Saturday, March 19, 2005

towards the light

I've had a mind machine for years. I bought one years ago when I was feeling flush with cash thinking it would be a short cut into higher states of consciousness, it wasn't and I found all I really got were flashing lights in the eyes, humming sounds in the ears and bugger all else. So I stopped using it, feeling vaguely disappointed and slightly cheated, vowing never again to fall for the sensationalist guff of new age marketing.

A few months ago though I decided that now, having actually taken the time to practice meditation, I'd give it another go so I dusted off the little black box and plugged myself in. The results? Well this is still a work in progress but there's a definite improvement on the last time. Still no alien visitations or jaw dropping vision quests but I've felt a definite improvement in my meditation (either during a session or directly after) , both in the quickness I enter a relaxed and receptive state and the intensity of the experience.

With this new found enthusiasm for my mind machine I thought I'd do a bit more research into how it works and my experiences of it so far (which yes I probably should have done when I bought it originally but hey better late than never) both for my own personal reference and as an excuse for something to write here. So here it is, Mind Machine's for dummy's.

What are they?

In the 1940's a researcher by the name of Gray Walter discovered that if you flash lights at a certain frequency onto a subjects closed eyelids then their brainwaves appear to synch with the frequency of the flashing lights.

Brion Gysin (one of Aldous Huxley's contemporaries) after reading of this research devised a 'Dream Machine which consisted (in true Blue Peter style) of a cardboard tube, with strategic holes cut in it, placed over a light bulb mounted on a turntable. Modern Mind Machines are simply more sophisticated versions of these cut and paste constructions, they use LED's mounted on the back of goggles or glasses which flash lights of varying frequency directly onto the eyelids. Sound is also used in conjunction with the lights in the form of binaural beats to augment the effects on the brain. Binaural beats are sounds at slightly different frequencies played in each ear, when the brain sorts out the information it 'hears' the difference. For instance if one ear hears 440hz and the other 430hz then the brain hears the difference of 10hz (a frequency normally imperceptible to the human ear).

What does it do?

Well according to the theory, the combination of the sound and lights causes the frequency of the brain waves to synch with those of the input, so if the brain is receiving sound and light at 10hz then the brain wave patterns will mimic that frequency.

OK you're probably thinking what good is that? Well there are 4 recognised states of brain activity distinguished from each other by different frequencies of electrical pulses, these are:

  • Beta or normally waking consciousness characterised by brain activity in the 14 - 30hz range
  • Alpha is seen as a relaxed but alert state, and has a frequency of 8 - 13hz
  • Theta is linked to lucid dreaming states and the borderline of sleep with a frequency of 4 - 7hz
  • Delta is the last and is associated with actually sleep and has a frequency range of 0.5 - 3hz
So in theory by allowing the brain to synch with sounds and lights in these frequencies you can control brain activity and switch between these states at will.

Does it work

Well for me personally, not really at first. I found that I had some feelings of change but I would have to sit for a very long time with lights flashing in my eyes and ufo sounds in my ears before I really noticed anything interesting happening.

However going back again after spending some time learning how to meditate properly I am finding the effects more profound, the reason for this I believe is the quality of my attention.

I have always had what is politely referred to in meditation circles as a 'Monkey mind' a mind that can't sit still on one topic or thought for to long and is generally all over the place trying to think about 5 things at once. The type of meditation I'm practicing the most of at the moment is related to Patanjali Yoga Sutras and consists of the concentration on one object to the exclusion of all others, because of this increase in the ability to concentrate I find the affects of the mind machine become much stronger, especially if I run some chants or drumming through the auxiliary input. I can get into a profound place where I seem to feel the body ceases to exist and there is nothing but the chanting.

Now you could argue that because I'm now meditating regularly the effects I'm getting are from the regular practice and not the machine. I would agree in some respects but I have tried the same meditation on different nights once with the mind machine and once without and there is a difference both in the ease of entering a trance state and the intensity of the experience.

So the moral of this tale? There are no short cuts to experience, if you can afford them then mind machine's are an interesting tool to play with but they're not a quick way to enlightenment and they're no substitute for getting down on your arse and practicing.


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