There is an inner impulsion within the human being which is commonly interpreted as the engine that drives personal success, that earns credentials and accolades which result in magnificent acquisitions -- the external more, more, more of which there is never enough to satisfy. For even when we have succeeded in meeting many or most of our outer goals there remains an awareness of an illusive "something," an emptiness that is yet unfilled.
Is there any validity to this awareness? Is there something woven into the fundamental fabric of our being that urges us to seek fulfillment beyond the offerings of the external world? Affirmative evidence is offered by Andrew Newberg, M.D., in his book on brain science and the biology of belief, Why God Won't Go Away:
As Gene and I sifted through mountains of data on religious experience, ritual, and brain science, important pieces of the puzzle came together and meaningful patterns emerged. Gradually, we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very root, is intimately interwoven with human biology. That biology, in some way, compels the spiritual urge.
According to both ancient and contemporary spiritual traditions, there is a passageway into an extended awareness of our true nature, that aspect of ourselves that can be accessed when our preoccupations of the conscious mind are quieted. As we enter through this passageway, we lift the veil that hides the inner paradise in which we truly live, move, and have our being. India's great philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, aptly describes it this way: "The full delight of being is intrinsic, self-existent, automatic; it cannot be dependent on things outside itself. In the spiritual knowledge of self, the first step is the discovery of the soul, the secret entity, the divine element within us." From this wisdom we can conclude that there is no permanent or ultimate fulfillment from anything outside our essential Self, our soul-self. This leaves little wiggle room for us to postpone seeking out spiritual practices by which we may evolve an extended awareness of our at-onement with First Cause, which some call God, Brahma, Spirit, or no name at all.
Jill Bolte Taylor, a 37-year-old Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, experienced a massive stroke when a blood vessel exploded in the rational, time-oriented left side of her brain. Within a four-hour time span she lost the ability to walk, talk, read, or write. Her knowledge of how the brain works allowed her to recognize that she was having a stroke and seek immediate help. At the very outset of her eight-year recovery period, her consciousness shifted into the right brain where she experienced a state of nirvana, what she described as an extended awareness of herself being "at one with the Universe." Andrew Newberg explains this extended awareness: "various key brain structures and the way information is channeled along neural pathways leads us to hypothesize that the brain possesses a neurological mechanism for self-transcendence." The degree to which we activate this innate capacity to self-transcend, so do we cultivate an extended awareness of the Self.
As we progress in self-transcendence, the sense of separation or involvement with the personal mind expands into an awareness of the unique emanation that each of us is as an individualized expression of the One Mind that is everywhere in its fullness. That which is happening cosmically begins to happen through us locally. In such a state of awareness the plenitude, beauty, peace, joy, bliss, compassion -- these transcendent yet eminent qualities of being are activated within us. It is a process of awakening to our true nature which places us in harmony with the fundamental order of Existence. Modern Zen master Huang Po describes the ultimate state of being he calls One Mind in this way: "All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but One Mind, beside which nothing exists. Only awake to the One Mind." This One Mind is the very life force that animates and sustains existence, that is the evolutionary impulse within the universe and each individual.
The personal mind -- predominantly the left side of the brain -- wants to figure out how all of this happens. The "how" is a delay tactic of the ego so that our sense of being a separate self doesn't dissolve right on the spot! Self-transcendence is our birthright. Everything that we need is already within us, announcing itself through the inner impulsion to grow, develop and unfold. How do we cultivate an extended awareness of Self? First by an identity shift which acknowledges our at-onement with the One Mind. We then grow confidence in our capacity to become a fully enlightened being. As an enlightened being, we live from a state of cosmic consciousness, a conscious awareness of our oneness with all life.
When we consider current scientific studies of the brain relative to the field of quantum consciousness, the evolutionary possibilities for the individual and our global family are limitless. A genuine state of cosmic awareness expressing through an individual or a whole nation is distinguishable as scientific knowledge of life, life lived in attunement with cosmic laws. Living from such a state of consciousness holds the potential for governing our world by super-wisdom which results in cooperation rather than competition; in unity rather than division, in oneness rather than separation.
An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality.