Over the years this site has been up, I have received much feedback, both positive and negative about it, especially about how well or clearly I have presented the ideas herein. Taking both sorts of feedback, I can now present what should hopefully be an explanation easily understood by the layman, not just someone who has undergone such experiences themselves already.
OK, first of it all begins with stress. Stress activates the fight or flight system, also called the sympathetic nervous system. This is the part of your brain and body that releases adrenaline, and shuts down unneccessary systems in both brain and body, to better use the energy elsewhere, in parts of the brain and body more directly applicable to survival: the muscles, the hindbrain, and so forth.
In most people, a little bit of this is a good thing, and makes the reflexes a little quicker, and gives them a slight boost of strength. After all, that's what adrenaline does. And also, with the body not spending energy on digesting food and other things, that energy is made available for the muscles and brain to use. Too much of this is a bad thing, though, for excess adrenaline causes the shakes and a loss of coordination.
Meditation seems to alleviate this problem. Many traditional schools of martial arts teach that meditation is key to becoming a good martial artist. This is because when the mind is calmer, it is less active. There is less going on in it. This naturally will cut back on problems with lack of coordination, because the meditative state allows more natural reactions to flow from the hindbrain, and the conscious forebrain isn't distracting it with irrelevant noise. And, as most meditators find, a calm mind in a meditative state exerts a calming influence on the body, a fact that has been so well documented by medical studies here in the West that I needn't give any references for it. And this can eliminate the shakes in a good meditative state. And therefore experience with meditation gives those who practice at it the key for managing to endure higher than normal levels of adrenaline, thus enabling them to benefit entirely from it and not suffer from it. This is a big part of why martial artists of all types study meditation.
The state of somafera is founded upon this technique. Much of the benefits of the somafera state come from the increase in strength and reflexes that adrenaline gives. So we deliberately induce stress at the start of our techniques, to start turning the adrenaline on.
Various somaferans go about this in various ways. One I have known for years, a maenad, will get herself worked up with frenetic dance, to and past the point of exhaustion an even physical pain. Pushing herself this far creates a lot of stress, and so creates a lot of adrenaline. One berserker I know uses a very inner-oriented technique. He pastes together thoughts and memories that overwhelm him with unprocessed emotion, creating stress entirely from inner sources. I, and many like me aren't well able to get into the state with so little stress. So we have tended to use other techniques, that are a little harsher. Such as extended fasting and then working out, or holding a hand in flames. Each of us has our own techniques we've found to work, and no two are exactly alike. Not all of our practices are for everybody. I myself began with extreme pain inducing techniques, and from my experience with these learned enough about how the process worked to develop an inner technique more like that of my luckier friend.
Upon the onset of the stress, especially with the extremer techniques, there is a moment of crisis. Is the surge of emotion and adrenaline going to overwhelm you and scatter your thoughts? Or are you going to hang onto a powerful meditative state and let the chaos pass through you, thus staying in control? This is why, as the stress is applied, the somaferan is usually also entering a meditative state. Now, this isn't easy to do. The rush of adrenaline easily overwhelms even good meditative states. It takes someone a little special to handle this technique, for the meditative state needed to endure such jostling needs to be quite good indeed. But whatever it is about us born somaferans that makes us prone to entering the state of somafera makes this easier to learn for most of us than for non somaferans. No, this isn't bragging. Everyone's born with more of some talents, less of others. We tend to enter deep meditative states easily. Others are artists, or engineers, etc.
Once this crisis is past, the somaferan is in a state we refer to as one of raised energy. Physically speaking, it is a matter of very high levels of adrenaline in the blood, coupled with greater reliance on instincts, more electrical energy in the nervous system (a common effect of adrenline), and less activity in the forebrain, the part of the brain that helps gives rise to a feeling of self and ego. Depending on the nature of the meditative state the somefarn was in when the adrenaline shot up, the nature of this state will be different. If the meditative focus was upon energetic, furious, powerful thoughts and emotions then the somaferan will be said to be full of wod energy, a fiery, furious spiritual energy from Norse lore. If the meditative focus was on calm, balance, and harmony, then it will be more of a chi-like energy he or she is filled with, a spiritual energy from Chinese lore, focused, controlled, even calm, but still full of energy and power. This is because adrenaline fires up the brain. What is active in the brain at the time of the adrenaline dump is what gets fired up.
This is the state that most spiritual practitioners of most traditions the world over refer to as having raised spiritual energy. This is what the shaman's dance calls up, and the elaborate Cabbalistic rites, and the simple religious dramas of the Wiccans. This is the beginning of the state of somafera. But it is only the beginning.
The rest is simply taking the above technique all the way to the extreme. There is a special thing that can happen sometimes when the sympathetic nervous system is pushed not just hard, but all the way. To the limits of what it can take. Once it is at this limit, there is so much stress involved that the brain is simply overwhelmed. And so it does something desperate, as part of an evolved-in survival instinct. It switches off major parts of the brain, so that the hypothalamus, the brain's master switch, isn't so overwhelmed and can start sorting out the flood of signal's it's getting. It also turns on the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the exact opposite of the sympathetic nervous system. It's purpose is to heal the body, achieve homeostasis (a fance scientific word for the body's normal state of chemicals and energy), rest, relax, and calm. It is normally impossible or at least extremely difficult for both nervous systems to be on at the same time. They usually inhibit each other's actions. But the overloaded sympathetic nervous system is about to tear body and brain apart, so the parasympathetic's activation forces some order and balance at this point.
As a reference for the medical side of things, the physiology involved here, I will give Why God Won't Go Away, by Dr. Newberg et al, neurobiologists who undertook a scientific study of what goes on in the brains of people having relgious/spiritual experiences. The above description's technical aspects I have gotten from their work. They analyzed the experiences of people having the sorts of experiences I was having in practicing somafera, as were the other somaferans I knew as well. So their's is the work to check out. The book is written for laymen, but those interested in their more technical writings can find references in the book.
The doctors call this occurrence entering the unitary state. The unitary state they define as both sides of the nervous system being active at once, with the parts of the brain that keep track of the self being shut off. (With some other details as well, such as temporal lobe epilepsy.) And this all is possibly a remarkably lucky arrangement of brain and body. (Though it may not have been luck. The neurobiologists' speculations on why the brain would have evolved this way as a survival mechanism for our Stone Age ancestors is certainly thought provoking.) The parasympathetic nervous system keeps the enormous energy the sympathetic system is causing to occur through adrenline and such things more or less directed into areas that not only won't kill the person in that state, or disorient him, but will instead be directed into a useful pursuit. Because the brain physically no longer has access to any concept of the self, including in some cases the body, it conceives of itself as being whatever the senses are telling it it is seeing. (This means the inner senses, as well as the five outer ones.) The practical upshot of this is that the person in a unitary state becomes one in every way with whatever he or she is looking at, as well as whatever the focus of meditation was. This means that there is a ton of energy making the brain process faster than ever anything it contains, which makes reactions taken to anything inside or outside that person's self to be as near perfect as humanly possible. Simply because the brain is working faster and harder than ever possible outside the unitary state, utterly undistracted by awareness of self or anything else.
There is another crisis moment involved in transitioning from merely raised energy all the way to the unitary state of somafera. Once the state is entered into, there is an immediate loss of perspective, sense of self, rush of energy, and alteration of the way the mind is working. It takes a TRULY ADVANCED meditative state to not be simply thrown into chaos by this, and immediately out of the unitary state. (Which is why all that most people experience of the unitary state is the instantaneous flash of it, the eureka moment.)
It is true that the unitary state can be entered in a variety of ways. But because THE critical feature is to have one half of the nervous system completely overwhelemed, any method takes some doing. It is not at all easy to deliberately overwhelm yourself that much. Most people have serious blocks and inhibitions about ever experiencing that much stress. So some people, like most Buddhists for instance, go about it the safe but slow way, practicing meditations over and over again until, eventually (maybe even in a future lifetime), the mind will have become so habituated to them that it naturally and easily sends enough energy through the meditative ritual to enter the state. Others, such as someferans, tend to go about it the more direct, faster, more dangerous way, that of inducing enough hard stress at once to do it. And for many of us this has meant that rituals that make use of pain are the best. For nothing creates more stress faster. To us, it seems a small price to pay in order to skip years and years of the slow, boring conditioning of our minds.
Disclaimer: The information and practices described in this site are the result of years of study and dedication to the understanding of the risks involved. These descriptions are provided for purposes of information only. Actually trying to practice anything described in this site would almost certainly lead to injury, perhaps even serious injury or death. We strongly advise against it.
All content © Wayland Skallagrimsson, 2013