by Celia Coates
That’s the question Oliver Sacks asked in 1964 – “What is the color of heaven?”
Last week I heard a Radio Lab re-broadcast of an interview by Robert Krulwich in which Dr. Sacks described how he got his answer. The story was also published in the National Geographic * where Krulwich wrote,
“Oliver was not a believer. I’m sure he didn’t imagine a heaven with white clouds and angels darting about. White wasn’t his color. If heaven existed, he thought, it would be bluish – not a pale blue, but ‘true indigo,’ a rich, intense deep blue that he had never seen.”
In order to discover the color of heaven, Sacks drank a psychedelic cocktail and waited twenty minutes to give the mix a chance to hit his body. Then he faced a white wall and demanded that he be shown the color now. And there it was.
Krulwich described Sacks’ experience:
“All of a sudden ‘as if thrown by a giant paintbrush,’ Oliver remembers that a ‘huge, trembling, pear-shaped blob’ of color appeared magically on the kitchen wall. It was a miracle of blue. It was, he says, ‘luminous, numinous; it filled me with rapture.’ It stayed in place for a very little while, and then, just as suddenly, vanished.”
Sacks searched everywhere but glimpsed that indigo only once more – while he was looking at an Egyptian jewel in a museum.
(I hope you can see the illustration that accompanies this post. The outer ring of the larger glass bead with the most intense purpled blue is, for me, indigo – although I’ve seen different shades called that in other places.)
The blue that Oliver Sacks saw others have seen without having to take a mix of hallucinogenic drugs: they find it by moving into a higher state of consciousness through meditation. Once upon a time (which means I can’t remember exactly when) I saw the color as a kind of small but full circle of lovely indigo while I was meditating. I noted the color because it was so beautiful and unusual, but I didn’t understand what I’d seen.
A few years later I learned about “the blue pearl.” This is from Yogapedia’s website,
“The blue pearl, also known as nila bindu, is a tiny point in the crown chakra that is the seed of consciousness, or the higher soul. Located within the pineal gland, it is also known as the mental jewel. In yoga, the blue pearl can be activated through meditation and poses that target the crown chakra.” **
Before learning about the nila bindu, I’d already heard about “theta blue” from some friends who had done extensive work with brainwave biofeedback. The same year that Sacks demanded to see the color of heaven, Elmer and Alyce Green began their research at the Voluntary Controls Program at the Menninger Foundation. Their pioneering work in clinical biofeedback was centered on states of consciousness and focused on the relationship between the body and the mind. The brain produces electrical patterns that are part of our experiencing four different states of consciousness.
A fifth state, gamma, has been found above beta, but at the time the Greens and their colleagues were working, they studied these four patterns or frequency ranges which very simply can be described as:
beta – a state of ordinary thinking while awake
alpha – a state of real relaxation
theta – a state of dream and daydream, expanded vision and creativity
delta – a state of sleep
We need all four (or five) states and one is not “better” than another. Also, all frequencies remain present but in a named state one pattern is dominant. In the state of consciousness dominated by the theta range of brainwave frequencies, we become open to seeing far beyond ordinary, physical reality. It is in that state that we can see indigo or “theta blue.”
The knowledge about states of consciousness fills many volumes and this is a very small post. Here, I would like to make just two points – first, both the brilliant neurologist Oliver Sacks, M.D. and the Greens followed their curiosity into discovery, discovery that opened their worlds and were gifts to the rest of us. And, second, they trusted the mind and direct experience to teach us about what is real. It’s important to know that there are two “laboratories” – both the personal and the standard scientific one – for us to use to explore human potential and the nature of reality. Everyone can make discoveries.
* * * * *
* “The First Time Oliver Sacks Saw Heaven (1964)” by Robert Krulwich, THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, September 3, 2015
** http://www.yogapedia.com/definition/6658/blue pearl
For more about Elmer Green: http://www.consciousnessandbiofeedback.org/elmer-green-biography/
You might like to read BEYOND BIOFEEDBACK by Elmer and Alyce Green, first published in 1977. Later editions include expanded sections about the theta state.
The image is a stock photo of an amulet from Pixabay.