If you're interested in knowing what's going on with your brain (from the most basic perspective) I wrote this to let your brain know how special it is.
Mingyur Rinpoche, one of the new generation of Tibetan Buddhist Masters said, “Science and meditation teachings are exactly parallel, but they don’t speak the same language.”
I love that. It makes complete sense. A daily meditation practice both soothes and awakens your brain’s highest potential.
Well, because I'm a psychotherapist who's brought through sacred messaging in a meditation format for decades, I broke down the actual brain process into 5 stages because the left side of your brain loves to have it organized and structured.
It’s easier to wrap your mind around the understanding of something if it’s divided up into more manageable brain bites.
In this case, your left brain wants to understand what’s going on when it expands in consciousness so it can allow it. It wants measurable results, and until it gets it, well, it’s the bottleneck, so it will slow it all down. Or stop it.
So let’s give it what it needs.
The First Stage
When you sit down with a committed intention to get into an expanded state of mind, you light up the frontal cortex. That's the part of the brain behind your forehead.
When it’s lit up, it engages your limbic system, which is really just a system of nerves and networks in the brain that controls your basic emotions and drives.
So when you sit down with your intention, the emotions get involved, and you begin to have positive feelings.
Great start. The best, actually.
The Second Stage
You are actually built to handle stress. Just not chronic (ongoing) stress. And, of course, it’s very difficult to be mindful and focus on an expansive mind process when you’re stressed.
Stress activates the monkey-mind tendencies inside, which is all part of the flight or fight system. The monkey mind is the chatty mind, the go-go-go mind.
This stress is connected to your sympathetic nervous system, and it’s here that you have the real power: you can calm down your sympathetic nervous system simply through consciously exhaling.
That’s the magic. That’s the trick. Half a dozen long, slow, easy, not forced exhales, and your brain is then soothed, and you feel more balanced.
The Third Stage
It’s very important to feel safe in life, and an internal expanded mind practice is the best place to practice this feeling.
For the most part, we overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources for dealing with threats. Unfortunately. That’s why we often don’t feel very safe.
But you can feel safer than you normally do. You can feel less guarded, less braced, and more confident in your ability to meet life.
And you can practice this in your expanded mind.
Think of this practice as rehearsing for life. You can easily cultivate this sense of safety in your expansive mind which will help you to be present and conscious in your outer world.
After all, you cannot be internally self-aware if you are continually scanning for threats (worries, fears, mistrusts) and increasing your external vigilance.
The Fourth Stage
Not that it’s a given, but you typically experience a sense of well-being in an expansive mind state. It’s a necessary feeling we all need in life, and of course, you want to continue to experience this as you go about your day.
Maintaining your focus on a sense of well-being requires holding it in your working memory, which is a kind of gate that is either open or closed.
When it’s closed, the content of your working memory (a well-being feeling, for example) stays there. That means you’ll experience a steady mind with a grounded or centred feeling, which makes you able to stay with whatever you want to pay attention to.
This working memory gate will continue to stay closed because of a steady drop of the brain transmitter, dopamine.
But the gate pops open when you get distracted, when you allow yourself to become guarded, or anything that sends the signal to the brain that you are no longer in an expanded mind state, no longer in that expanded receptive state.
Isn’t that amazing? Reread that again. You’ll see what I mean.
What it boils down to is that staying in the expansive mind state increases your memory of feeling, which ripples out into your life. So, all that feel good, well-being, grounded, anchored, steady feeling lasts longer and longer in the rest of your life.
The Fifth Stage
It gets even better.
An expansive mind state can also give you a glorious feeling of boundless space: a feeling of weightlessness, limitlessness, timelessness, and expansion.
This feeling activates the networks on the side of your head which are associated with mindful, open, and spacious awareness. So this practice actually redirects you out of the typical mind state in the middle of the brain.
Of course, it’s important to function from the middle of the brain most of the time. That’s where all the busy planning, thinking about the past, using language, etc. is going on - and always with a strong sense of self or ego.
It’s just that you probably overemphasize the activities in your midline sections, and therefore get a strong buildup in those regions. It’s very common. We all do it. Our society cultivates these regions more. But it takes training and practice to activate the expansive lateral networks.
Now, you can do this through trusting in the process and flow of life. You can do this by practicing non-attachment. And to assist your daily behaviours, you can practice all this in accessing expanded states of mind. Remember, this is a rehearsal for life.
In an expansive mind state, you can cultivate a sense of boundless awareness, of expansive bliss. You can obtain and experience a bird’s-eye, panoramic view and sense of the world, your life, and all things in it.
In its wholeness, your practice stimulates a mindful attention called neural substrates - but don’t worry about that term. I’m just trying to inject science into the internal experience.
But this is fascinating - with an ongoing practice, you build up the substrates of compassion, self-esteem, resilience, insight, and deep concentration. These build-ups actually make your brain thicker! Crazy, huh? It builds synapses, synaptic networks, and layers of capillaries.
The pre-frontal cortex (the brain area behind the forehead) is the part of your brain that is involved in deliberately paying attention to something. Think of it as the executive control of attention and concentration. Through a practice of accessing expanded states of mind, it gets thicker, too.
And, when you’re scanning your internal sense of your body and becoming aware of your higher feelings of other people (think of this as advanced empathy and self-awareness), you are causing the insula part of your brain to become thicker as well.
Okay, that’s enough for now. Or maybe forever. I wanted your brain to accept what’s going on within you. I didn’t want to overwhelm it.
So to be briefer now and bring it all together, think of this as the 5 stages of expansion, as approved and understood by the brain:
- Bring your awareness and focus on what you’re doing. (accessing expanded states of mind)
- Soften your thinking and your body by exhaling longer than your inhales.
- Drop your guard by allowing yourself to feel as safe as you reasonably can.
- Using your senses, open to the simple feelings of well-being.
- Become aware of the unlimited, expansive space.
Do this to soothe and awaken your brain’s highest potential. To prepare to receive sacred messages. This is your brain in an expansive state of consciousness.