An interesting post script to the launch of the Airborne routine — what with its focus on the sky and spaciousness and all. I’ve been reading Tara Brach’s lovely book True Refuge and on Tuesday night, this was the passage I read. Experience confirmed by science. Nice.
I recently learned of the work of Les Fehmi, a psychologist and researcher who for decades has been clinically documenting the profound healing that arises from resting in open awareness. In the 1960s researchers began to correlate synchronous alpha brain waves with profound states of well-being, peace, and happiness. Fehmi, an early and groundbreaking leader in this research, sought strategies that might deepen and amplify alpha waves. Experimenting with student volunteers, he tracked their EEG readings as they visualized peaceful landscapes, listened to music, watched colored lights or inhaled various scents. But it was only after he posed the question “Can you imagine the space between your eyes?” that their alpha wave levels truly soared. He posed another: “Can you imagine the space between your ears?” The subjects’ alpha waves spiked again. Further experimentation confirmed the effects of what Fehmi termed “open focused attention.” The key was inviting attention to space (or stillness or silence or timelessness) and shifting to a nonobjective focus.
Narrowly focused attention affects our entire body-mind. Whenever we fixate on making plans, on our next meal, on judgments, on a looming deadline, our narrowed focus produces faster (beta) waves in the brain. Our muscles tense, and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released. While necessary for certain tasks, as an ongoing state this stress constellation keeps us from full health, open-heartedness and mental clarity.
In contrast, open-focused attention rests the brain. With a sustained pause from processing information – from memories, plans, thoughts about self – brain waves slow down into synchronous alpha. Our muscles relax, stress hormone levels are lowered, blood flow is redistributed. No longer in fight-or-flight reactivity, our body and mind become wakeful, sensitive, open and at ease.
You may have noticed the effect of open awareness when looking at the night sky and sensing its immensity. Or during the silence in the early morning before sunrise. Or when the world is still after a snowfall. We resonate with such moments because they connect us with the most intimate sense of what we are. We sense the depth of our being in the night sky, the mystery of what we are. We sense the depth of our being in the moments of objectless awareness there’s a wordless homecoming, a realization of pure being. (from True Refuge by Tara Brach pp 259-260)