Any understanding of Enlightenment is hard-won, but worth it. Analysis of the phenomena yields powerful insights about our brains.
Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman describe two types of enlightenment in their book How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain. There are the small-e enlightenments and capital-E Enlightenments.
Small-e enlightenment experiences help us understand the world in a different way. Big-E Enlightenment experiences change everything about who you are and your sense of reality.
Big-E Enlightenment is especially noteworthy because it creates life-altering experiences and significant changes to the brain.
Enlightenment experiences are intense. Whatever sensations go with it get dramatically intensified. This intensity is reflected in the brain's limbic system (which processes emotion) and the parietal lobe (which organizes sensory information to create a sense of time, space, and self). The heightened emotional processing sears the experience into memory.
People who have experienced Enlightenment often report a sense of profound unity and oneness. Scientific analysis confirms that brain activity is driving this experience. When people feel this sense of oneness, the parietal lobe (which handles constructing a sense of self and how we spatially relate to the world) quiets down.
One of the most important aspects of Enlightenment is that it is permanent. It rearranges the way our brains work for the rest of our lives.
A key area involved is the thalamus. It's located deep inside the brain and some believe it is the seat of our consciousness. The thalamus is profoundly changed by Enlightenment experiences. If the thalamus changes, it changes one's perceptions of reality - the way one thinks about it, senses it, and interacts with it.
Enlightenment experiences happen to every type of person. They often appear to occur spontaneously. However, they can be purposefully induced through meditative practices, transcranial direct stimulation, pharmacological substances like LSD, and other methods. These methods are regarded by some as inauthentic. However, Newburg suggests they can be seen as correctives to aid the brain to perceive reality in a clearer way - like putting on glasses to correct vision.