On Science, Spirituality, and Headaches in the Mind’s Eye
The thing about being a teacher, especially a teacher of young and/or poorly-behaved kids, is that you cannot leave them alone, ever. Nature calling loudly? Too bad. Either wait until the kids go to art class, or see if you can flag down a passing teacher in the hall. (It’s a fact that educators often suffer from UTI’s because they hold their pee for too long.)
In addition to times when I had to pee, there was another instance, about four years ago now, when I desperately wanted to leave my classroom. I was teaching learning-disabled middle schoolers in New Orleans, and that day I’d had a terrible sinus pressure headache for hours. I was standing at the front of the room, probably talking about fractions and how awesome they are, when I was overcome by a wave of nausea and dizziness.
My vision went out of focus, and the floor swam under my feet. I felt pin-pricks of sweat on my forehead ,and the tell-tale burn in the back of my throat. I wanted to run immediately for the bathroom before I puked in front of my sixth graders and forever lost their respect.
But I couldn’t. If I ran out of the room, leaving the students unattended, and, then, say, Lewis stabbed himself in the eye with a pencil (as he very well could have done since he was an impulsive, violent, and rather clumsy child), then I would be held responsible for the accident. So instead, I calmly told the kids to get out their workbooks.
“Ms. Langston doesn’t feel very well,” I said. (Another thing about teachers is that they often refer to themselves in the third person.) “So I want you to work quietly for the rest of the period.”
The room was spinning a little less now, but I still felt woozy and nauseated. My only thought was, I have to get out of here before I puke. I sat down at my desk and sent out a mass email to all of the teachers: I am suddenly feeling very sick. Can anyone please cover my sixth and seventh periods today? And maybe come watch the rest of my fifth period right now?! Thanks!
Within minutes, I had teachers volunteer to watch my classes. I slapped the emergency sub plans on top of my desk, said goodbye to my students, and hurried out the door.
I have since deduced that what I had experienced that day was not – as I initially thought – a sinus infection, but in fact a bad migraine. At least, that’s what I thought up until recently. I’ve been suffering from intermittent headaches and head pressure for four or five years now, and I’ve been told various things by various doctors and been prescribed various types of medication. I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that these headaches are migraines.
But the annoying thing about migraines is that researchers aren’t quite sure what causes them, and although there seem to be triggers, like lack of sleep or bright lights, why these are triggers isn’t understood either.
“I just want to find out what I’m doing to cause the headaches so I can stop doing it and stop getting them,” I always tell doctors. They give me pills instead of answers, and I don’t want to take the pills. For one thing, they’re expensive. (The current pill I’ve been prescribed costs $2.00 per pill.) So when I start getting a headache, I wait to see if it’s bad enough to warrant taking meds. Unfortunately, if I don’t take the pill at the first sign of a migraine, it often doesn’t work.
I had the beginnings of a headache pretty much all day yesterday. The pressure, as usual, was in the front of my face, behind the bridge of my nose. By the time I went to yoga at 5:45, my forehead was throbbing, and I worried that my face might explode in downward dog.
But, as I’ve experienced before, doing yoga made the headache go away, and as I was lying there in shevasana, I realized something startling: my headache always seems to be concentrated at my “third eye.”
The third eye is a popular idea in yoga, Hinduism, and many other religions – an invisible eye located between the brows that perceives beyond ordinary sight. It is often thought to be the tunnel to inner realms and higher states of consciousness — even psychic abilities. I have been told by meditation and yoga instructors to focus on my inner eye, and to try to see or breathe from it. I often find this practice uncomfortable, though, because it creates a sense of pressure in my head similar to the pressure I get before a migraine.
The revelation that my migraines were located in my third eye was exciting – perhaps this was the key to stopping the headaches once and for all! When I got home from yoga, I googled “third eye headache” and got a bunch of weird brouhaha about “cleansing the inner eye” and how meditating to open your third eye can cause headache pressure. “I opened my third eye, and I regret it!” one chat room post read.
Ugh, I thought. This hippy stuff isn’t going to help. I then read the “third eye” wikipedia page with interest. Some traditions, it said, believe that in ancient times, humans had “an actual third eye in the back of the head with a physical and spiritual function. Over time, as humans evolved, this eye atrophied and sunk into what is today known as the pineal gland.”
Pineal gland, I thought. That sounds scientific! My brain perked up, but my third eye still throbbed.
Back when I lived with my friend Nikki, she accused me of being open-minded when it came to science, but closed-minded when it came to the spiritual texts she was interested in. When she started reading to me from her meditation book, using words like “chakra” and “aura,” or phrases like “energy center” and “life force,” I immediately turned skeptical. But when we were reading A Brief History of Time together, I was more than willing to grasp at the unbelievable and mysterious aspects of the universe.
“I guess scientific language is what speaks to me best,” I said. Nikki and I decided that, in a lot of ways, we believed the same things, we just called them by different names.
* * *
This was the phenomenon that was happening now, as googled about the third eye. As soon as I read that the pineal gland is sensitive to light and extremely important in regulating the body, the idea of a “third eye” in this location seemed more plausible. It has even been hypothesized that the production of certain chemicals in the pineal gland, which are released prior to death, are similar to psychedelic drugs and could be responsible for near-death experiences. So that could be why it’s thought to be a seat of psychic activity.
Unfortunately, all the websites about “meditations to open your third eye and access your pineal gland” still seemed pretty weird and crazy to me. I found myself skimming them quickly then going back to search for more “scientific” articles.
I knew I was being closed-minded. Maybe being so closed is why I am feeling pressure and getting headaches. Maybe there is something trapped in my inner consciousness, and by keeping my third eye closed, I’m sealing it in. This knowledge, this spirituality, this deeper something is pounding on the door to the tunnel, and I feel a persistent throbbing between my eyes.
Or, maybe I’m just staring at a glowing computer screen too much every day. Maybe my headaches are stress-related, or due to something I’m eating, or caused by changes in barometric pressure. That’s what science would say.
I’m not sure I can seriously practice some of the third eye opening meditations I read about online. That stuff just isn’t my language. On the other hand, it seems like science and spirituality both agree on the importance of the pineal gland, and that is exactly where I am experiencing pain. So my plan is to keep a headache diary, noting any possible triggers, and when I do get headaches, I plan to at least close my eyes, breathe, and focus on my third eye. I think the key is to keep an open mind on this whole situation and continue to explore possible remedies for my headaches – both scientific and spiritual.
I may be want to be a writer, but I’m still a teacher, too. And the thing about true teachers is they’re always willing to open their mind and learn something new.
RELATED READINGS: (Please note — I do not necessarily condone or agree with any of info in the following articles)
Pineal Gland: Our Third Eye (A conspiracy theory article)