Research suggests that more time on the meditation cushion means more everyday enlightenment when you get off it.
The fact that we can achieve an enlightened state of mind during meditation is nothing new. During the 1970s, researchers found that meditation produces a fourth state of consciousness—one different from waking, sleeping, and dreaming. But maintaining a relaxed, blissful state while pounding away at a computer or sitting in heavy traffic? According to researchers at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, you can reach a state of near-constant bliss given enough meditation practice.
To prove that we can achieve continuous enlightenment, researchers from Maharishi first had to define it. To do so, they examined ancient Vedic texts, which described it as a consistent, silent, uninvolved inner awareness. Then they recruited participants and interviewed them extensively about their meditation practice. Depending on how each individual answered the questions, they were put into one of three groups. In the first group, researchers placed participants who seemed to meet the criteria for continual enlightenment as defined by the Vedic texts. The second group included those people who reported having achieved a blissful state only while meditating and not during daily life. A third group consisted of those who had never before meditated.
During the first of several experiments, researchers asked the two meditation groups—both of which practiced Transcendental Meditation—to meditate and then measured their brain waves. No surprises there; all the subjects entered a relaxed state of consciousness, exhibited by increased alpha waves in their frontal lobes. Then, in a nonmeditative state, participants from each group saw one number flash on a computer screen in front of them, followed 1.5 seconds later by another number. They then indicated the larger number by pressing one of two buttons. During the short pause between numbers, those who had never before experienced a continuous relaxed state exhibited a pattern of brain waves that indicated agitation. When interviewed later, those participants admitted they were anticipating their next move, thinking thoughts such as, "Will I get it right?"
However, those who had previously reported experiencing continuous enlightenment exhibited more brain-wave activity in their frontal cortices, which indicated a continuous, relaxed mental state. When asked afterward, those participants said that their minds had remained calm, blissful, and still during the entire test.
"After a period of meditation, practitioners usually return to a waking state and their brain resumes how it normally functions during a waking state," explains Frederick Travis, dean of Maharishi University's graduate college and director of its EEG, Consciousness, and Cognition Lab. "However, this suggests that when you practice meditation regularly, you can maintain that feeling of wholeness and integrate it into your life. Your sensation of transcendence grows day by day."
So how long must you practice meditation before you experience continuous enlightenment? Study participants say anywhere from seven to 30 years.
About our author
Alisa Bauman lives and writes in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, where she is studying for yoga teacher certification under Mary Rosenberger at Accent on Yoga and Health.