Over the past few decades, the practice of meditating has gained momentum in the western world. Meditation is primarily used to decrease stress, but it has been shown to also have big, positive impacts on a person's coping mechanisms, sleep quality, and chronic pain levels.
People often mistake meditation for something that makes someone a new, different, or better person. In reality, it is a means to train a person to have greater awareness and to gain a healthier sense of perspective. The goal of meditation is not to “tune out” and shut down feelings or thoughts. Instead, it's a learning process to be able to observe and understand thoughts and feelings without casting judgment.
Meditation is a mental exercise, or practice, where a person uses a technique to train awareness and attention, and to reach a state of emotional calmness, mental clarity, and overall stability. There are several techniques to employ to practice meditation — some of which have existed for thousands of years. The most common of these techniques include mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that is a type of mental training that encourages a person to release negativity, slow racing thoughts, and bring calmness to both the body and mind. The aim of mindfulness meditation is to achieve a mental state that focuses fully on the present to be aware of, and accept, sensations, feelings, and thoughts without judging.
Transcendental meditation, or TM, is an ancient type of meditation that attempts to go beyond — to transcend — thoughts in order to experience life, or being alive, in its most fundamental and basic ways. Transcendental meditation is a technique to reach the calm place of mental stillness that lies deeper than a person's conscious awareness.
Another, much more recent form of meditation involves the use of light and sound to connect with the subconscious mind.
Perceptual Deprivation and the Ganzfeld Effect
Sensory deprivation occurs when stimuli are removed from one or more senses. Blindfolding a person causes sensory deprivation of that person's sense of sight. Having a person wear earplugs causes sensory deprivation of that person's sense of hearing. Throughout history, various cultures have used some form of sensory deprivation to raise consciousness or to bring about a trance-like state for spiritual reasons.
Perceptual deprivation is similar to sensory deprivation in that it also limits the senses. It differs though in that it doesn't completely remove stimuli but instead introduces a uniform, or constant, stimulus that blocks the multi-source stimuli that a person normally experiences. This stimulus can be in the form of sound, light, or both.
Your brain is designed to expect, and accept, common, everyday sensory stimuli. If your brain instead receives a single constant stimulus it attempts to “fill in the gaps” — it tries to develop a more comprehensive picture, or story, from the limited data it's receiving. It does this by amplifying something called neural noise.
Neurons (brain cells) communicate with one another by way of electrical signals. These electrical signals vary depending on the stimuli neurons are exposed to, and so neurons behave in different ways depending on the nature of signals they receive. Interestingly, neurons don't always act, or fire, in the same way — even when exposed to what seems like the same stimuli. This is due to neural noise — seemingly random electrical fluctuations within networks of neurons.
The significance, and importance, of neural noise is not completely understood. What is believed to be happening in the case of perceptual deprivation is that your brain amplifies this noise — and neuron firing — in an attempt to adjust for this shortage of stimuli, or information. This process that is a result of perceptual deprivation is referred to as the Ganzfeld effect — a German word that translates to “complete field.” A by-product of the Ganzfeld effect is that the amplified neural noise can result in a sense of serenity or calmness, and even mild hallucinations.
Using Light and Sound for Ganzfeld Meditation
You can create the Ganzfeld effect by using a system that is specifically designed for this reason. A system like this typically consists of three components:
- A small hand-held audio player similar in look and size to an iPod to produce sound and control light
- Earbuds to listen to pulses of sound generated by the audio player
- Ganzfeld glasses (or goggles) — referred to as Ganzframes — that generate light pulses to view
The small player produces sound pulses of specific frequencies and sends signals to the Ganzframes to emit light pulses that are synchronized with the pulses of audio.
The light and sound are coordinated such that the wearer's brain is slowly moved to a specific brain wave state — one consisting of mostly alpha and theta brain waves. Brain cells, or neurons, communicate through waves of electrical currents called brain waves. Alpha waves and theta waves occur at low frequencies and long wavelengths, which puts a person in a mentally and physically relaxed state.
When the brain is primarily generating alpha waves, fears, bad habits, phobias, and excessive worry lessen. The alpha state can be considered the subconscious mind's first layer, and it is here that a person experiences a sense of comfort, peace, and harmony. When the brain generates theta waves it's entering a deeper layer of the subconscious and, though still awake, brain activity slows to a level similar to that of a sleeping person. Here a person may experience imagery that is quite vivid, have a feeling of floating, and inspirational thoughts may increase. If you think all of this sounds similar to the experiences people feel when meditating, you'd be right — and it's why the Ganzfeld effect is often referred to as light and sound meditation.
There are a number of commercial light and sound systems that are designed to bring about the Ganzfeld effect on a user. The Kasina DeepVision from MindPlace is one example of such a system.
Consistently meditating benefits both your mind and body. Using light and sound to achieve the Ganzfeld effect is a nearly effortless way to reach a meditative state. Wearing earbuds and Ganzframes allows you to enter a hypnotic-like state where you get in touch with your subconscious mind to de-stress, break bad habits and behaviors, and develop a sense of calmness.