Source: Hermit Musings (Author)

Insights are sudden moments of lucid understanding that pop into our consciousness. In the past they were perceived to come primarily from divine intervention, but recent brain research shows that certain parts of the brain appear to cooperate, communicate, and dig up the awareness; to bring us insights. I’m not sure but what it might still imply that we get a little help from something greater than we are—call it what you will.

Science researchers have been making fantastic strides in brain studies. Tools like magnetic resonance imaging allow researchers to identify specific parts of the brain that become active when certain cognitive activities occur. It tells us a lot about where in the brain things happen and which parts cooperate to perform various high-level functions. We are developing a wonderful understanding of how this forehead bulge—and all the gray matter behind it—works.

Preparatory to an insight, for example, research has found that the prefrontal cortex—the brain’s conductor—draws upon many corners of the brain. It’s as if the answer is in there somewhere, and has been all along; it just takes the right “search engine” to find it.

It seems to me that there are various levels of insight. Some are quite easily accessible, if we simply are mindful and pay attention to our world. How often do we go around in a preoccupied state of mind, oblivious to what’s happening? Pay attention! Meditative disciplines train us to become mindful, and when we do, lots of modest but insightful wisdom is our reward. It ain’t that hard!

Deeper insights, deeper truths, however, require more work, more discipline. Truths that came to the saints and mystics usually did so after long periods of dedication and devotion. Einstein’s revelations came to a brilliant mind—but only after many hours of grinding effort, followed by a detached state of mind. Jesus came to his insights after wrestling with the problem and then spending many meditative days and nights in the desert.

So insights come in various levels and can be spiritual, personal, or scientific (natural truths). They all entail our seeing some sort of truth—about ultimate reality, ourselves, or the world around us.

A beautiful message I take from the insight process is that it’s accessible to every one of us who carries around that forehead bulge. In that sense, the insights do come from within—we needn’t wait for some authority to tell us the truth, coerce us into believing their spin on it, or lead us into delusion. Yes, we have many wonderful teachings available to us, in the form of writings and speech, but we can also access much truth and understanding from within ourselves.

But within where? Does insight reside predominantly within our brain? The brain seems to know much more than we do, but is it that vast a storehouse? How is the brain related to the mind? The former is stuff, the latter is immaterial. The former is confined to our physical body, the latter is not. If the mind is not bounded by our skin, do some insights arrive via some connection to the universal consciousness, or from God?

Science may be finding some fascinating things about various parts of the brain that light up, but it can’t yet say much about the extent or workings of the mind. All those questions can become a little “mind numbing” to me. The brain—or the mind—doesn’t care what we think or believe about it. It just does its marvelous job, and science sometimes tells us some fundamental things about it. The biggest truths still await our discovery.

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