If the stories of angels and demons battling it out for your soul don’t resonate with you, you might think of their opposing forces in a less poetic way, using the language of brain science. Each of us has neural pathways in our brain – functionally and chemically connected neurons – that are created when neurons that fire together then wire together. These networks act as information superhighways that reinforce the beliefs that lead us to act angrily, greedily, and lustfully in order to guard against perceived threats to our survival. Remember that the limbic brain functions with beliefs about reality, while the new brain works with theories that it tests out against reality.
To reprogram these information superhighways, we have to eject the limbic brain from the driver’s seat of our neurophysiology. We have to start using the fancy new hardware of the neocortex to develop new pathways that will override the old programming. Then the neocortex can intervene to stop the primitive brain from automatically sending out the chemical signals that cause us to feel and act like cornered animals. Our more evolved brain can begin to run the software that will make the experience of kindness, joy and peace habitual. This new brain has until recently only been a functioning neurocomputer for saints, scientists, and sages. Yet we can bring its faculties online during our initiation. Indigenous societies that practice meditation, joy, charity, and compassion, all of which are higher brain functions, are far less violent and report experiencing fulfillment and contentment in their lives far more often than those who don’t regularly engage in these practices.
If property brought online through meditation or the practice of the seven virtues, our neocortex will allow us to transcend the fear of death even if we don’t believe in an afterlife. It can free us from the demands of the ticking clock and let us experience our connection to all that is and will ever be. The neocortex is programmed for exploration, truth, and scientific innovation, so when we go through an initiation successfully, we activate the neural circuitry that allows us to leave behind superstition, dogma, and hardened religious beliefs and step into a life of discovery. We can finally recognize what a petty, shallow life we’ve been living in the world of predators and step into the much more nourishing role of creator.
The call to being creator is a summons to action and service, unfettered by grandiose fantasies about securing one’s legacy by saving the world. Once you free yourself from your primitive brain’s limited perceptions of what you can accomplish, you discover your greatness. You realize that you’re both an immaterial speck and an all-important element in the universe. If you find yourself without a house, you realize that you are a traveler, not a homeless person. If you lose your job, you discover that you are an entrepreneur, not an unemployed person. When your parents pass away, you understand that the earth and the sky are your parents and humanity is your family.
Excerpt from the book “Illumination” by Alberto Villoldo