The Last Frontier: Perspectives from Inner and Outer Space
For four decades, astronauts of varying cultures and religions have reported that they experience a shift in their consciousness and their vision of life during their space missions. According to a September 2015 article by Olivia Goldhill for Quartz, it’s common for astronauts to be affected spiritually by their experience in space.
Goldhill quotes Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who said, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” He described feelings of awe and a state of “interconnected euphoria”.
In 1987, philosopher and writer Frank White coined a term in his book of the same name for this cognitive shift in awareness: The Overview Effect. From the point of view of an astronaut in space, national boundaries on earth vanish and the significance of worldly conflicts diminishes. The concerns that divide humanity on earth are transcended spontaneously with this gift of expanded vision and a more unbounded perception remains even later on.
The overview effect may be available to those in space flight, or, as research showed, even to jet pilots over 13,000 feet, but the effect is essentially a change in the brain and consciousness—not dependent at all on shuttling your body off to the moon. A career in space exploration is not the only platform for a profound experience of expansion of awareness and transcendence. Even while their bodies are at home here on earth, Transcendental Meditation practitioners experience that shift in awareness, and published studies show that a change in brain activity is correlated with that shift. Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart learned the Transcendental Meditation technique as one result of his personal euphoric experience during his flight.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and is Board-certified in both Nuclear Medicine and Internal Medicine. Dr. Newberg is considered a pioneer in the neurological study of spiritual experience. According to Goldhill, Dr. Newberg has studied brain scans of people who have had religious or spiritual experiences and believes that the effect is similar to the experience during Transcendental Meditation.
Neuroscientist Fred Travis, one of the leading scientists studying the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on brain functioning, has shown that particular brain function is the ground for spiritual experiences and ethical behavior. Dr. Travis has published forty academic papers on the brain and the nature of consciousness and cognition. His studies have shown that the TM practice produces states of consciousness beyond waking, dreaming and sleeping. In an interview, Dr. Travis said:
By moving your mind to the transcendent and back to waking over and over, the depth of inner silence begins to come into the world. It’s as though your level of awareness is going from being constrained by blinders to being broader and fully awake. Before, something would completely grip your awareness. Now you see it in context. You begin to less get lost in the experience. Now you are living the flow of life that underlies and connects changing events.
Women around the world who have taken the TM course report experiences very similar to the astronauts’ observations and transformations. Here are two examples:
- Often times during my TM practice, my experience is that light comes and the light is infinite. And my small self isn’t experienced. The Light is completely full—even to say “full”, is to make it less than it is. It is Everything. I want to say that it is unconditional, Divine Love. This experience transforms my relationship with the world.
- During Transcendental Meditation, I experienced an overarching calm and cosmic perceptiveness that gradually and for the better inhabit more and more of my being.
Women making the choice to learn TM are making a choice to elevate themselves in a permanent way. It would be a great advantage to all of humanity and all life on earth if we all were to choose to uplift our consciousness to a more cosmic stance—to experience our connectedness to each other and to the universe. Our moral compass would be guided by more profound values and higher knowledge. This shift to a growing spirituality can take place simply and effortlessly through this precious technique of transcending.
It could be said in fact, by analogy, that this is an exploration of inner space where the real jewel of life is to be found, and that its scientific value and promise far exceed that of the exploration of outer space.Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
About the Author
Vanessa Vidal is the national director of TM for Women in the USA