fMRI and Meditation

A while back, because of curiosity, I tried to participate in a study in which meditation practitioners were observed using functional MRI. I did not meet the “criteria” of the study.

I thought to myself, “you have missed a career and possibly life changing opportunity to get me into your MRI machine because of your obsession with control and your pre-conceived ideas about how science should be done. Furthermore you have missed the opportunity to converse with me, an erstwhile science academic, in a cogent manner about meditation because of your project framing. Oh well, you know best.”

This answer was in the midst of my cancer diagnosis process.

Meditation History Questionnaire

Subject number:                                                                      Date: 22nd May 2015

Date of birth:    30/8/64                                                 Gender: Male

How many years have you been practicing meditation?

39 years. In retrospect I started meditation of sorts when I was 11 years old. I did not know it was meditation at that time. It was gazing into the distance across the valleys in Wales. The type of practice has varied and was absent for more than a decade, ages 18-33. It began again in earnest following a bout of depression. Retrospect suggests that meditation was key to recovery.

Which tradition of Buddhist meditation do you follow most consistently?

The nearest thing currently is Vajrayana-like mantra meditation. I found that I could do Tibetan “deep voice” chanting by accident. I make pretty much everything I do a kind of zen practice.

What other traditions are you familiar with conceptually and experientially?

Various types of raja or visualization yoga, including Toltec active dreaming practice and Master in the Heart meditations as per the Arcane School {esoteric}. I have participated in group zazen as part of martial arts practice sitting in seiza. I would say that sitting, walking and running zen has been a recurring theme throughout life, this includes lining up complex optics experiments.

Do you have a formal meditation teacher?


Please describe your daily meditation routine?

I no longer have a set routine, this is because I no longer have any internal dialogue. Thinking is an entirely volitional thing. I either think or not think according to volition. Meditation comes in batches. I will practice daily for several months at a time and then do none for many months. At the moment I prepare the space, inner and outer, sit on a chair and commence deep voice mantra meditation. {I am a 50 year old westerner not a bendy yogi} I go with the flow as to which mantra to use when and where, typically I begin with purification mantra and then lead up to mantra associated with Avalokitesvara and Manjushri generating compassion and wisdom respectively. I drink water whilst chanting. It does not affect my state of consciousness. Chanting sometimes includes other more Vajrayana-like Guru Rinpoche and Vajrapani. The latter need to be treated with a great deal of circumspect. Tantra is very dangerous if you do not have pure motive. Chanting sessions are typically 45 mins to an hour. This is rather full on. I modify the noise levels according to whether the next door neighbour is in.

Have you attended meditation retreats?

No..I have been to a couple of Kagyu “empowerments” which were basically shamanic in origin and not especially Buddhist to my eyes. I have been on shamanic retreats and those associated with the Toltec tradition.

What is your main meditation practice?

I am present, pretty much all the time, in the now.

Do you try to practice mindfulness in daily life?

I don’t really need to. {see above}

What method do you use to bring the mind back if it wandered?

I simply focus back on to the material as opposed to subjective reality which currently is.

Do you ever practice meditation when lying down?

For eight years I did the Toltec Active Dreaming practice. This was a lying down meditation involving body relaxation, breath and visualization of the Yellow Rose of friendship. This led later into the advanced raja yoga which was sitting.

Is the quality of the meditation different for you when sitting and lying down?

No not really. I can enter the same states. I used to meditate on tube journeys and international flights. Initially this was not easy yet now I can enter a dhayna pretty much anywhere.

Do you normally practice with your eyes open or close?

Usually closed now, though when sitting in zazen like meditation in the past, I had them sometimes open.

Do you experience alterations in the perception of space and time during meditation?

Yes. Time changes more than space.

Did you have experience(s) of the non-dual state?

If by this you mean; “is my self separate and distinct from the universe when dual?” then in deep meditation, beyond form centred consciousness, this sense of separate and corporeal identity ceases. In fact the sense of corporeal and biological identity does not intrude into the state of consciousness, aware of the surroundings, yet unperturbed by them. I can for example hear birds chirping away outside and yet maintain a high consciousness state. The sense of being at-one and non-separate is a root progenitor of compassion for all sentient beings. You could even call it causal of compassion. If you are a part then how can you judge? It is not possible when you have realized this. It is the transient identity of self which causes suffering. Experience beyond this contextual world framing generates a sense of humility and scaling in comparison to say the universe and the planet. We are not so big and important as we think our selves to be.

Can you enter a non-dual state easily during practice?


If yes, how long are you able to sustain it for (e.g. seconds, minutes, hours)?

Usually for tens of minutes. I have not tried longer, I am not an ascetic nor do I try to show off. Time has different meanings. Ten minutes clock time is a long time in deep meditation.

Are you able to drop into and sustain a non-dual state between the formal practice sessions?

If I want to. I have kind of stopped doing this as it tends to interfere with the shopping.

Please calculate the total hours of formal practice you have done over the years.  This is to be an approximate number of hours of sitting meditation (including shamatha, vipassana, ‘open presence’, and excluding Ngondro and sadhanas) that you have done at home or in group sittings, as well as retreats. If you not sure what to include, please email me with questions. Many thanks.

If you mean when I have sat down specifically to do meditation, then ~ 5000. If you include active contemplation as a meditation then the number below needs to be multiplied by 4-5.

Total hours of sitting meditation practice (approximately): > 5000