“The Inner Light is the presence of God that lives within us all.” – Quakerism
The actual experience of Divinity, God, absolute consciousness, is not a far off reality but is an ever-present experience that is available in every moment. Science and many world religions seem to have created a divide between this physical reality and the world of spiritual truth. To bridge that divide is possible and there is knowledge of the ways and means to make the journey. Many of the spiritual paths, sacred temples, spiritual traditions, myths, gods and goddess’ represent this inner journey. They serve as external representations of what is within us and not as anything separate and apart from us – they are reminders. Enlightenment is not a metaphysical event – it does not happen outside the body but rather the key lies within the brain and nervous system. Spiritual awakening need not be relegated to only those who can withdraw from the world and devote all their time and effort to the spiritual life. Spiritual awakening is indeed a mystical science and in fact can be understood and facilitated by information modern science is beginning to corroborate and uncover.
The Inner Light perception referred to in the last couple of sutras is mentioned many-many times in the various spiritual literature of the world. So much so that the deeper meaning is often lost or overlooked. We take for granted the references to the ‘light within’ as just flowery and poetic symbolism. Such descriptions for the most part are spoken of as if the light is purely symbolic. However, in this context the real meaning and identity of the light is not symbolic – the light perceived within during surrendered meditation and moments of spiritual experience is the concrete ‘form’ of the Divine in expression and not different or separate from the Divine Source. It is divinity in the ‘form’ of light, the essence of being. The ‘light’ is the background consciousness that is always present. Accompanying the light is the primordial sound – the sound and light are simply different aspects of the same thing. This sound is the steady hum of the vibration of manifest creation. It is behind all sound, perceived internally as the sound, ‘Om’.
Some theorize that the experience and the perception of Inner Light occurs in the brainstem. This part of the brain is considered as the most primitive – often called the ‘reptile’ brain by modern science. However, yoga science offers a different perspective: consciousness enters the physical dimension through the brainstem and emerges into the physical plane to animate the body. At this level consciousness is pure and unmodified. But as pure consciousness filters up into progressively higher areas of the brain, it takes on the ‘impurities’ – the characteristics and the corresponding mental modifications inherent to those areas. The light is the luminous nature of pure consciousness. However, as it moves away from the source, it is colored by the definitions that are the content of our brains programming. We become identified by, and with, those contents. In effect, ‘the one becomes the many’. We then falsely perceive ourselves as being defined by the contents rather than by our true identity as the light, the Self, pure consciousness.
The cells in this part of the brainstem have projections that ascend up into the brain and descend down the spine. The ascending tracts reach up encompassing the entire brain. Neuroscientists define areas in this lower part of the brain purely as an activating source and is why it is called the reticular (meaning net-like) activating system (RAS). It is considered to produce arousal and consciousness. As a subconscious scanner it looks for things in the environment that require the activation of the brain. These include things that are unique, familiar or problematic. Why? Because from an instinctive and survival perspective our brain is programmed to pay attention to these types of triggers. Otherwise, for the most part, we remain in autopilot, not requiring the energy expenditure and the need to be more aware. When the brain is in autopilot there is a predominance of electrical activity in the EEG called alpha rhythm, the brains ‘idle’ frequency. The RAS finds no need to waste energy so the cortex is in a relatively neutral state. However, as soon as something is perceived as ‘unique, familiar or problematic’, the RAS sends activating electrical signals to the cortex to PAY ATTENTION! In those moments we are more ‘awake’ as the brain is producing faster brain wave activity called beta in preparation for appropriate action. The brainwaves themselves are tiny electrical pulses of light moving along intricate networks in the brain. The RAS is the pacemaker of the brainwaves and virtually all the electrical activity registered in the higher brain is turned on and off by this system. Brain death occurs when the RAS stops sending the signals and all electrical activity eventually cease. This does not happen all at once but is a process that occurs within minutes after cardiac arrest.
A recent experiment intended to measure the EEG (brainwaves) of the rat brain after cardiac arrest caught neuroscientists by surprise. The findings are detailed in a National Geographic article, “In Dying Brains, Signs of Heightened Consciousness”. This information is providing a different perspective on what is happening in the brain during the dying process. Scientists are being extremely cautious about how to interpret this and the implications. This information potentially opens the door to understanding how the brain is involved in the mystical experience as well since the brainwave activity has similar characteristics.
Some neuroscientists argue that the light phenomena that is perceived within, during the near death experience (NDE) and in deep meditation, is just the effect of chemical changes, oxygen deprivation and other mechanisms occurring in the brain. They tend to disregard the profound spiritual changes many who have NDE’s have, as well as the profound spiritual experiences reported by beginning and advanced meditators alike as this inner light is perceived.
Many mystical teachings state that the light perceived within is the source of all living beings – it is our mutual home. It is the common core experience shared no matter the race, religion or belief system. It is the profound meaning of the often spoken phrase, “We are one.” It is the well-spring of our deepest inner-most source of life. We can learn to perceive the light, immerse ourselves in the divine consciousness therein, and meditate in it. Different cultural myths of sacred rivers, i.e. the Ganges, the Jordan, represent this sacred flow of life. We can learn to merge with and receive the inner revelation of Divinity and pure grace the light (the river) carries. The light within is Divine Consciousness and will lead the individual to discover the depths of the soul.
Reversing the Flow of Attention
Normally our awareness flows out to the external world. The nervous system has been trained to scan the external environment, to translate events as good, bad or indifferent and to act accordingly. However, in order to perceive the Inner Light, attention must be redirected. This was discovered many thousands of years ago by spiritual adepts and is where many meditation traditions find their roots. There are ancient writings detailing the cranium, the spine and other specific areas of brain anatomy as the ‘palatal house’ with ‘doors’ to the Divine consciousness. There are meditation techniques designed to access these areas within the brain and to reverse the ‘normally’ outflowing consciousness driven by the RAS and redirect it back to the luminous source.
How to See the Inner Light and Hear the Inner Sound
Occasionally both beginning and advanced meditators spontaneously perceive the inner light during meditation sessions. Along with the light the sound of Om is also often heard as well. Some do not see any light at all, just a field of darkness and specs of light nor do they hear any sound in particular. However there are techniques passed down from spiritual adepts that can enable the meditator to see the light and to hear the inner sound. In the Kriya Yoga tradition there is a light and sound meditation, using the sound ‘Om’, described below. This technique is one of the preliminary Kriya Yoga methods and with practice by itself will result in the inner perceptions. There are several additional stages to this technique that I will offer over time for those who are interested – stay tuned.
Sit in the ideal meditation posture: upright, firm but comfortable. Legs can be crossed or seated in a chair with feet on the floor. If possible sit with your back away from support so that your spine is erect. Chin should be pulled slightly in so the neck is not craned. You should feel as if there is a string pulling up the crown of your head toward the ceiling so your spine and neck are extended. Eyes gently closed. The room should be as quiet and dark as possible. If there is any light in the room then an eye mask can be useful. However, be sure the mask does not put any pressure on the eyeballs – pressure on the eyeballs will produce light phenomena in the eyes themselves. There is a product called iMask available on the internet and it is designed with a space between the eyes and the mask so there is no pressure on the eyes. Earplugs can be used too to block out distracting sounds and to enable you to listen ‘within’.
Sit for a few moments just to relax as you bring your attention to the natural and gentle rhythm of the breathing pattern – slow, gentle inhalation and slow gentle exhalation. The length of inhalation and exhalation should be approximately equal. This is natural breathing, no attempt to overly control the breath – just smooth, natural ‘belly’ breathing.
After relaxing, when feeling calm and centered, bring your attention to the point at the center of the forehead between the eyebrows. This is known as the location of the ‘spiritual eye’, in Sanskrit, Kutastha Chaitanya. This area also corresponds to the location of the brains prefrontal cortex: the brain area associated with executive functions such as concentration, attention, goal planning, decision making, and impulse control. Do not cross or strain the eyes. Just gently lift the gaze as if looking at a slight angle up and out into the distance through the forehead. Imagine that the breath is moving in and out through this point.
When the breath is calm and quiet begin to mentally repeat the sound ‘Om’, three times with inhalation and three times with exhalation. Feel or imagine as though the sound Om is knocking at, or tapping, the spiritual eye point. Like this: as you inhale, Om-Om-Om and with exhalation, Om-Om-Om. Gently allowing the sound of Om to resonate and ‘tap’ at the spiritual eye with each Om. Gradually and without discomfort, try to extend the number of Om repetitions up to six with inhalation and six with exhalation. As you do this look into the spiritual eye as if you are attempting to pierce it, as if looking through a veil to the other side. Try this as a meditation for at least 10 minutes, longer if desired. Afterwards, if you have another form of meditation that you use then just do that or whatever feels natural to you.
The light often appears in cloudy or misty shade at first with different colors flowing and melting into one another. The light is not actually being seen with the eyes but perceived in the ‘minds’ eye. Eventually as concentration improves certain specific colors and shapes related to different manifestations of consciousness begin to become more stable and clear. (More on what the colors, shapes and other sounds indicate in later sutras). The mental repetition of the Om is gradually replaced by ‘hearing’ the internal sound of Om. The sound of Om begins to arise along with the light and both become more distinct. The sound ‘Om’ is actually a manifestation of the light and vice versa – they are the same. Many other sounds too may become noticeable but some of these can just be sounds of internal physiologic processes in the body. Eventually, however, the sound of Om becomes quite clear like a steady low frequency hum in the background. Some meditators report that even after meditation they perceive the sound ‘Om’ when relaxed and in an environment that is quiet and relatively free of loud noises. Both the light and the sound have a quality that becomes more and more tangible and recognized as the Divine presence, a benevolent, gentle, uplifting and assured sense of the omniscient presence of God within.
When the light and sound begin to come forward the objective is to merge with the light and sound. Have the gentle intention to go beyond the initial perception and go through the light and sound to the origin. This is done by following the stream, as it were, looking and listening within, tracing back to the source.
“He who finds his happiness within, his joy within and likewise his Light within, realizes one-ness with the Divine and the beatitude of God.”
– Bhagavad Gita 5:24
“In the undistracted gaze
Appears the Light
Gaze and gaze to heart’s content
And mingle one with it;
The Heavenly Stream will surge
To the spaces infinite of Void Space
Then may the Uncreated Being (pure consciousness) witnessed be.”
– Tirumantiram verse 600