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The Chemical Receptor In The Brain Responsible For Mystical, Spiritual, Transcendental Experiences And How To Make More Of Them

Transcendental experiences, those bliss inducing, other worldly experiences that lie outside common experience, and defy any objective explanation, are one of the most powerful experiences a human can have and they commonly lead to a dramatic transformation in the person’s life. Often viewed as a direct experience of spirit, or God, transcendence is not a phenomenon that is easy to forget, or understand, and therefore not surprising that the individual who is privy to one seeks understanding through religious practice. 

Undoubtedly, religion can and does serve many well, and no doubt all religions have benefited from the mystery of transcendence. But as we advance our understanding of the human brain – mind relationship, science has brought transcendence into its lab and for better or worst, they are demystifying what was once considered matters belonging to the realm of mystics, sages, gurus and the like.

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Scientists have long suspected that the neurotransmitter serotonin has a causal effect of transcendental experiences “because drugs known to alter serotonin such as LSD also induce mystical experiences” In 2003 a Swedish research team substantiated their hunches by discovering that “that the presence of a receptor that regulates general serotonin activity in the brain correlates with people's capacity for transcendence.” (Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2003)

This of course seems to suggest that the proclivity to have a transcendental experience is equally available to all. However this is not the case, because the concentration of serotonin receptors can differ greatly between individuals, making it relatively easy for some to achieve the experience and highly improbable for others. But moreover, transcendental experiences notwithstanding, the level of serotonin receptors sites a person has a profound effect on every aspect of an individuals life in general.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for character and mood. The greater the serotonin being taken up, the happier and more motivated a person will be, increasing their chance for a successful, fulfilling life. Conversely the less serotonin taken up the more depressed and less motivated a person will be, diminishing their overall quality of life.

Fortunately for those who have a low serotonin receptor count, the brain’s physiology is not hard set. It can be changed. The brain is plastic and develops according to how it is habitually used. So, if the brain is re-habituated to new activities, it will develop the parts of itself that is most dedicated to that activity in order to become better at it.

A perfect example is patterns of thinking. It is known that positive, happy, joyful, compassionate thoughts activate the left anterior portion of the brain, the area most associated with joy and awe, and the longer a happy thinking pattern is sustained the more this portion will develop until eventually the persons natural state is a happy one. This means that not only is the brain developing its neural network, but also that it is necessarily increasing its number of receptor sites for its development.

Of course when a person is feeling depressed and unmotivated it can be hard, if not impossible to switch their thinking on its head (no bad pun intended). In such cases there are other practices a person can use to achieve the same result such as meditation, which can be practised regardless of mental state. If practiced consistently, meditation will reconfigure one’s brain and way of thinking to a more peaceful, relaxed and happy state.

If the discipline of meditation is not possible or desirable, there are more mechanical, but effective, options such as hypnotherapy, or brain entrainment (the use of light or sound to induce brainwave states similar to meditation). Whichever option suits best makes no difference; all that is required is an enlightened end.

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