So…meditation and trance states. I have a certain amount of experience with the latter and a little with the former. Or do I? The problem is really the term ‘trance state’ and also the percieved intention behind ‘meditation’, yes I know I’m over-using the rabbit ears, bear with me do.
Eastern and Western ways of thinking really do differ on how to use both… technologies is the word I’m grasping for I guess. Mostly the modern Western ways of thinking seem to be understandings of Eastern philosophies filtered by the Theosophists back in the nineteenth century and that’s if you’re a New Age hippy chick, a Jan Fries afficianado or any sort of Heathen engaging in seidr.
Ok, lets start with how I’m defining trance state. It’s a bit difficult to define as purely scientifically a trance ‘state’ distinguishable from ordinary conciousness does not exist. Meditative states however, do exist…sort of. As far as I can understand its all about patterns of brainwaves. There are four provable types of brainwave which operate on different electrical frequencies and a possible fifth:
alpha – Between 8 and 13 hz
beta – Between 14 and 20 hz
delta – Between 4 and 7 hz
theta – Between .5 and 3 hz
gamma – Between 20 and 40 hz (maybe)
I should point out that there are definately measurable brainwaves which exist between 20 and 40hz but they don’t seem to fit into a nice pattern like the others so whether they’re going to be defined by terms which are more accurate (ie. 20-30, 30-40, x happens in y state, z happens in q state) or not remains to be seen, so for now they’re gamma as far as I’m concerned since brainwaves between 20-40hz occur infrequently and I think distinctively from beta brainwaves though some researchers say that beta extends from 14 – 40 hz.
Ok, so all the time our brain is producing these electrical impulses/brainwaves in combination with each other to produce different states of mind. Reasonably provable states, up until the edges anyway. It’s all to do with which type of brainwave is predominant.
Beta waves predominating show that you’re awake and participating in this thing called life, if beta waves are in the majority then you’re in what most of us non-scientists would call a ‘normal state of mind’.
Alpha waves are seen in the majority when you’re in light meditation or daydreaming, if you close your eyes even in a normal state of mind then they increase. (My personal theory is that the way I will myself to sleep is basically just me increasing my level of alpha waves, but that’s by the by.)
If delta waves are in the majority then you’re asleep or in a very deep meditative state.
If theta waves are in the majority then anyone watching a readout of your brainwaves would want to see if it happened in short sharp bursts or over a sustained period, if a sustained period then you’d be in reasonably deep meditation and if sharp bursts you’d be engaged in something creative.
Gamma brainwaves occur if you wake up during REM sleep but they also occur during problem solving activities and there may be a brief period of time during problem solving when these brainwaves are in the majority over beta brainwaves.
So then, you’ve probably only got a choice of four states of mind at this current level of technology; awake and interacting with the world, awake and not interacting with the world, asleep or meditating… of course since you can move between these states then the edges become a bit fuzzy and we’ve no really useful description of what’s going on when gamma waves are happening (asumming they are distinct from beta).
Unfortunately because we don’t think entirely in alpha or entirely in beta etc. etc. and there’s no neat labels saying x amount of beta plus y amount of alpha equals z state hard scientists won’t thank me for using the word state. But I’m not a hard scientist and I think that the word ‘state’ can be a useful communicative tool, though what it denotes is a fuzzy thing rather than a hard thing. So I think I will use the term anyway, though I think that there is more going on in the mind than these four ‘states’.
In anycase back to my thoughts on meditation and trance and the like. The intention of most Eastern Meditation is to reach a meditative state of total calm, a deeper awareness of self or a transcendance of self. Any scientist watching would note that the brainwaves should progress from majority beta, through majority alpha to majority theta and possibly to majority delta (although a scientist would have to say that they couldn’t distinguish this from sleep), I’d be happy with talking about this as a form of trance in everyday conversation. But, from personal experience, I don’t think this seat of self is the goal of most Western meditative excercises. In a society, like most Eastern ones where the everyday beta waves are focused on the wa or harmony of the group then to focus on self may only be done in such a ritualised and specific way. In Western meditative excercises the focus of attention (and this is really what I think we mean by ‘state of mind’) in the beta and alpha waves is usually on self. Theta waves are not sought in a solid calm state but by allowing beta and alpha to recede and play with themselves in the background, this is because in the west meditation is not about finding yourself but about attempting a trance state which remains connected to whichever thing external to self we wish to explore.
Looking back on what I’ve written I become convinced that meditation when integrated with ‘normal’ life should be focused on self and on balance, but within wholly western traditions meditation and magic have become intertwined and unless you’re doing magic for yourself you don’t focus down you focus out.