Here is how Dr. Alexander remembers what he experienced when he went into coma: “Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity. I didn’t have a body, not one I was aware of anyway. When I was there, I felt like I (whoever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.”
Later on, he got to a place he calls “The Core,” where things were even more infinite and less separate. “Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place…it seemed you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it, without joining it in some way…Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else.”
Alexander was not in his right brain, as shown by EEG records. He may have been in some other part of his brain, or perhaps somewhere else. He doesn’t know.
Despite its title, his book doesn’t constitute “proof” of anything. It’s just one person’s story, but it’s certainly suggestive. How similar his story sounds to what Taylor says, and what experienced meditators say about their perception of the world! How can we say that our limited, left prefrontal cortex view of the world is the only correct view, and all these personal testimonies are false?
Brain Injury Not Necessary
If one had to have a stroke or nearly die to visit Nirvana, few people could get there in this lifetime. Fortunately, it turns out there are several other ways. One way is orgasm. Unfortunately for me, it seems to work much better for women.
In her book Vagina, A New Biography, Naomi Wolf reports science on what happens in profound female orgasms. “Regions of the female brain having to do with self-awareness, inhibition and self-regulation go quiet for women during orgasm,” she writes. “This can feel to the woman involved like a melting of boundaries, a loss of self, and a loss of control…connecting, even if just for a few moments, with experiences of a “divine,” or greater self.”
Based on her interviews with hundreds of women, and on reported science, Wolf writes that “Heightened sexual sensibility leads to a woman’s awareness that she is in a state of a kind of perfection, in harmony with the world.” According to Wolf; women often find themselves enjoying increased creativity, self-confidence and sense of connection after profound orgasm.
One point worth noting about orgasm is that many of the brain centers that light up during orgasm and take some women to Nirvana are not in either side of the cortex. They’re in the midbrain, a lower, older area that all mammals also have. To me, that implies that not all consciousness comes from the thinking brain at all. Some of it is far deeper, which might explain Dr. Alexander’s trip to Heaven while his cortex was shut down.
One striking thing about Taylor’s story and Wolf’s research is how closely they reflect what Buddhism says about the mind and the world. Buddhists refer to the practical world we live in as “the world of birth and death” and say the deeper reality is timeless, beyond birth and death.
Buddhists say there is the every-day mind, focused on the practical world, which recognizes good and bad, right and wrong, and makes all kinds of distinctions. And there is the deeper mind, which sees the unity and timelessness of everything. Apparently, the right brain is part of the deeper mind, ours to explore if we can.
Some scientists might actually agree. Quantum physics seems kind of left-brained to me, but quantum physicists have right-brain things to say about reality. Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France, says “It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time — that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.” Timelessness is one of the prime aspects reported in all people’s stories of visiting Nirvana.
Other quantum physicists say that, on the subatomic level, every particle really is connected to every other particle, which certainly resonates with the Buddhist conception of a deeper reality where we are all connected.
Skeptical physicists disagree, saying all those subatomic quantum effects cancel each other out and don’t affect what goes on in our physical reality. I doubt these doubters. Aren’t we and the whole world made of atoms? How can the visible world have nothing whatever to do with the atomic world?
So Buddhists, Taoists, and many quantum physicists agree there are two worlds combined in this one reality. There is the “world of birth and death,” where everything changes and everything is separate, and the deeper reality in which everything is connected and timeless. (Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle calls these the “manifested” and “unmanifested” worlds. Lao-Tzu, founder of Taoism called them the “named” and the “unnamed.”) And it seems our two minds, the “discriminating mind and the pure mind” might correspond to the left and right (or deeper levels) brain, each reflecting a different level of reality.
If we live totally in the right brain – no judgment, no separation, no past or future, only intense joy and peace, we obviously wouldn’t last long in technological human society. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have access to both minds and move between them freely?