When you bring in spirit, you feel inspired. This is the subtlest of feedback loops, yet it connects mind and body in the same way as other feedback loops. When your brain receives spiritual input, it sends messages to every cell in the body. These are chemical messages that decode inner peace and love into a language that can be understood by heart cells, the digestive tract, the skin, and every other organ.
It's not correct to separate spirituality from the body. When you think about God, the soul, or spirit (however you define these terms), you are exposing trillions of cells to a hint of spiritual experience. The experience becomes deeper when thoughts turn into direct contact with the following:
The experience of feeling loved Communion with nature
Physical sensations of lightness
Being at peace
Expansion of the heart
Feeling unbounded and limitless
A sense of unity with all things
A surge of awe and wonder
The experience of bliss
Sometimes it takes only an accident to expose one's inner nature.
When I was a boy in India, I fell down while playing, hit my head, and passed out. When I came to, I found myself in a strange reality - the surroundings hadn't changed, but I felt an immense expanse everywhere I looked (unwittingly, I was experiencing something that Don Juan says in one of Carlos Castaneda's books: that for a sorcerer - one who really sees - there is infinity in every direction). The strange expansion of consciousness lasted only a moment or two, and another little boy might have forgotten it immediately. But I was deeply imprinted by it. Looking back, I realize that I had experienced awe for the first time. The rational mind is baffled by awe, and medically speaking, perhaps I was in a swoon or mildly concussed. But rational or not, awe enriches life from the inside, along with wonder, communion, love, and inspiration.
The trail of hormones and brain chemicals that we've been following grows faint in this area. But we know that spiritual experience isn't invisible. There's something real, not just a ghost in the machine. Studies of the brains of Tibetan Buddhist monks indicate that their years of meditation on the value of compassion left physical footprints; there was increased activity in the frontal lobes, where higher values like love and compassion take place. There was also a change of frequency in the region of the delta waves their brains produced; delta waves are associated with deep sleep. Meditation isn't sleep but a state that is paradoxical, in that it combines deep rest with alertness. The chemical trail of meditation also leads to findings about lowered heart rate, decreased stress hormones, and normalized blood pressure. Brain changes include an increase in alpha waves, which are linked to creativity and "aha" moments.
These physical traces indicate that the feedback loop for spirituality is real. But footprints aren't the same as experiencing the journey. To do that, you must transform your state of awareness. When awareness is completely alive, tuning in to the subtlest experiences of love and joy, you have claimed the domain of spirituality. This is the most inspiring state to live in. Reality shifts in radical ways that everyday reality only hints at. A striking image from India's Vedic tradition gives us a clue about what it means to be transformed. It's the image of a clay jug, the kind village women carried to the well for water (and still do in rural India).
The jug's molded sides define the space inside, which isn't very large, and yet all around it, outside the walls, space is immense. Now shatter the jug. The walls are destroyed, but the space inside the jug remains. Only now, instead of seeming to be separate from all the space around it, there is no separation - the space inside the jug merges with infinite space.
In the same way, people assume that they are enclosed in the walls of a separate body and a limited mind. But in reality, the separation is artificial. It's literally true that infinity extends all around us even if we don't choose to see it. Nothing divides us from this infinity. Each of us is merged into the whole, and what we prize in our lives - love, creativity, intelligence, truth - can expand without limitation. Human awareness has this capacity - so the mystic tradition in every culture asserts - and the way is always open.
What Are You Hungry For? by Deepak Chopra $34.99 Available from booksellers and e-retailers. Deepak will be visiting Australia in July.
Deepak Chopra is a world leader in holistic medicine and popular forms of spirituality