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Spirituality, Brain and Threatened Sense of Self

Spirituality, Brain and Threatened Sense of Self

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Published by paolo1499
Is this a problem for mysticism ? Or does it reveal that the sense of self and the self itself is false ? If the truth is that I am not, who remains ?
Is this a problem for mysticism ? Or does it reveal that the sense of self and the self itself is false ? If the truth is that I am not, who remains ?

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: paolo1499 on Sep 20, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Beginnings of Spirituality and Death Anxiety in Human Evolution.
From Todd Murphy's websitebrainsci@jps.nethttp://www.shaktitechnology.com/deathanxiety.htm
Mommy, mommy, I feel sick.Run for the doctor, quick, quick, quick.Doctor, doctor, will I die? Yes my dear, and so shall I.(Whitley Strieber)
Human spirituality had an origin in our history. It began soon after we acquired our languageskills, and is related to the linguistic aspects of our sense of self.If we didn't have language, it would have been very easy to go into a total denial of the fact ofpersonal death(1). Nobody has ever experienced their own death. You have to figure it outwhile you're still alive.How do you know you'll die? Unless you have some fairly intense psychic powers ( and youbelieve in reincarnation), you won't remember dying, and even then your memories will bearother interpretations.Most people, most of the time, only know that they will die because they've learned it, usuallyduring childhood.
"Does everybody have to die, Daddy?" "Do dogs go to Heaven?" "Can people in Heaven see us?" "Is it a long time?" 
As children grow up, they experience the deaths of those around them, and learn that peopleactually die. Their religions tell them about life after death, making sure that kids think about itin their own terms as soon as they learn to think about it at all. Tales are told.Death is heaven and hell.Death is rebirth.Death is where the ancestors are.Death is a lush spirit world.Death is being in the arms of God.Cultures and religions have co-opted death, turning it into a story written by living cultures, forliving people. Near-Death studies have found that experiences very much like traditionalafterlife stories (or something like them) can actually be found in near-death accounts. Thiscan explain the source of these stories, but this chapter is more about why humans have theneed for these stories in the first place.When we first appeared as a species, our brains expanded in two important areas. The frontallobes, which have to do with planning, anticipating things, and projecting into the future, andthe temporal lobes, which have to do with memory. Both of these large areas have many otherfunctions, but these two stand out when we are talking about understanding death. Thetemporal lobes expanded, and now included language comprehension areas, and the frontallobes grew to include language production areas. The human sense of self changed to includea component that dealt in language, so that we began to take words personally, and to feelour ‘selves' affected by what others say to us.Our minds were re-shaped with a new 'top priority': talking to others. Each person had to fit theway they related to others into a vocabulary they shared with others. The process of actuallyidentifying with others was probably enhanced as well. We were more able to assume that ourexperiences were like those of others, and that their experiences were also like ours, becausethey used the same words and gestures we do. This must have enhanced our capacity for
bonding, but it also introduced a defense mechanism that helps people to feel that anyonewho seems to experience the world differently than themselves is somehow less than fullyhuman. Other nations were thought of as though they were other species. We began to judgeothers. Not just dislike them, but actually entertain thoughts that they shouldn't be the way theyare.At this point in our evolutionary history, a fundamentally new experience became possible. Aperson could look at a dead body, remember the experience, think about it, personalize thewhole thing, and conclude that the same thing is going to happen to them. Language skills areutilized, and the sentence appears in the mind: "I will die." The conclusion is reached withoutthe person having any first hand experience at all.The concept is very threatening. Our new cognitive skills would allow a lot more imaginationthan before, and it would have been very adaptive for us to use this skill to imagine as manyway of dying as possible. The more ways of dying we can imagine, the more ways we canavoid. But death anxiety is very stressful. If we were aware of our death at all times, we wouldbe at risk for several psychoses, like the ones that follow the development of the normallyfear-laden temporal lobe seizures. (2, 3).Persinger (4) has theorized that we developed a mechanism that shuts death anxiety off.Spiritual experience.You have to know something about how the brain creates emotion before you can understandhow this works. It starts with a structure called the amygdala. Actually, there's two of them,one on each side of the brain. The one on the right is specialized for negative feelings,especially fear and sadness. The one on the left manages positive feelings.There's an idea that keeps re-appearing in my work. That when a negative emotion becomesintense enough, it can actually create bliss.Here's how it works: As a negative emotion, especially fear, deepens, it involves more andmore of the right amygdala. The source of the emotion stimulates it from within. When acertain point is reached, it 'overloads', and the activity spills into the amygdala on the left. All ofa sudden, the left amygdala, which has been operating at a low level, is filled with activity, andthe person is filled with bliss, joy, ecstasy, and a sense of meaningfulness.The point where this happens is very deep in the experience of fear or sadness.My interpretation of these events is that they're a rare example of a state of consciousnessthat's usually a part of the death process (5). Because these states are ordinarily reserved forthe end of life, they might manifest only when a person only feels that their lives, their ‘self' isthreatened with extinction. When that threshold is crossed, a spiritual experience can occur,one that takes a part of the death process, and uses it to end a painful episode.Many near-death phenomena have appeared at times that a person only thought they wereabout to die, even when they weren't in any danger at all, as though the belief that one isabout to die is as much of a trigger as death itself. There are many recorded accounts of near-death-like experiences happening because of threats to the sense of self without any threatsto the person's life.Here's one such case (4) :
"When Fred died, the world collapsed around me. I could not eat or sleep, everything seemed to lose its color-food was tasteless, I couldn't swallow because of this lump in my throat; it would not go away no matter how much I cried. My mental pain would come and go like chill waves. Sometimes I would forget for a few minutes and think it was all a bad dream. Other times, the reality of it would hit me like a cold shower. The fourth night after he died, I lay in bed, trying to piece my life together. I lay there for hours. Suddenly, I felt Fred's presence beside me in the bed. I looked over and saw him standing beside me. He was dressed in his old work clothes and had a big smile on his face. He said "Don't worry Maud. I'm in heaven 
now, God has let me come to you. All our friends are here too. Its all true, what we believed about God ...this is only a temporary separation." I went to sleep and didn't wake for hours.The next day I felt good, the sun was shining again; there was meaning to my life." 
Maud probably identified herself as Fred's wife. When he died, she died. Her sense of herself,that is. Her brains activity can be guessed at: when her grief passed a certain point, her leftamygdala was triggered, and its positive contribution to her sense of self was restored. Whenobjects identified with the self are lost, so is the self. In fact, one study found that the mostprominent predisposing factor in sensing the presence of a deceased spouse was that theirwife or husband had died unexpectedly (8). Without time to prepare themselves mentally, theyweren't able to resist their own grief, and the threshold was passed.The human sense of self is partly a social thing. If a person experiences too much rejection atthe hands of others, as in child abuse, their self-esteem can be lowered below a certain point,also triggering this process. There are several studies on child abuse that support this idea(6). As the cycle of abuse proceeds, dissociative states that first appear as ways to escapefrom the abuse can become permanent options, ‘traits.' (7)The following case (author's collection-paraphrased) illustrates the point:
"As a child, I severely abused in every way a child can be. I grew up never having even one toy. I would be locked in a closet for days at a time. I spent my whole childhood wanting to die.He (her father) wouldn't give me any food or water. I lost all sense of time in there. I felt myself falling into a space I came to think of as ‘the pit of despair'. Eventually, I came to the bottom.There, I found angels waiting for me. They held me and comforted me and told me how my I was being prepared for something important that would come later on in my life. They promised me that they would never leave me and that they would always protect me. Now,when I do massage, these same angels appear and give me spirit guidance. They helped me to become a healer, and I can't imagine anything I'd rather be. I can't say that I'm glad I was abused, but having been abused is a part of my life, and I like my life. Now." 
There are several points that both these stories have in common with near-death experiences,such as the angels and meeting a dead person. It seems as though they both felt they weredying, and used the mechanism for healing these feelings that appears in the death process.A lot of my work is devote to exploring the idea that mystic experiences are instances of thedeath process occurring outside of their normal context. I don't see these as pathologicalinstances of the experiences. It seems more likely that our continually evolving minds foundadditional applications of the new neural mechanisms associated with the death process, andthat is the source of human spirituality.In another article, we have looked at the similarities between romantic love and religiousdevotion. Love, however its defined, has a powerful ability to lessen (attenuate) death anxiety.The death-process, as revealed in near-death experiences, seems to return, over and over, tothe experience of love and being loved, of being reunited with loved ones, and of looking at lifein terms of how much love we creat for ourselves while we live.Both love and the experience of religious bliss lessen the anxiety that threats to the sense ofself create. Love from others heals wounds to the self, which is partly a social thing. Religiousbliss and ecstasy heal threats to the more privately felt self. The death process begins with thefear and resistance that helps us to try to survive, but once death begins, and survivalbecomes impossible, the fear that expectating death creates is replaced by a feeling that'severy bit as good as the fear of death was bad.Our species is the only one that can hold the thought in our minds: "I will die.' Ours is the onlyone that needs a way to cope with it, and its long-term effects may be among the mostimportant factors that shaped our cultures.As children, we might run to our mommies when we hear things that hurt our feelings. Asadults, we run to God when our feelings are hurt. The fact of death is understood as an ideafirst, so its natural salve is more ideas . Ideas like the ones that religion uses to assure people

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