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“Meditation and Biofeedback” by Durand Kiefer


From one subject’s experience of ten years of daily meditation, with many special meditation sessions of twelve hours a day for four to thirteen days, plus a day and a half of instrumented meditation in a sensory isolation laboratory, and several weeks of daily meditation for two to four hours with EEG alpha-wave feedback, it was found that meditation and feedback are experientially complementary and mutually reinforcing. Both are “autoregulation of internal states.” Therefore, it is proposed that they be programmed together in psychophysiological laboratories in such a way as to hasten common achievement of meditation’s ancient promise of the heaven of voluntary cerebration.


Although meditation and EEG feedback, taken as religious and scientific techniques, respectively, are found to have much in common experientially, there has been so far one very important difference, which, hopefully, will be soon resolved in the laboratory. The experiential emphasis in religion (used in its deepest sense) is subjective; it is a so-called internal or self-examination practice, which, when carried to its extreme, results in the experiential dissolution of the subject-object dichotomy and the total disappearance of consciousness of self (self-consciousness). Religious knowledge is knowledge of rather than about. To know, in religious language, is simply to experience in order to use intuitively or spontaneously (sometimes called spiritually).

The experiential emphasis in most science today is still objective; it depends upon “trained observation” of external phenomena for its knowledge about, in order to be able to explain or describe its “subject” phenomena. This still seems to apply to most feedback research as well as other scientific investigations of meditation. Carried to its extreme, however, the objective method as an approach comes to the same conclusion as the subjective method (Jeans, Eddington, Schroedinger, Planck, Bronowski), vis: Subjectivity and objectivity are indistinguishable. “We cannot get behind consciousness,” as Max Planck put it.

In addition, there are special obstacles to the objective method in the study of meditation, which is a “subjective” phenomena, and, unless studied quantitatively by instrumentation, depends upon verbal recall-reports of subjective states for its “objectivity.”

And finally, the ultimately successful meditation, by reports of the masters of the practice, results in an experience that is intrinsically ineffable—or indescribable, probably because its seat is extra-lingual; that is, it occurs only when the learned responses of the nervous system, such as language, are largely or wholly deactivated. Or deautomatized, in Deikman’s term.

Thus it would appear that if a scientist is to improve his knowledge of meditation, he must either spend much time in meditation himself or depend upon instrumental read-out of physiological phenomenon during meditation of others.

A combination of both will probably prove most effective. Incidentally, since it has been shown that deautomization of motor behavior can be accomplished not only by meditation but also by sensory isolation, deep relaxation, and probably by hypnosis, it is exciting to anticipate results when several of these techniques are combined with meditation in a labratory instrumentation study of deautomization. And even more exciting when this is done with two or more subjects in various arrangements of a common feedback circuit which may include such novel aural reinforcement as taped music and visual reinforcement as oscilloscopes with juxtaposed optimum performance profiles.


Because of the limitations of the objective approach to a subjective phenomenon cited above, the serious study of meditation begun full time by the writer in 1959 has been conducted mainly in the literature and the convenient laboratory of his own consciousness. The initial meditation method chosen was Krishnamurti’s very subtle and very difficult intensive self-examination. Although after two years of daily sessions of it, from one to six hours each, some startling discoveries were made, they were insufficient reinforcement for the long difficult hours between these rewards, and help was sought at the nearest weekly meditation meetings of the Quakers. This led to five months in 1961 and 1962 at the Quaker seminary called Pendle Hill, near Philadelphia, where a Zen Buddhist monk, also a student, wordlessly taught zazen (sitting meditation) for two hours one evening each week.

Almost all of the meditation practiced since has been one of the four basic exercises of elementary zazen—counting breaths, “watching” breaths, shikantaza, or holding the koan, Mu; the latter practice indistinguishable, as taught by the Zen Master Yasutani Hakuun, from the Hindu practice of japam, as taught by Eknath Easwaren. Japam, in turn, is repetition of the Holy Name in Christian terminology.

This practice of zazen has included at least nine months, intermittently, as a student at Zenshinji monastery at Tassajara, and at some sixteen scattered Zen sesshins, as they are called, where zazen is practiced in groups of twenty to forty under the close supervision of a team consisting of a Japanese Zen Master and his helpers—usually one or two Japanese Zen monks and one or two American adepts. The student group lives together in the same building (s) for seven days, in silence and real individual solitude, the sexes segregated for sleep, and practices zazen and kinhin, a kind of walking meditation, for ten to twelve hours of each seventeen-hour day, for from four to six and a half days. At the latest of these six-and-a-half-day sesshins the writer continued the zazen schedule alone for an additional six and a half days under the supervision of the Zen Master, and with the occasional surreptitious help of a portable EEG alpha-feedback device rented from its designer and builder, Hugh McDonald of Stanford University hypnosis laboratory.

Previous EEG alpha-feedback experience consisted of about ten days of three or four hours a day on equipment in [Dr. Joseph] Kamiya’s lab at Langley-Porter [Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Francisco] in the fall of 1967, again for about twenty-five days at this laboratory in the fall of 1968, and a few hours each on the equipments of the University of Pennsylvania and of Stanford University. The Langley-Porter experience included an alpha-feedback “24-hour marathon” attempt that was abandoned for lack of alpha and surfeit of fatigue after eighteen continuous hours. A total of about twenty-five hours of zazen has been spent on [the portable alpha feedback device].

One four-hour and one seven-hour session of instrumented floating meditation in a sensory-isolation environment, then called sensory-deprivation, was undertaken in the research laboratory “womb-tank” of the V. A. Hospital at Oklahoma City in 1963 or 1964.

Short periods of three days to three months each have been spent in practicing the meditation techniques taught by various institutions such as Self-Realization Fellowship at Encinitas [California], the Western Vedanta Society at Trabujo Monastery near Santa Ana, the Ananda Ashrams at La Crescenta and Pohassett, Joel Goldsmith’s Infinite Way Center in Honolulu, Questhaven Retreat in Escondido (two months), Graf Durckheim’s Hara meditation center at Todtmoos-Rutte, Germany (three months), the Catholic Camaldolese Hermitage at Lucia in the Big Sur (two weeks), Subramunya’s Himalayan Academy at Virginia City, Nevada, and Christian Yoga Center in San Francisco, Eknath Easwaran’s Mantra Yoga Meditation Center in Berkeley, some Hatha Yoga and Tai Chi Chuan lessons at Stillpoint Foundation near Los Gatos, several five-to-ten-day workshops with Charlotte Selvers, a couple of Ron Hubbard’s Scientology classes, a couple of weekend seminars in meditation at Esalen Big Sur, and so forth—a fair sampling of the long catalogue of meditation techniques taught around the world.

There has been no experience with the use of any of the consciousness-altering drugs, however, except for two trials of about ten minutes each to learn that it is impossible for the writer to meditate after using even very small amounts of either alcohol or marijuana.


The startling discovery produced by the Krishnamurti self-examination meditation after two years of daily practice was that the self and the examiner, or observer, are identical, so that when observation is fully achieved there is literally nothing subjective to observe. The mind is simply still, at last at peace, and consciousness is clear, total, and ecstatic. As later noted in the Zen Buddhist literature, self, ego, psyche, personality, mind—all are non-existent, a normally persistent illusion momentarily dispelled.

Meditation and Biofeedback by Durand Kiefer is an extract from The Highest State of Consciousness edited by John W. White, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

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