‘Your Brain Is a River, Not a Rock’

Sister Alma Rose Meditates for World Peace: Notes from Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain

‘Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me….’

Presented at Emerson College, October 1, 2005

It’s hard to have world peace without individuals at peace. —Dr. Hagelin


DL: “There’s an ocean of pure vibrant consciousness inside each one of us. It’s right at the base source and base of mind, right at the source of thought, and also at the source of all matter.”

Transcendental Meditation, as developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is “a simple, easy, effortless technique, yet supremely profound, that allows any human being to dive within, experiencing subtler levels of mind and intelligence [and to] experience this ocean of pure consciousness… called by modern physics the unified field. It is at the base of all mind and all matter. Modern science says that all of matter, everything that is a thing emerges from this field” whose qualities include bliss, intelligence, creativity, universal love, energy, and peace.

Meditation evokes “a flowing creativity, beautiful consciousness; intuition grows; this is a field of pure knowingness…. You dive in there, you sort of just know how to go, it’s like an ocean of solutions.”

Ultimately “the enjoyment of life grows—huge…. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s us. In Vedic science this form of pure consciousness is called achma, [and it means] ‘the self,’ the self of us all…. At that level, we are all one.”
There are many forms of meditation, but with TM, “the key is the word transcend….When you’re in it you know you’re in it, it’s familiar but it’s you.” It’s not “like a goofball happiness; it’s a thick beauty to appreciate life and living.” TM had an effect on his work “right from the very beginning.” Lynch quickly felt his anxiety and fears lifting. 

JH: The experience of unity beneath life’s surface diversity is a part of every spiritual tradition on earth. Modern science has probed deeply into physical reality and has confirmed a fundamental unity at the basis of life’s surface diversity.

The universe is superficially complex, but fundamentally simple… superficially diverse, but fundamentally unified.

At all scales, universal to subatomic, we ultimately arrive at a field of indivisible wholeness… a fountainhead from which flow all particles, all forces. These are now understood to be various vibrational states of a universal field of existence which contains infinite energy, infinite density, infinite dynamism. It is the origin of universes and it percolates universes. Most are duds but some are populated by galaxies and stars and presumably people…. It is a huge reality, this ocean of existence, the field of unity at the basis of life’s diversity.

Maharishi University of Management

Diving into this field is an age-old experience of life and a prized experience in every major tradition on earth. Today, unbounded awareness of the source of thought is an object of intense scientific study.

The meditative state is now known to be a fourth major state of consciousness distinct from waking, sleeping, and dreaming. Its hallmark is coherence.

If you were to look at your own electroencephalogram, all the areas of mind and personality would appear chaotic, uncoordinated, like an orchestra warming up before the emergence of the conductor. It is the conductor who makes the cacophony turn into flowing music. That type of unity is the signature of the meditating mind… of the mind having a holistic experience.

This is “an educational discovery of great magnitude” because of the implications for learning. Orderliness of brain function (realization of unbounded awareness within) can be systematically taught to students of any age, resulting in improved memory, psychological stability, greater alertness, quicker reaction time. It was once believed that intelligence peaks at age 16, and that gray matter begins to decline thereafter. Recent science shows that the brain has the capability of developing throughout life.

Put meditation into education and watch students of any age grow in every way. Meditation is a missing element in education.

The field of pure consciousness is not foreign to us. It is our subjectivity, our consciousness left alone for a moment to experience its own nature. The structure of waking experience is always a process of awareness of something, in contrast to the nature of the knower, which is unbounded, blissful. From the time the alarm clock sounds in the morning, we have one experience after the other at the expense of the experiencer. Pure consciousness is the one thing in our lives that never changes, that has not changed since infancy, that allows us to believe that we are as we have always been, though everything else changes. Pure consciousness, self-realization, liberation, enlightenment, bring peace and contentment. Pure consciousness is the most fundamental of experiences. That’s what meditation is for, and why its been practiced throughout the ages.

Education focuses human comprehension very sharply. We become proficient at what we’re doing… but with advanced education, at the doctoral level, for example, “we start to learn more and more on less and less.” Specialization isn’t the evil; the problem is the lack of a few moments and a little training to allow the attention to withdraw from those narrow confines of perception and return to its own nature, the nonchanging, invincible core of yourself.

The experience of the brain coming into coherence and unity and coordination, which TM produces, is extraordinary. There are other practices that lead to this type of brain activity, but none as well or as quickly (about four months) as TM. Once the brain begins to function this way habitually, the experience of unbounded awareness becomes more stable, regardless of what’s happening; the sense of invincibility and strength remains.


FT: The unified field at the basis of our thought and behavior… has concrete reality in the functioning of our brain. Each experience we have changes the brain, and vice versa … creating a cascade of electrical activity. “Your brain is a river, it’s not a rock.” Seventy percent of the connections between the brain cells change every day.

You have 100 billion neurons in your brain. Each gets input from 10,000 other neurons every second. That’s the life of your brain cells. They constantly change and lose connections.

The brain is incredibly plastic. If you’re learning to play golf, practicing creates specific networks; the more you practice consistently, the stronger these networks become.

All experiences change the brain. Learning a fact changes the brain, but the other experiences that go alongside learning change the brain too, including stress and fatigue.

Stress and fatigue overload causes downshifting, Your brain shifts down to a more primitive style of functioning—stimulus-response mode—where the stimulus communicates directly with the back of brain, not the front, which is the “CEO of the brain.”

[Displayed a brain metabolic rate picture] This brain pictured (that of a criminal) looks like Swiss cheese. The “holes” are parts of the brain not functioning. With excessive drinking, high emotional and physical stress, the brain constantly changes.

Meditation directly exercises the frontal (CEO) area, and connects it with the other parts of the brain.

Brain-wave images: Top, alpha waves; below, beta waves

[The program featured a volunteer, Shane, who had been meditating for many years. Sensors were attached to the front and the back of his head and projected onto a screen the audience could see. Initially, before he began meditating, his frontal brain area was in a state of beta activity, 20 cycles per second, with many parts of the brain working quickly but not coordinated. The back of the brain was functioning rhythmically in a state of alpha activity.

[It is the back of the brain that processes visual stimuli. “Everything you see goes to the back of the brain…. When you close your eyes, that part of the brain can rest.”

[When Shane closed his eyes there was immediately alpha activity in the front, which occurs only in someone who has been meditating for a long time. Normally the “CEO” is always working, even when your eyes are closed. During meditation, you will see alpha activity in the front of the brain as well.

[After Shane had been meditating for a few minutes, “What you see here is quite remarkable… very high-amplitude alpha activity in the front of the brain… coordinated with the back of the brain… the whole brain coming into sync” almost immediately.]

Unity of brain function is the brain state that happens when you meditate. With TM practice, the part of the brain that is always in a state of fast activity can be restful and alert. The whole brain can be functioning as one. Since you’re constantly creating and recreating your brain, you can create a new type of circuit.


“Bliss, they say, is the sweetest nectar of life…. It’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual happiness, and you can vibrate with this bliss, and it’s this happiness from within.”


Why Meditate? The Beautiful Benefits of Meditation

Blackeyed Susans along a Nebraska Road
Meditation is – can be – so many things. There are meditations to relax you or to energize you; meditations for visualization and manifestation; meditations to empty your mind or to focus it. The more entrepreneurial among us have made meditation a commodity designed to cure the ills of a selected audience, which is a nice way of saying that some meditation resources are sham.

Meditation, at its most basic, is resting the mind. Most of us garden-variety meditators can’t empty the mind completely, but we can, at least for a few minutes, give it a respite.

Everybody has problems. The mind is usually engaged in solving those problems, and the problem-solving process often entails stress, anxiety, regret, maybe some guilt, maybe even depression and hopelessness if we lack the resources we believe will solve the problems: health, energy, money, ideas, courage, influence, whatever.

Stress, anxiety, regret, guilt, and depression weigh on us. They sap our energy and cloud our thinking, becoming fuel for more stress, anxiety, regret, and so forth. They are colloquially and aptly called “baggage.”

Nebraska Sunset; Geese flying north over Lake McConaughy


Meditation sets the baggage aside

In 1976, my daughter, Marian, and I were rushing through Washington’s Union Station, hurrying to catch the Broadway Limited, which was departing early. We were loaded down with suitcases and Christmas presents for our visit to our family in Omaha.

Marian was eight years old and was carrying everything she could manage, but I had the heavy stuff, both arms straining until I had to stop and give my muscles a break. After thirty seconds or so, I could pick the bags and packages up again and forge ahead, and then my arms would insist on being rested again. My arms were very vocal about it, and they refused to accommodate me until I let them have their little reprieve.

Our psyches don’t complain as clearly as our muscles. Headaches, backaches, stomach aches we can ignore or medicate. But if we keep going on overload, mentally or emotionally, something’s gotta give.

Meditation, like restful sleep, is a way of setting the baggage aside and giving our psyches a break. During the time we’re meditating, there’s no past to regret; there’s no future to worry about; there’s only now, and right now, everything is all right.

There’s no such thing as meditating badly

The only “bad meditation” is one that carries unrealistic expectations, so don’t go out and buy a “meditation kit,” CD, or book that promises wealth, romance, or power. Meditation is good for you—for body, mind, and spirit; for relationships and work and problem-solving and achieving your goals. But your life won’t change overnight, and anyway, expectations are about the future, and meditation is about this moment.

If you’re new to meditation, you may find it difficult at first to interrupt your churning thoughts, but there are some excellent and simple techniques to deal with them. For now, I’ll just give you three axioms to hold on to:

1.      The intention to meditate is a giant step in the right direction.

2.      Thirty seconds of meditation is better than no meditation at all.

3.      It’s not how often your mind wanders that’s important, it’s how many times you return to the meditation, gently and without beating yourself up. It is, as Jack Kornfield says, like training a puppy. You don’t yell or scold; you just keep at it, patiently and compassionately.

When I worked at the University of Arizona, our department invited one of the trainers from the wellness center to give a presentation on “becoming fit.” The presentation was excellent and inspiring. It was especially motivational for me because the presenter emphasized “starting where you are.” If you want to walk or run on a treadmill, she said, and you can only manage two minutes, do the two minutes.


I had recently had a baby, and I wanted to start riding my bicycle to work—a five-mile journey that sloped gently uphill most of the way. So for a few days I rode my bike around the neighborhood, which was very flat. One morning I decided that I’d start for work on my bicycle, ride as far as I could manage, then lock the bike to a lamppost or something and take the bus the rest of the way. To my surprise, the five-mile trip was relatively easy and I locked my bike to the bike rack outside the Administration Building. My legs were spaghetti, but I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment, coupled with the knowledge that the trip home would be all downhill.

So just start. Begin with thirty seconds. Try to add a little time each day. Be patient. Don’t scold yourself if you miss a day, or a week. One of the purposes of meditation is to learn compassion for yourself and, by extension, for others.

The benefits of meditation

The potential benefits are almost too numerous to mention, and to some extent they depend on what form of meditation you adopt. But – again, we’re talking about very basic meditation here – a regular meditation practice can significantly reduce the negative effects of stress, including heart rate and blood pressure. It can be a vacation from emotional turmoil, and you can learn to make that “vacation” into a way of life, making the attitudes you cultivate during meditation into a habitual way of being.

Meditation cultivates compassion, the ability to love, and acceptance: of yourself, of other people, of your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever try to change your circumstances. Acceptance doesn’t mean rolling over. But through meditation you can learn to be at peace wherever you are even when you’d rather be somewhere else.

It might seem paradoxical, but through meditation you can become both (a) your best self, genuine, unique, distinctive, and (b) in harmony with your environment, however you define it: your family, your friends, your colleagues, your home, your neighborhood, trees, buildings, stars, the universe. You can, at the same time, know your limitations and continually test them.

There are “nonreligious” forms of meditation, but I believe that meditation is intrinsically spiritual. It requires a leap of faith to part with your ego, and that is exactly what meditation requires. Whether you’re practicing Christian meditation, Jewish meditation (Kabbalah, perhaps), Sufi meditation, Buddhist meditation, Transcendental Meditation, or the Meditation of Not Being in a Plummeting Aircraft, the movement is always out of Matter into Spirit. For me, in any case, meditation is communion with the Divine.

Find hours of music for meditation and relaxation, nature sounds, meditation instruction, and other meditation resources at Zero Gravity’s website, www.LifeIsPoetry.net