Brainwave Entrainment And Atma Vichara: By Bob Graham
In thinking about what meditation is and does, I have been remembering some of my earlier research into brainwave activity.
A picture of a brain cell, or neuron, shows a cell with long tails, called dendrites. On the dendrite are synapses or connecting points for transferring electrical current to a synapses on another cell. Some neurons have a lot of synapses clusters, meaning they can connect with a lot of other cells. Some tails are very long and can weave through the other cells making connections in a complex way. This produces a practically limitless potential for storage and retreival.
A brainwave is millions of neurons firing in tandem. The clusters of cells that fire, alters, depending on the function: logic, memory, meditation, etc.
The different frequencies of firing are referred to as alpha, beta, theta and delta waves (and are detected in electroencephalogram, EEG, measurements; ed. See also this page for more information on the EEG frequencies).
Frequency is how long the electrical pulse lasts, that is how many pulses per second. Beta is the highest frequency and occurs during waking activities ranging from ordinary thought to panic.
Alpha waves have a longer duration, during sleep, they often lead to theta waves, who have an even longer duration, and then to delta, which is deep sleep where very slow firing occurs.
Beta is ordinary thought and body consciousness. Theta is creative and reaches those clusters of braincells that ordinary beta is ignoring in its zeal to produce and act. Alpha is between the two and has been described as a bridge between them.
Alpha is the target for meditation. For me Alpha is the feeling of love or centeredness. Connectedness. If it lasts more than a few seconds, I am meditating. But descriptions are useless, one must know what it is and not what it is like.
From alpha, the sky is the limit.
High beta can be a challenge to deal with and slow it down. That seems to be the area of competition for various meditation techniques. One may be better than another depending on well discussed variables.
The Delta brainwave, or sleep, falls below the frequency required to maintain the ego. In this it is similar to Nirbija (objectless) Samadhi except that graphs showing the relative proportions of brainwave activities depict the alpha and theta brainwaves to be dominant, and beta and delta to be absent in Nirbija Samadhi.
This is based on my interpretation of the books “The High Performance Mind” by Anna Wise, “Megabrain” by Michael Hutchison, “The Dragons of Eden” by Carl Sagan, and my experiments with Brainwave Entrainment for several years. There is a lot in the Carl Sagan book about the structure of the brain and its evolution. The technical medical descriptions are in the Hutchison book along with advice on various BEM devices. The research on meditators brainwaves is in the Wise book.
The Brainwave Entrainment Machine (BEM) that I used was the “David Paradise” and I bought it through Comptronics in Canada. They have a website and they explain the particulars very well.
The machine allows one to have a brainwave entrained in 15 or 20 minutes that lasts quite a while. There are many variables, for instance, the right hemisphere can be made to be highly active and the left can be entrained to theta. I found this one to be a little spooky with spatial relations becoming much more apparent.
I mostly used the BEM to get into a better frame of mind to paint, because I am an artist by profession. Deadlines and schedules had to be met but appointments and sales and bookkeeping ‘over beta-ized’ me on some days. I would punch in one of the alpha programs to get back the ability to concentrate properly. That is how I started on it.
I really enjoyed turning people on to it. I would set them down and program a roller coaster ride for them. Some would take off the headphones and eyepiece because it was a little too much. Epilectics can’t do it. There is a label right on the eyepiece as a warning. There is also a hook-up for getting as many as six people entrained at the same time to the same program.
The mind mirror is the device Anna Wise uses to measure the proportions of brainwaves in people as a diagnostic to see if you are on the right track and help you guide yourself to a deeper state. She has a website also and takes customers.
I learned a lot from the Brain Wave Entrainment Machine: about how the brainwaves feel, how to get to them without the machine, and that the proportion of beta to alpha has a lot to do with how aware you are in meditation. Lowering the Beta produces fewer distracting thoughts.
What was really interesting to me was how the BEM stopped working on me after I started the Self Inquiry method of Ramana Maharshi.
I had done different forms of meditation for many years and I spent a lot of time learning breath control. From “Yoga Sutra” by Patanjali, I wrote down the stages one can expect as one goes into deeper and deeper meditation. It was a sort of to do list.
The breath control was difficult. You achieve asana then slow the breath. There is retention of the breath after intake and outbreath for half the time of the breath. Each full breath is one. Count the breaths to ten. Then start over and count the breaths to ten again. Do this ten times and don’t lose track of the count.
It takes from about twenty minutes to more than an hour depending on how slow you take the breaths. Vivekananda says that this should be undertaken with the supervision of a Guru.
With the depletion of oxygen the beta activity slows but the will keeps the awareness active with the requirement to keep track of how many sets you have performed. Needless to say it takes practice. With success at Pranayama, or breath control, the breathing and retention become effortless, ushering one into the next level of contemplation. From there to Dhyana and with grace to Samadhi.
There were other elements. I lived under the mountain in the high southwest, Taos. The principle of ahimasa, harmlessness, and the other elements of Ashtanga Yoga were followed.
The diet was only cereals, milk, and fruit with a few veggies. The sleep was curtailed to four hours. I painted and hiked during the days and wrote at night. This was about three months. The machine still worked on me and I used it a few times, mainly to wake up and get the Beta going when I needed it.
At this time, I read again the works of Ramana Maharshi. I tried his upadesa or spiritual instruction, of asking oneself, ‘Who am I’, which is called ‘atma vichara’, self inquiry. Instant success. Discrimination between the Self and Sattva (in this instance, the mind). Discrimination between what is real and what is not. I discarded the breath control and went totally with self inquiry. Ramana said it was above all other techniques and I believe it.
When I tried to plug into the machine again it didn’t affect me. After several attempts to use it I put it aside. It could not penetrate the awareness of the moment. What I assume happened is that the self inquiry produced a stable brainwave proportion that resisted intrusion. Nothing could entice me away from what I had found.
I know that Atma Vichara has been very good for me personally. I had actually had the opportunity to learn this many years before and did not take it. I had picked up a lovely book of the complete works of Ramana when I was in India in 1972. It was the only book I bought there. I picked it at random from a small bookstore at the circle in New Delhi. I did not get into it except to read it. I entirely missed the point. I was not ready.
So today I call the current that resides as the heart of all, “Ramana”, and I am that. I guess it is just giving the one identity a name, but it is a name that opens my heart.
The image is taken by Sumida in 2002, at Samui Island (Koh Samui) in Thailand.