There is so much knowledge and insight here! Sean, thank you for your invitation to participate.
One earlier thread is the nature of science. I'd like to follow it a bit, and see where it may lead.
I believe there can be two forms of science. One is the standard science of physics, chemistry, etc. This is objective science, or the scientific method, in which laboratory tools insulate our observations from contamination by our untrustworthy subjective side (random thoughts, emotions, untrustworthy senses of perception). Objective science requires measurement (observation), reasoning, testability, and reproducibility.
Another form of science is pure subjective science, in which we observe what goes on inside us in our mental life and on the level of consciousness. Subjective science includes reproducible experimentation, such as application of the traditional mental techniques of Dao, Zen, Buddhism, the Veda, etc. These techniques may include prayer, meditation, Sanyama, asanas, pranayama, etc., depending on what is found to be effective.
When discussing subjective science, the notion of states or levels of consciousness can be relevant. Just as imperfections in the eye are automatically mapped and removed by the visual cortex, we are usually unaware of the pattern of dysfunction (stresses) stored in our nervous system. Their purpose is to protect us from overload and keep us functioning, even though with reduced functionality.
Stored stress can be understood by an analogy. Every house has fuses or circuit breakers to protect it from fire in case of electrical overload. If you overload an electrical outlet, a fuse burns out or a circuit breaker trips, shutting off the electricity to that circuit. While this protects the house from fire, it also makes the house less functional, since the electricity no longer flows to that outlet.
An example shows how stress is stored. If we are almost hit by a car, even if we are not physically injured, the experience can be an overload. It can be too much for us to handle. Our brain responds by storing the stress and shielding us from its impact. We know this because we tend to relive the traumatic experience again and again, in our thoughts, our dreams at night, and in our meditation sessions. We may be left with anger, inability to focus on people and events, or other post-traumatic effects. Our life is negatively affected.
How does stored stress make us less functional? Primarily by obscuring clarity of thought. As we live our life, a more or less constant stream of random thoughts (monkey chatter) occupies our mind, preventing us from taking precise, ethical action that interacts efficiently with the universe around us to achieve life-supporting goals. But, fortunately for our sanity, the monkey chatter and other negative effects of stored stress are mapped and hidden from us, so we can function. However, we function at a reduced level. Instead of living in fulfillment and joy, we live vulnerable to the ups and downs of relative joys and suffering.
This is what I mean by level of consciousness: it ranges from the ignorance of someone loaded down with stress, barely coping with life, to the knowledge of a spiritual master able to help all in need from his or her own vast resources, based on inner silence, and supported by the entire universe. The development of one's level of consciousness is the whole purpose and justification for subjective science, with its many techniques.
All advanced religion and philosophy, whether Dao, Zen, Buddhism, the Veda, or Christianity, talks of something most of us don't typically experience: Heaven within. They urge us to subjective or spiritual growth. Christianity emphasizes the role of divine grace: that we cannot achieve much through our own efforts, but that God wants to help us and bring us to fulfillment through His universal power. I believe that is a helpful philosophy, but it is useful only to the extent that our stored stresses permit us to be receptive to that offered grace. If we are limited in understanding and burdened with ego, our receptivity will not be very great, and suffering in various forms will tend to increase as we get older.
If we buy the notion of stored stresses (which, in the absence of direct experience requires a certain leap of faith, since our educational system mostly ignores the scientific research that has shown how simple mental techniques can reduce mental chatter and improve functioning in life), the key to being receptive to divine grace is reducing the amount of stored stress.
Besides its ability to cope with sensory and cognitive overload by storing stress, our nervous system also has the ability to eliminate stored stress. In the fuse/circuit analogy, this would be like replacing the fuse or resetting the circuit breaker and restoring proper functioning. How is this done? Through rest. Indeed, the whole purpose of sleep at night is to wash away the stresses accumulated during the day.
But sleep is not enough. Research has shown that there is a fourth state of physiology, restful alertness (samadhi), in addition to the basic three (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep) that is necessary for proper functioning in life. (By "proper functioning in life" I mean the experience of unbounded silence and unbounded joy in the midst of dynamic daily activity).
By regular practice of deep, effective meditation, it is possible to bring such a deep state of rest to the body that the nervous system can eliminate even deep-rooted stresses. With an effective form of meditation, it takes only a few minutes to begin this process of rapid elimination of stress.
Although normally hidden from our awareness, these stresses prevent us from experiencing peace in all situations. They obscure the creativity and intelligence that we can express when we are fully connected to the source of all thoughts within, pure consciousness or awareness, without monkey chatter or other distraction.
Living in unbounded silence as a result of our daily practice and divine grace does not require effort, but just the opposite: we learn to be effortless and innocent through deep rest and the elimination of stress. Effortlessness is the ultimate skill of living.
With freedom from stress and clarity of thought comes the fulfillment of subjective science in the mastery of life and the expression of universal divine and human Self. We become fully able to live now, without concern for limitations of the past or the unknowability of the future. Actual unity among the material, emotional, spiritual, and silent levels of life, inner and outer, is possible only when the stresses that limit us have been dissolved.