world of MRI. It’s so common that asking questions about it is standard in the pre-appointment screening call. “Four out of ten patients that we call will mention something about claustrophobia,” – Desiree Rckovich


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Travis, F., Nash, J., Parim, N., & Cohen, B. H. (2020). Does the MRI/fMRI Procedure Itself Confound the Results of Meditation Research? An Evaluation of Subjective and Neurophysiological Measures of TM Practitioners in a Simulated MRI Environment. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 728.



Early research into meditation, including Transcendental Meditation (TM), relied exclusively on EEG to measure brain activity during meditation practice. Since the advent of neural imaging, MRI, and later fMRI, have dominated this field. Unfortunately, the use of this technology rests on the questionable assumption that lying down in a confining tube while exposed to very loud sounds would not interfere with the meditation practice. The present study was designed to assess the effects of the fMRI procedure on both the subjective and neurophysiological responses of short and long-term TM practitioners. Twenty-three TM practitioners volunteered to participate in this study: 11 short-term meditators, averaging 2.2 years practice, and 12 long-term meditators, averaging 34.8 years. The repeated-measures design included two activities for each participant, eyes-closed rest, and TM practice, in each of three conditions: sitting quietly in an upright position (normal TM practice); lying quietly in a supine position; and lying, with earplugs, inside a simulated fMRI tube (simMRI), while exposed to 110 dB recordings of an actual fMRI machine. Subjective experiences were collected after each activity in each condition. Physiological arousal was recorded using skin conductance levels. Scalp EEG was averaged into eight frequency bands within frontal and parietal leads; eLORETA software was used to explore the 3-D cortical distribution of EEG sources. During the simMRI condition, participants reported having more shallow meditation experiences, and greater agitation/distraction. Skin conductance levels paralleled self-reports, decreasing least during the simMRI condition. Frontal and parietal power decreased from sitting to simMRI in the alpha2 through gamma bands. Parietal power was higher during rest compared to TM in the alpha1 through beta2 bands. Frontal and parietal alpha1 coherence were highest during the simMRI condition. The eLORETA analysis revealed that the default mode network was more active during TM when sitting compared to the simMRI condition. The responses to the supine condition were generally between sitting and simMRI, with some significant exceptions. In conclusion, these data indicate that the fMRI procedure itself (high dB noise; lying down) strongly influences subjective and neurophysiological responses during meditation practice, and may therefore confound the interpretation of results from fMRI studies.

Sat Chit Ananda 2 – Consciousness

Sat Chit Ananda 2 – Consciousness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“The argument unfolds as follows: physicists have no problem accepting that certain fundamental aspects of reality – such as space, mass, or electrical charge – just do exist. They can’t be explained as being the result of anything else. Explanations have to stop somewhere. The panpsychist hunch is that consciousness could be like that, too – and that if it is, there is no particular reason to assume that it only occurs in certain kinds of matter.” – Oliver Burkeman


In the previous post we discussed the first component of the classic phrase from Hinduism, “Sat Chit Ananda”. The phrase means “being, consciousness, bliss” and is a description of a sublimely blissful experience of the boundless, pure consciousness, a glimpse of ultimate reality.


The second component “Chit” is translated as consciousness. It is our minds eye. It is our everyday experience of reality. Consciousness is actually the first manifestation of our true nature.


What we are striving to do in our contemplative practice is to make consciousness aware of itself. It is like looking in the mirror at your own eyes or looking into the eyes of another. There is a simple and deep recognition of the absolute as yourself, your essence.


We have become so used to consciousness that we habituate to it and take it for granted. It’s quite startling to realize that we are frequently unaware of something so essential to our existence. We are not conscious of our consciousness. This is what is meant by being lost in our mind; completely unaware of awareness.


In contemplative practice we strive to quiet the mind. When we have achieved this stillness we allow consciousness to simply gaze upon itself. This is a recognition of “Chit”. In a deeper state this consciousness seems to be streaming from all of creation, not a thing called “me” or “I”. It contains the “me” as part of consciousness, but not its center. It is only one component of an infinite reality. This is Sat Chit Ananda realized.


Pure being and consciousness are always present although they may not be recognized. And it is mostly the mind or ego which distracts us from the direct experience of this divine presence. So, use contemplative practice to quiet the mind and allow “Chit” to be fully present.


“Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon… Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”  – Stuart Sutherland


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Sat Chit Ananda 1 – Being

Sat Chit Ananda 1 – Being


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“When we go deeper into the character of the absolute, Sat. We are able to dig into it, because it is intimate to us, and when it is intimate to us, when it is our consciousness, because it is our consciousness” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


Many engage in contemplative practice in order to better function in their lives. But for many it is practiced to achieve a deep spiritual awakening. The phrase Sat Chit Ananda is a beautiful pithy descriptor of the state of being that is the ultimate destination of spiritual awakening.


Sat Chit Ananda is a classic Sanskrit phrase originating in Hinduism. It has been translated as “being, consciousness, bliss.” In Hinduism it is a description of the subjective experience of Brahman. It is a sublimely blissful experience of the boundless, pure consciousness. It is a glimpse of ultimate reality. Sat Chit Ananda is a beautiful pointer to our true nature.


The first component “Sat” describes an essence that is pure and timeless, that never changes. Sat is what always remains regardless of time or situation. When we awaken, we constantly recognize Pure Being. We are consciously aware of Pure Being as our true nature, the core and foundation of all life.


This concept arises in multiple religions. In the Bible when Moses asked the god who he was he responded “I am that I am”. This is often interpreted to indicate a singular god, as an indicator of monotheism. But from the standpoint of “Sat” what is indicated is pure being; “I am”. When the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish mystics indicate that they have achieved oneness with god, they are referring to the fact that they have experienced themselves as pure being; “Sat”.


In our everyday experience we are focused on the contents of our awareness; what we’re seeing, hearing, feeling etc. This is actually the essence of mindfulness, being completely in the present moment. But, if we look deeply we can begin to realize that the contents are interesting, but, what is observing these contents is the essence of our existence. What is seeing? What is hearing? What is feeling?


In our practice, it is very useful to focus on, not what we’re experiencing, as the mind wants us to do, but on what is having the experience. If you look at it deeply you will find an entity that is silent and peaceful, that is unchanged by whatever is occurring, and that is always present and in fact has always been present. This is “Sat”, you pure being, pure awareness. This is what you truly are.


Just experience it. Do not try to see it. Do not try to think about it. Do not try to understand it. The mind cannot grasp it. The more you try the more elusive it becomes. Simply experience it. Observe the mystery of the miracle of “Sat”, of being.


“Sat. That which exists in the past, present and future, which has no beginning, middle and end, which is unchanging, which is not conditioned in time, space and causation.” – Swami Sivananda


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

Relativity of Time and Awareness

“But Einstein came along and took space and time out of the realm of stationary things and put them in the realm of relativity—giving the onlooker dominion over time and space, because time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.”- Dimitri Marianoff


Einstein’s theory of relativity is based upon the notion that everything that is observed has to be viewed relative to the observer. Indeed from the perspective of an observer on earth, the moon appears to be orbiting the earth. But, from the perspective of an observer on the moon, the earth appears to be orbiting the moon. One of Einstein’s great insights was that not only the position of things is observed relatively, but so is time. He postulated that time is not constant but also changes relative to the observer. In other words, time is not constant, but is variable. Indeed as an observer is moving relatively approaching the speed of light time slows down and at the speed of light time stops entirely. In other words space-time is not a constant but varies with relative position and speed of the observer.


It should be noted that an observer is a conscious entity. So, how might we look at the experience of the observer? Perhaps, we might look at awareness in a relativistic way. The observer’s awareness is of the present moment and only of the present moment. The past is gone and the future isn’t here yet, so all the observer has is the present. What the observer experiences in the present can be viewed in two very different ways. It can be looked at that the observer is moving through time and viewing the changes that occur in time. The observer’s awareness is of the different things that are occurring at different moments in time. The observer is simply watching the stream of different sensations. This is the usual and typical way that humans look at their internal observer, otherwise known as awareness.


Alternatively, we can look at the experience of the observer as time has stopped but things are moving in observer’s awareness. The observer’s awareness in the present moment is the movement in the observer’s awareness.  Experiences then are arising and falling away in that singular moment. Time is defined as change. Because the observer detects things changing, the observer concludes that time must be passing. But as Einstein said “time is an illusion.” It is only because change is observed in the present moment that the observer concludes that time has passed. Perhaps time hasn’t passed but awareness has moved.


Let’s translate these ideas to the meditation cushion. When meditating the individual can sit and watch things happening as time passes. Maybe it’s the movement associated with the breath, or the sounds of a bird song, or the light penetrating our eyelids, or the odors wafting through the room. That is how most people meditate. But, in essence we’ve just translated how we view the everyday world to the cushion, making meditation just like everyday experience. Perhaps that’s why many people meditate for years without becoming awakened. How can we expect to see things differently if we’re looking at them the same way?


On the other hand when meditating we can sit and observe things moving in our awareness at a fixed point in time called the present moment. This is a radically different approach that is unlike our everyday way of experiencing the world. The rising and falling of the breath, the bird song, the light, odors, are simply movements of our mind that awareness observes in a stationary present moment. Time has stopped, but things are moving in our awareness. Perhaps this could lead to a redefinition of experience as the product of a moving mind being observed by a stationary awareness. Now this is different. It is unlike our usual way of experiencing everyday life. Perhaps this change in the perspective of the observer can lead to a different view of reality. Perhaps this can lead to an awakening.


This perspective then needs to be broadened and employed with our everyday experience and not just in the cloistered environment of meditation. All that is happening in the “real world” should be viewed as sensations and thoughts simply arising in our awareness in a present moment that does not move in time. There is no time, only things entering, changing, and leaving in our awareness. From this perspective it is possible that we will begin to see that time is an illusion and our essence is pure awareness in which experiences are created. This may take a while, as lifelong mental habits of viewing everything occurring outside in time with us as simply an observer that is also moving along through time, has to be unlearned and replaced with the new perspective. For some this happens suddenly in a life altering opening termed an awakening experience. For others, it is a slow progressive change that is hardly noticeable, but move inexorably to the same point, awakening.


So, try looking relatively at your awareness and see where it leads.


“I had a sneaking suspicion that time was not constant, but I guess I could never prove it…. I even had a theory that time didn’t go in straight line at all…… I had the sneaking suspicion that everything had happened, was happening, or would happen was really happening all the time. There was no past, present, and future. Everything was going on all at once and forever. If that was true, then each moment was eternity.”  ― Mark A. Roeder


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


If a tree falls

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” ― George Berkeley


The Philosopher George Berkeley 300 years ago first posed this question for philosophical analysis. It has been discussed ever since. He posed it in a deep philosophical sense to discern if anything actually exists outside of the observer; that is whether anything exists without a perceiver. Buddhism asserts that there is nothing outside of awareness and that each individual is only pure awareness. So, Buddhism would definitely answer Berkeley’s question that there was no sound. On the other hand, materialism asserts that there is nothing but a physical world. So, a materialist would answer Berkeley’s question that the physical sound occurred regardless of whether someone was there to perceive it or not.


In one sense, sound requires a perceiver, as sound is a psychological experience. The tree falling creates pressure waves in the surrounding air, but these are mere vibrations in the atmosphere. It is only when you insert an observer are these oscillations in air pressure translated into something called a sound. Similarly, are leaves green without a perceiver. No, the experience of green is like a sound a psychological experience. Leaves reflect electromagnetic radiation of a particular frequency. It is only when you insert an observer are these light waves translated into something called green.


This answer, though, would probably have been very dissatisfying to Berkeley as it doesn’t address the deeper question that he was posing. Is there anything beyond experience? Are there physical things outside of ourselves that we are able to experience because of our senses or are things simply constructs occurring within experience without anything actually present outside?


Contemplative practices in general work to quiet the mind of internal chatter so that the individual attains a state of pure experience. Even when thoughts occur the practices involve simply letting the thought itself be simply another experience, letting it rise up and fall away like any other sensory experience. In essence when we are successful in a contemplative practice we have become pure real-time experiencers.


As a real-time experiencer, we hear the pure crash of the fallen tree and we see the pure green of the leaf. In truth, these experiences have no real outside analog. The experiences of sound and green are unique unto themselves and there is nothing physical like it. Just try to describe the sound to a person who was deaf from birth or the color to a person blind from birth. You will quickly note that there is no external referent that you can bring to these peoples’ attention that is even vaguely close to the experiences.


I personally, thoroughly enjoy observing wine connoisseurs attempting to describe the experience of drinking their favorite wine. A complex vocabulary has been developed but it is funny to listen to the struggle to transmit an experience that is only an internal experience to another who hasn’t themselves tasted the wine. “It’s insolent and spunky with overtones of smoke and blackberries with a satiny finish.”


So, what your experiencing in a deep contemplative state, or actually at all times, are completely unique to you as an experiencer, cannot be perceived by anyone else, and has no exact replica in a physical world. That would make you a perceiverless perceiver, an experiencer that cannot be itself experienced, a watcher that cannot be watched. It’s in essence the sound with no one there to hear it.


This does not happen without your awareness. There is nothing here except your awareness. It is what is doing the experiencing, perceiving, watching. So without awareness these things do not exist. There is no sound. There is no green. This in essence answers Berkley’s deeper question. There is nothing without awareness.


So, engage in contemplative practice and see what you truly are, pure awareness.


“Two monks were arguing about the temple flag waving in the wind. One said, “The flag moves.” The other said, “The wind moves.” They argued back and forth but could not agree.

The Sixth Ancestor said, “Gentlemen! It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves.” The two monks were struck with awe.” – The Mumonkan Case 29, translation by Robert Aitken


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies