I have been reading Andrew Newberg’s Why God Won’t Go Away. It explains the neuroscience behind spiritual experiences. One of the chapters discusses myths, creation myths particularly, the stories we, as a people or culture, tell ourselves to answer those existential questions about life, death, and why we are here. Two cognitive operators play a role in the creation of these myths. The first is the causal operator, this is the mind’s ability to think in abstract terms; it is what drives our curiosity. And it is what motivates us to answer those questions we have no concrete answers for. Next is the binary operator. This is the brain’s ability to frame the world in terms of basic polar opposites..light and dark, above and below, big and small. It is one of the ways we make sense of our world. What is interesting is that Newberg says, “the binary operator does not simply observe and identify opposites, but in a very real sense it creates them.” So when we are faced with some unanswerable existential question our mind rearranges “the problem” into irreconcilable opposites “that become the key elements of myth: heaven and hell; good and evil; celebration and tragedy; birth, death, and rebirth, and isolation and unity.”
I can’t help but believe we do this on a very personal level every day as well. We create stories, myths, about our lives and identities, and even the lives and identities of others, to “understand” or make sense of our smaller world, however mundane it may be. When I am treated unfairly for instance, I try to figure out what happened…why would this happen to me? And when I can’t make sense of it in some concrete way, I “come up with a story” that I can literally live with. Only when reality sets in and my story unravels, I am again in search of a way to make sense of what I don’t understand. Sometimes we can only believe that which we are capable of handling in that moment. I want to think “A” is true, because “B” is too painful to believe right now. One day I will come to accept “B,” but maybe it takes a neurological change to make that happen.
God, Newberg believes, exists in our minds…not in a fantasy sort of way, but in “scientific” way. This isn’t really new thought, it is why people have been meditating for thousands of years; it is why Sufi mystics whirl, and others chant. God is within us. And if we want to experience God,we must let go of all our personal myths, and discover who we really are.
I have an insatiable curiosity about everything. It’s pathological at times…I want to understand the motivations of others, why people believe what they believe and do what they do. I always thought this was somehow helping me understand my own beliefs, but really it was only a distraction. Perhaps a distraction based a little in fear. I have a faith in God that I do not understand at times. It is the one constant in my life, it has sustained me, and driven me, and comforted me when nothing else has. But I do not know why I believe what I believe. In my neurochemistry is a faith, or really a knowing, that I was born with. I have returned to meditating recently, I am ready to give up my myths and identity; I am on a journey inward now.