Technology is supposed to improve our lives by making things easier and more convenient, and save us time, freeing us to do more meaningful things. Yet I have not seen a lot of in-depth analysis of the ways technological advances have impacted the occult student.
It’s been suggested that binaural beats can act as a shortcut to years of disciplined meditation and yogic techniques, and while I derive massive benefits from a formal sitting meditation practice, I have found that it is not always the most suitable for preparing you for real life. Your mind may be a still clear pond when perched upon a zafu in a temple setting, but that serenity can fly right out the window the first time you get stressed out at work, or get in a fight with your significant other.
Most magical texts worth their alchemical salt begin with, “Have you started meditating? If not, close this book now, do it every day for six months, then come back, and begin.” Magical work can be just so much self-delusion, until you have the ability to obtain a gnostic state to give your works enough oomph to reach escape velocity.
Too many people seem to treat meditation as an escape from reality, rather than plunging deeper into it. The ultimate goal of meditation (one of them, anyway), is to carry that headspace with you in your daily life.
What are binaural beats?
Binaural beats are auditory processing artifacts, or apparent sounds, caused by specific physical stimuli. This effect was discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove and earned greater public awareness in the late 20th century based on claims coming from the alternative medicine community that binaural beats could help induce relaxation, meditation, creativity and other desirable mental states. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone. For example, if 300 Hz was played in one ear and 310 in the other, then the binaural beat would have a frequency of 10 Hz.
We pass through various states in any given 24 hour period (provided you sleep that day). There is the alpha state (7.5 – 14 Hz), the first to be discovered, correlates to a the relaxed mental state, where the subject is at rest with eyes closed, but is not tired or asleep, although there are multiple levels of alpha waves. Beta waves (14 – 40 Hz) correspond to active, busy, or anxious thinking and active concentration, and indicate a possible usefulness for binaural beats, as too many beta waves for too long can result in stress, which in turn can lead to illness. Our information-heavy world demands almost constant attention, as the nervous system incessantly absorbs fresh stimuli and information. Is it any wonder that stress is the biggest killer of the last 60 years?
Theta waves (4 – 7.5 Hz) are present during deep meditation and light sleep, including the dream state. Theta states are the hypnagogic period between sleep and wakefulness, when you have fullest access to the unconscious mind. As such, theta states are useful for trance, “vivid visualizations, great inspiration, profound creativity and exceptional insight.”1 Delta waves (.5 – 4 Hz) are the slowest, and are found during deep sleep.
In addition to these four classic brain states, researchers have recently discovered gamma waves, the fastest of them all. Gamma waves (above 40 Hz) are associated with intense concentration, and are present in periods of high mental activity. Some refer to it as “the genius wave.” Interestingly, gamma waves are also said to affect “the unity of conscious perception” and “subjective awareness.”
Brain waves are affected by binaural beats by a process called entrainment. It’s the mechanism in our minds that lets us find the beat in a piece of music, whether you know it’s there or not.
Binaural beats, in particular, are interesting, in that the brain is synchronizing to a tone that doesn’t actually exist. When you play one tone in one ear and another in the other, the tone that is actually heard is the difference between the two, which can be calibrated to induce certain mental rhythms.
This is part of what makes supposedly makes binaural beats effective, in that both of the hemispheres of the brain work together to build a bridge between the waking mind and deep intuition.
I subjected myself to binaural beats for at least a half an hour a day, for seven days. I chose to work with theta waves I scored from the website Free Binaural Beats as I am interested in intuition, and creativity.
During my daily listening sessions I did a variety of activities, from house cleaning to having my morning cup of coffee to traditional sitting meditation. I even used binaural beats during an energetic banishment ritual, with the low hum acting as a drone to keep the circle going.
This table from Mind Alive suggests some impressive physiological results.
I found a number of interesting and practical results of my week-long study. The first is that using binaural beats while cleaning turned it into a kind of ritualistic act. The tone was still going, and so was I. I was much deeper and more thorough than usual, mostly due to the fact of having an allotted period of time, and the space seemed primed with my focus and intent when finished.
Secondly, while listening during my morning wake up routine, my hearing was essentially blocked with the steady hum of 7.5 Hz, my vision became acutely sharp, and I became absorbed and immersed in visual stimuli, such as being stunned at the many shades of the flowers in my garden and the intricate patterns of rot. This phenomena suggests some real possibilities, particularly for visual artists looking to heighten their faculties.
Lastly, and most importantly, was that having a tone play in my ears for half an hour to an hour brought me “back to the breath,” as my conscious thoughts danced and flitted about, the tone remained constant. It reminded me that I was meditating at those times, like a softer, gentler rap from your roshi.
This, I think, suggests the ultimate usefulness of binaural beats. It is like a portable ashram you can carry in your pocket, on whatever you use to listen to music. It’s like carrying a sliver of intuition, inspiration, peace, mindfulness, and compassion that you can duck into for a minute, like sneaking a smoke in the bathroom.
I have noticed myself being unusually creative and motivated this week. I think it is partially due to the binaural beats experiment, and partially to do with having a regular mindfulness practice. I submit that if you were to just sit for half an hour to an hour a day, you could reach similar levels of inspiration, calmness, and clarity.
This leads me to believe that binaural beats would be most useful in conjunction with a regular meditation practice of some kind. I have found them to be very useful in grabbing odd moments of meditativeness, when I’m feeling stressed or burned out, to try and get out of that anxiety-inducing beta state.
I also noticed that after a few days, when I was feeling slightly harried, I could just imagine what that tone sounded like as a way of instigating that feeling. A concrete visualization of inspiration and meditation? That is useful indeed.
There seems to be some real potential here. I am writing this article as a way of starting a dialogue, and as an exploration. Musicians could get more scientific and knowingly induce specific moods and states based upon the frequencies they choose. Audio psychonauts could program particular sensations for desired results — truly better living through circuitry, with no drugs required!
For more, see this chart of musical correspondences with various elements, colours, tarot trumps, and the like, from an appendix of Israel Regardie’s classic The Middle Pillar. From there, it is just a hop, skip, and a kabbalistic jump to create a series of tones or vibrations, that would allow you to implement binaural beats into ritual, pathworkings, and guided meditations.
In addition, this frequency list from Free Binaural Beats shows the frequencies and musical equivalents for different chakras and parts of the body. Binaural beats could possibly be useful as a sort of healing meditation as well. Remember that the frequencies mentioned are the difference between the two tones heard in separate ears.
Lastly, this table of Oster’s Curve from Audio Beaker can help you determine which is the best carrier frequency to select for a desired result. For instance, if you want a pure theta wave 7.5 Hz experience, somewhere around 210 Hz is going to be most audible and effective, say 213.75 Hz in the right channel, and 206.25 in the left. This will allow the dedicated neural hacker to create their own binaural beats, if you want to go beyond the many commercial products that are available.
If you’ve found this interesting or useful, or have experimented with binaural beats yourself, or think it’s a bunch of BS, we’d love to hear about it! I’d be particularly curious to hear about some others applications of binaural beats, and whether or not they’ve been successful.
Image credit: normalityrelief