As an atheist and skeptic, I enjoy thinking, reflecting, pondering.   The idea to deliberately stop thinking appears ludicrous to me.   

Over the years, I have read many definitions of what meditation is supposed to be, but behind many big words it seem essentially to be just an attempt to stop thinking.  Personally I am puzzled, how not thinking can attract anybody.  

Yet so many people claim, that meditation is beneficial for them.   They obviously feel something they call spirituality and it seems that by meditation they can enhance it.  It is elusive to me, just as the idea of somebody claiming to be spiritual but not religious is beyond my comprehension. Feeling interconnected with some cosmical power is as alien to me as is the belief in a deity.   
Sometimes I am wondering, if some spirituality module is lacking in my brain.   Or rather, that I am free of it.   I do not miss spirituality, whatever it may be, but I am puzzled, why it is of so much importance to so many people.   The belief in a deity and in the power of rituals like praying can be explained by extrinsic influences.   But this elusive spirituality seems to be intrinsic.  

Do other atheists experience something like spirituality?   Are there others, who are as void of it as I am?  

Tags: meditation, spirituality

Views: 912

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Like you, meditation is for me an action (or inaction) and spirituality a concept wholly beyond my personal comprehension as a strong atheist
While I have had a few highly emotional experiences that I have been unable to explain, with the exception of the first which I did ascribe to a god at that time (some 60 years ago), I have had no trouble placing these experiences as being within the abilities (disabilities?) of my mind. I have since come to realize the totally rational mind is very much the exception, and much of our actions are based on our wants, our perceived needs and our wishes rather than the pursuit of the rational.

I wish these posts had "like" buttons, as on Facebook. 

 

I agree with you: "I find much more impressive that my brain can do that sort of thing, than it being some kind of supernatural thing."

... and especially agree with your very last paragraph. 

 

I've never been fully sure what people mean when they talk about spirituality or being spiritual. I'm sure I've probably had similar experiences as theirs, but just didn't name that that. I also think that some people are so afraid of being hated ... so afraid of loosing friends ... and whatever other reasons there might be ... that they'd prefer to say they're spiritual vs. religious, instead of saying that they're atheist/agnostic vs. religious. 

 

I am not trained in the proper way of meditating, and have not done much research on it, however I love to have moments of complete piece ... silence (with just nature sounds around me) ... it helps with stress ... it helps to relax. I would guess that there are people out there who do meditation for the same reason (to distress) vs. for spirituality. 

 

Thanks to all for the good answers to ponder over.   I am still struggling to understand.   
It's not an exercise in non-thinking, but an exercise in non-verbal-thinking.

What exactly do you mean by non-verbal-thinking?  

Right now, I only know two ways of non-verbal thinking from my own experience:
1.  The momentary delay after a thought enters my consciousness, a short moment similar to the tip-of-the tongue phenomenon, while my brain is still deciding, in which language to think, before converting the pre-verbal thought into this specific language.  
2.  When I focus on it, I can make myself aware, that my thoughts are accompanied by visual images on a screen on the inside of my forehead.   

Or do you refer to transliminality?   That again is something, that I am void of.  

"Transliminality is a totally new word to me.  A quick glance at wikipedia makes me pretty sure its a BS word for a BS concept.  The inventor of the word is a woowoo-ist."

As far as I have understood the concept of transliminality, it is a two step definition.   The first part is a description and only the second part is woo-woo.  
Wikipedia:"It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) originating in (a) the unconscious, and/or (b) the external environment".  There is no woo-woo in this.   The woo-woo part is the claim, that what is perceived by this hypersensitivity from the unconscious were woo-woo experiences, and of course that is nonsense. 
But I had been wondering, if maybe the same hypersensitivity if triggered by meditation could instead get to the unconscious without woo-woo and if this were then experienced as spirituality. 


I am still pondering, how to connect and find congruency between your brain model and mine.   So I postpone my reply to this part of your post.   Especially I am wondering, if my use and understanding of the word 'thinking' is really the same as yours.   Maybe I have to come up with some definitions and examples.  
After some more pondering, I start to see, why I did not understand the expression 'non-verbal thinking'.   My own understanding of thinking or reasoning is very different.  

In my model, the fundamental difference between animals and humans is the conscious self, which is able to recognize the value of the own individual wellbeing as independent from serving a purpose for the species and for the survival of the own genes.  

Animals are determined by instincts to submit all behavior to one ultimate purpose, which is the survival first of the own genes and then of the gene pool of the group and species.   Animals can learn, they can adapt to the environment and they can invest in raising their siblings' offspring instead of their own, but they are robots for the survival of genes.   Even those apes, who can recognize themselves in a mirror do not have enough notion of themselves to refuse to procreate.  
Only the human part of the brain can be independent and allow someone to consciously decide, that as an individual, life ends with death, and that procreation only continues the genes but is of no benefit for the individual.   

The fundamental difference between the animal and the human brain is the human's freedom to decide not to have children, because a childfree life is individually a better life.
Therefore, I define thinking and reasoning as including the freedom of choice as a conscious individual.   In this sense, animals do not think, they are robots fulfilling the program of their genes.   Animals perceive emotions, sensations and stimuli.   Their instincts cause them dishomeostasis and drive them to behavior restoring homeostasis.   Their pleasure center adds pleasure seeking behavior.
 
The same instincts also work on the subconscious level of the human brain, which creates the emotions and sensations, that are consciously perceived as raw material for subsequent reasoning.    This specifically human reasoning causes the freedom of decision:   Only animals are determined by the urge to immediate homeostation.   Human cognition allows to modify and control urges by using memory, long term thinking and evaluating the relative importance of competing urges, needs and wishes.  

In this sense I understand meditation as stopping or avoiding the human reasoning processes in favor of focusing on the emotions and sensations coming from the subconscious.
Concerning what all goes on between the unconscious and the conscious, you are right.   What I wrote was simplified and it is certainly more complex.  

But I maintain one crucial point.   I consider the one decisive difference between human cognition and animals the conscious choice to refuse to procreate, this being due to consciously perceiving oneself more as an individual than as a bearer of genes.  
I will maintain as highly probable until there is evidence of animals, who also prefer not to procreate without this being an instinctive response to environmental stimuli.   I am aware of the difficulty of getting this evidence, because so far we can only receive from humans an unequivocal declaration of their dislike or disinclination to procreate.   When animals have no offspring, the reasons are not always clear.  
Maybe one day there will be methods of communicating with the dolphins in your example or to make brain scans concerning their breeding motivation.      
Fred, are you addressing Fil?

Considering the amount of stress the average person experiences in one day, taking a purposeful moment to focus on one's breathing in order to calm the mind falls well outside of religion or spirituality.  Health research into meditation is showing how it is beneficial for stress reduction.  Think of the practice of "counting to 10" and breathing slowly when you find yourself pissed off about something; it would seem that most people might agree that it could help calm them down enough to think straight. I'd say meditation might be thought of similarly.  So, whether or not someone uses it for spiritual or religious purposes (i.e., turns it into some ritual with all the bells, incense, proper form, chakras, whatever) is not important, in my opinion; it's the physiological response that matters the most.   

 

As for experiencing something like spirituality, I do have my moments where I feel a sense of awe about the vast, complex nature of the universe--I might call it a "Sagan moment".  Do I feel an interconnectedness with the universe as if I'm all "one" with everything. Sometimes--but only as it would relate to those processes that led me and everything else to be present at this moment. What I sense is an appreciation and admiration for life, and how amazing it is that the natural, biological forces centered within physics made this all possible. To me, that is awesome. 

 

Whether these feelings can be defined as "spirituality", I'm not certain--maybe so.  But, I believe it to be my existentialist brain at work that causes me to ponder these things.  I don't consider myself so diehard an atheist as to either ignore or dismiss these feelings. I just go with it and enjoy life the best I can--taking a moment every so often to simply stop and breathe.   

I can personally speak to the Transcendental Meditation technique (as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).  One of the first studies on the technique, published in 1972 by Scientific American, showed that it produced a rest state in the body twice as deep as that of a night's sleep, while maintaining alertness in the mind, what Robert Keith Wallace, one of the researchers in the study, called, "restful alertness."  As this state is functionally distinct from waking, dreaming or sleeping states of consciousness, it has been posited as a fourth major state of consciousness.  These results have since been replicated multiple times, and indeed, I participated in one such study.

I personally began the practice of Transcendental Meditation back in 1971.  I found it to be a very natural, unforced practice which easily settled me and occasionally allowed me to experience consciousness without thought.  I have also had experiences which I trace directly to the TM technique which I seriously doubt I would otherwise have had, some of them rather striking.

While Maharishi talked about higher states of consciousness which have yet to be either observed or verified in the laboratory, he always emphasized the natural quality of the process, that indeed, TRYING to meditate doesn't work, but harnessing the mind's natural tendencies allows the technique to work effortlessly.  I and many other TMers have verified this for ourselves, as well as the rest it brings to the body and the ease to the mind.  Whatever supposedly spiritual aspects it may have, I don't know (and don't really care).

While I no longer practice regularly, I know what impact it has had on me on those two parameters.  On those levels, the technique works, PERIOD.

I appreciate reading about the variety of your experiences.   

That fourth state of consciousness certainly sounds like some experience for whose brain is wired for it.   I doubt that I could get into such a state of consciousness, except with Persinger's helmet.  A session with his helmet is one of my unfulfilled dreams.  But Persinger's lab is far away, if he would even accept me.   

Thanks for the link to the meditation instruction.   Unfortunately, doing this would have a paradoxical effect on me.   I would start the procedure as fully relaxed as I feel right now.  But the longer I would sit there forcing myself to focus on my breath and repress my thoughts, the more I would get bored and that would make me restless and fidgety. 

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