Enlightenment as a Skill — Part II: Insights From An LSD Study
A common experience with LSD is the feeling of ego dissolution — of becoming one with the world. This experience is often compared to the experience of enlightenment. Having experienced both pre-awakening LSD and post-awakening Witness consciousness, I agree with this comparison. Until recently, no one knew why LSD had this affect.
A 2016 study, led by neuroscientist Enzo Tagliazucchi, provides some insight. Together with his team, Tagliazucchi used an fMRI brain scanner to track the effects of LSD on the brains of 15 volunteers. For spiritual seekers, the implications of what they found are astonishing.
The volunteers who experienced ego dissolution — Witness consciousness — all exhibited a unique brain pattern. Two areas of the brain were communicating with each other at abnormally high levels. The brain’s “me-me-me” network and the “exterior world” network had linked up. From the perspective of the volunteers, they had become one with the world. Their personal (“me”) and their impersonal (“not me”) had temporarily united.
In Tagliazucchi’s words, “When we measured the brains of subjects who were really blown away by LSD, who had a really strong feeling of ego dissolution, they were also the ones who had the strongest increase in communication between the network of regions in charge of introspection and the network of regions in charge of perceiving the external world.”
For simplicity sake, let’s call “the network of regions in charge of introspection” the personal part of the brain. Let’s call “the network of regions in charge of perceiving the external world” the impersonal part of the brain.
The findings of this study make perfect sense when you think about it. When the interior (personal) and the exterior (impersonal) unite, what do you have? What happens when “me” and “the world” merge? You experience being one with the world. In other words, Witness consciousness. Also known as enlightenment.
Does this study mean that enlightenment is nothing more than a neurobiological function?
Yes and no.
“Yes,” in the sense that this is what the Witness Aspect is. It is when the personal and impersonal, in essence, unite. When the personal and impersonal parts of the brain link up and function as one.
“No,” in the sense that it doesn’t explain the siddhis. The common, paranormal events which increase as one evolves spiritually. For example, re-wiring the brain doesn’t explain life constantly and consistently “lining up” (synchronicity). We’ll cover the siddhis and their implications in the Mystic Aspect.
The study is good news for anyone seeking enlightenment. Great news in fact. No more hit-or-miss meditation practices. No more hoping for a miracle or act of grace. No more lucky breaks for the few. The study makes enlightenment practical. It gives us direction and focus. It tells us exactly what we need: We need to get the personal and impersonal parts of our brains talking to each other.
This study suggests that Witness consciousness is a skill. Like learning to play the piano, it is a skill that anyone can learn. At least anyone willing to put in the time and practice.
This study unlocks Witness consciousness. It removes the specialness of enlightenment — making it available to everyone. Seen in this new light, we just need to learn how to activate the personal and impersonal parts of our brain simultaneously. We just need to get them talking.