Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How The Mind Responds: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Transcendental Meditation. Ian Stewart

The article ‘Zen and the Art of Genius’, describes how scientists are experimenting with a new technology, reminiscent of what was once known as electric shock treatment. Called transcranial direct current stimulation (or tDCS), they are concentrating on trying to produce what they describe as a ‘flow’ in the mind, which enables subjects to improve their capacity to learn new skills in half the time. They say that it usually takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a field, whether it be a golfer or a chess player. The term ‘flow’ is used to describe the ability to perform an action effortlessly.

They define it as:

a) ‘An intense and focused absorption that makes you lose all sense of time’;
b) Something called autolicity: ‘the sense that the activity you are engaged in is rewarding for its own sake’; 
c) ‘Finding the ‘sweet spot’, a feeling that your skills are perfectly matched to the task at hand’ – and, importantly, ‘leaving you neither frustrated nor bored’.

The scientists involved talk of being able to ‘silence self critical thoughts’ and allow more ‘automatic processes to take hold, which would in turn produce that effortless feeling of flow’.

The article caught my eye as it reminded me of the experiments performed by scientists researching the transcendental meditation (TM) technique, who have measured the brainwave activity of subjects practising the technique and have underlined the teaching of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught of the effortless way that the mind responds when practising TM. He has characterised in his Science of Creative Intelligence the way that the mind is able to harness the laws of nature that govern the universe on the individual level by the increasing ‘charm’ the mind experiences during TM; this effortless flow is due to the experience of pure consciousness. In TM, the technique uses a mantra, which is a pleasing sounding vehicle that takes the mind to infinity, leading to more subtle forms of thought. Our thoughts are like bubbles at the bottom of an ocean, and the stress in our nervous system brought about by everyday worries and woes prevent us from experiencing our thoughts in their full purity. 

The ocean is our consciousness, and meditation allows for the subconscious to become a part of the conscious mind, which at the same time provides a deep rest for the body. Experiments have shown that TM triggers certain unique brain activity. In his science, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi refers to the process of ‘skill in action’, where the mind is able to do less and accomplish more, as actions become more effortless and we become more attuned to the laws of nature and thus more efficient in our actions.

I know the practice of TM and how it’s helped me, and feel perhaps the tDCS scientists could deepen their studies by practicing TM, and I hope to see it in future studies. 

Article ‘Zen and the Art of Genius’ 
from the New Scientist (4 Feb 2012)

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