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Some Meditators Can Switch Off Their Consciousness For Up To Seven Days

It's apparently impossible to wake someone up from this deep meditative trance.

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Benjamin Taub

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Benjamin Taub

Freelance Writer

Benjamin holds a Master's degree in anthropology from University College London and has worked in the fields of neuroscience research and mental health treatment.

Freelance Writer

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Meditation consciousness

"Nirodha samapatti" denotes a complete cessation of consciousness that is quite different from sleep.

Image credit: Supa Chan/Shutterstock.com

Meditation is known to help calm both body and mind, yet an emerging field of research suggests that some experienced meditators may be able to take things to the next level by taking a deliberate leave of absence from their senses. Describing this unique yet poorly understood phenomenon in a new paper, an international team of neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and logicians explain that the most adept meditation practitioners could induce a complete cessation of consciousness that lasts for up to a week.

According to the authors, there exists “a meditation-induced event known in Pali (the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism) as nirodha samapatti (NS), which literally means 'cessation attainment,'”. Characterized by a total absence of consciousness, NS is “different from sleep because practitioners are said to be completely impervious to external stimulation,” the researchers say. “That is, they cannot be ’woken up’ from the cessation state as one might be from a dream.”

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Furthermore, after emerging from NS, meditators are said to undergo “profound alterations of consciousness”, often “resulting in a sudden sense of clarity, openness, and possibly insights.” Unlikely as this may seem, the authors insist that “there are advanced meditators who are uniquely able to consistently and safely induce these states under laboratory conditions.”

Outlining some of their own attempts to get to the bottom of this unusual ability, the researchers describe two lab experiments in which meditators had their brain activity measured using electroencephalography (EEG). In the first of these, a single individual underwent an experience known as nirodha, which differs from NS in that it denotes a momentary lapse in consciousness rather than a sustained trance.

Results showed that the event correlated with a decrease in alpha brain wave synchronization, which the authors say “may indicate a gradual reduction in information exchange between different brain areas and ultimately to the experience of a 'cut' from consciousness during nirodha.”

In their second experiment, the researchers noted a similar reduction in alpha-synchronization when a single meditator underwent NS. Interestingly, they go on to explain that identical alpha-related phenomena are typically seen in patients under the effects of sedatives and anesthetics such as ketamine and propofol.

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Despite being unable to explain how meditation can induce such a state, the authors say that deep meditation trains the brain to relinquish many of its normal processes, such as making continual predictions about the world and fabricating a sense of reality based on its own expectations. Thus, when a particular threshold of meditative relaxation is reached, “NS may reflect a final release of the expectation to be awake or aware.”

Once this occurs, they say, the subsequent breakdown in normal brain wave synchronization might trigger “an impairment in corticocortical communication and thus a failure to bind together elements of a coherent conscious experience.”

At this stage, however, the authors admit that their theories and hypotheses are highly speculative, and that much more research is needed before we can even begin to understand how nirodha samapatti is brought about.

The paper has been published as part of the book series Progress in Brain Research.


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  • meditation,

  • neuroscience,

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