By Sean O’Donnell
Something that people have consistently asked me since I changed careers (more accurately, dropped my traditional concept of a career) and started frequenting permaculture gardens, farmers’ markets, and yoga communities is “Do you ever plan to use your degree again?” Now, that is a loaded question. Every time, without hesitation, my answer has been the same: “I use my degree every day.”
See, at some hopeful point in my life, I managed to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. A lot of people that I meet see my course in life as having gone in an opposite direction from where it was. They seem to think that I put a lot of energy into one path and have chosen to throw it all away and start again down a different one. Since at the university level the rational mind is so strongly cultivated, many people who have a similar professional background are so married to understanding and describing the physical world that they are skeptical of anything beyond that which can be seen, touched, and measured with ordinary methods.
I usually feel compelled to explain to these colleagues that I didn’t go to school to become an electrical engineer, but to learn how to learn. That is my real passion, my real calling, and my real work. In that context, I use my degree every day. Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” So, maybe it would be more accurate to say I went to school in order to learn how to live. Understanding the most basic tenets of electronics has given me a sense of awe and wonderment at how much is constantly going on that cannot, under normal conditions, be perceived with the naked eye or felt with the body.
Science and Spirituality in the Physical World
One human produces, on average, approximately one hundred watts of energy while at rest and, by weight, the brain is responsible for generating ten times more of this energy than average tissues. One hundred watts is equivalent to a strong “old-school” incandescent light bulb. This may not seem like a lot, or it might seem shocking if you have ever burned your fingers on a light bulb that has been on for some time. Just like a light bulb, the human body emanates this energy, in the physical world, in the form of electromagnetic radiation that can be felt as heat or warmth.
Also like the light bulb, a much smaller portion of this energy is emitted in the form of visible light. Human beings actually emit light. Our eyes would need to be about 10,000 times more sensitive in order to perceive it, but it is there, at all times, radiating in all directions.
What does this have to do with spiritual practice? Well, many yoga and meditation techniques start to cleanse the sense organs, and a significant increase in sensitivity can accompany this purification. Becoming more aware of the love (warmth) and light being radiated by others is a profound result that is featured in many traditions. In my spiritual understanding, these are all just manifestations of spanda—the scientific world is just describing them in different terms. Spanda is much more comprehensive than heat or light, but these radiating fields stem from the same essential vibration.
Stretching the Limits of Perception
As practitioners begin to open up to Truth, it becomes easier to perceive it in others. After the conclusion of many retreats at Hridaya, there is a noticeable heightening of awareness by participants. In many ways, this is an opening to Love or an opening to perceive spanda, but it completely coincides with a sensitivity that can be perceived by the five senses as well.
In a 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, it is possible to redirect the energy normally used for neurotic thought and small-talk and open up a more intense level of perception. In many retreats, I have often found myself listening less to the English words that are being shared in the lecture, and just hearing, in my heart, the underlying Love that is riding on the waves of the teacher’s voice.
After fasting or completing an Ohsawa #7 diet, the sense of taste can be completely rejuvenated. I have had experiences where I can bite into a cookie and not just taste the cookie but taste the butter, the sugar, and the chocolate distinctly. It is also possible to begin to taste the Love that was put into your food throughout its life cycle, by the rain, the Earth, and the people that cared for it before it got to your dinner fork.
After a solo retreat, such as the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat, the sacred tremor of Spanda can become all-encompassing. Even after completing shorter solitary retreats, I have been able to perceive hugs not just as ordinary physical touch but as shimmering energetic vibrations that unite and synchronize two people.
A dark room retreat can bring about an even more profound sensitivity. The vibrations exuded by all beings can be felt from a distance, without any physical interaction. In my experience, the amount of light in the eyes of others can be extraordinary, and the knowledge that it is simply a reflection of my openness to being able to see the essence of Love is quite comforting.
Many people feel that science and these seemingly extraordinary sensory experiences are not totally congruent. Since Love cannot be conveniently placed somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, it is perceived as being at odds with scientific reasoning. I believe that as science progresses and continues to refine its definition of how things exist and interact, it will converge more and more with the understanding of spanda.
Spiritual teachings tell us that the physical world is only a tiny part of the action. The electromagnetic spectrum presents an extremely wide range of “measurable” energy in terms of wavelengths and high- and low-frequency vibrations―but what exists outside of these definitions? As modern physics progresses, almost all currently accepted theories involve concepts that spiritual traditions have proffered for quite some time.
Next week, let’s explore some of these ideas and how they overlap in a VERY basic way!
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.