— The Healthy Brain and Enlightenment

In the East, enlightenment has traditionally been associated with qualities such as generosity, compassion, peaceful acceptance, and an experience of oneness with all creation. In the fiercely individualistic West, our rather vague notion of enlightenment suggests an acceptance of the world as it is, or of discovering how we can change it for the better. It also implies the common longing for novelty, exploration, and creativity, as personified by the explorers who venture into space.

If we take the Eastern qualities of enlightenment out of their religious context and place them in the realm of biological science, we find that they are attributes associated with the activation of the prefrontal cortex — the newest part of the human brain. On functional MRI scans, people who meditate regularly are shown to have developed brains that are wired differently than the brains of people who don’t meditate. They are better able to remain calm and stress-free, live in peace, and practice compassion. Curiously, their prefrontal cortex is the most active region in their brain during the states they describe as samadhi, or enlightenment.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes enlightenment as “a state of freedom not only from the counterproductive emotions that drive the process of cyclic existence, but also from the predispositions established in the mind by those afflictive emotions.”

Generosity and compassion arise only when the prefrontal cortex is able to throttle back the more prehistoric regions of the brain. Yet, for the prefrontal cortex to create functional pathways for joy and peace, the entire body and brain need to be healthy, fed with the proper nutrients, and trained with an inner discipline. In other words, we must heal our bodies and minds to empower the prefrontal cortex, which is biologically programmable for bliss, extraordinary longevity, peace, and regeneration. For too long, this new brain region has been kept offline, silenced by the same forces — scarcity, violence, and trauma — from which it promises to deliver us.

Once this region in the brain is brought online, brain synergy is possible. Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Brain synergy signifies a neurocomputer whose circuits are all turned on, tuned in, and operating collaboratively, each region attending to its functions — much as the heart attends to circulating blood while the lungs attend to respiration — creating a system that cannot be defined or even described by its component parts.

People in the East say the path to brain synergy is through the practice of meditation. Shamans use the term clear perception. In yoga, it is called samadhi, the highest stage of meditation — oneness with the universe. Regardless of the term used to describe the process, the challenge is to dis-identify with your limited sense of self that was created by destructive emotions.

You can learn more about healing your body and brain in order to achieve extraordinary states of health and enlightenment in my books Power Up Your Brain (with Dr. David Perlmutter) and One Spirit Medicine.