This past week, Dan Wotherspoon’s discussion with Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen on psychology and spirituality triggered something within me. I realized, as I listened to Lisa’s understanding of how our brains work, that there is something very divine within us.
When I consider how “revelation” has occurred throughout history, it seems clear to me that each person’s spiritual experience is mediated by our minds. In fact, Joseph Smith pointed this out—that the very revelatory process Moses used was that the Word of the Lord comes through our mind and our heart:
Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3
I think this verse maps closely to what Lisa said in the podcast. Our “mind” is where we think: our prefrontal cortex and the “higher” brain functions. Our heart, of course, doesn’t have any real role in “thinking,” but our ancestors, lacking an understanding of human physiology, equated the “heart” with our feelings. As Lisa pointed out, our feelings are mediated by the amygdalae—small, almond-like structures in our “limbic” mind—the one we inherit from our non-human evolutionary ancestors.
It seems to me, then, that whatever we think of God “out there,” whether we believe in Christianity, Islam, or any other “theism,” or as Dan points out from William James, whatever is the “more” beyond ourselves, the reality is that our interface to God lies within us.
What I think of God
For the sake of this discussion, let’s consider that the only God with which we have to do resides within six inches between our own ears, yet is distinct from our own consciousness. Regardless of whether this is an interface to some power beyond, I think it is accurate to say that all perception of God happens within our own minds.
It seems to me that our ancestors spoke a lot about “Gods” out there as a result of trying to understand the universe—a God of the Gaps. But there is a deeper reality: All of us have thoughts and ideas that seem to appear from nowhere. Some people even have minds structured to hear voices or see things outside our consciousness. I heard a voice in my mind call me to go on a mission—so I think the phenomenon of something beyond us seems evident: Because some thoughts, most dreams, and even voices and images arise outside of and independently from our own conscious control, many become convinced there are beings out there that are “not us.”
There is truth to that, but it need not be in any magical or supernatural way. The truth is that the majority (if not all) of these “other beings” are not “out there,” but rather “in here,” because that is where they become real to us: in our minds and in our hearts.
As Lisa noted, Sigmund Freud recognized distinct tendencies of the mind: id, ego, superego; but thought them to be part of a single thing, our psyche. Even to today, the concept of separate, independent sentient identities within the mind has not been part of the literature. However, new technologies, such as fMRI, as well as large-scale parallel processing architectures are radically changing our understanding of the wonder—the absolute miracle—of our minds.
To make a very long story short, the fact is that we DO have an entity within us, an eternal companion, that shares all of our memories, thoughts, and controls our feelings. Think of it as another program running in your brain-computer in parallel but completely independent from your consciousness program. It doesn’t talk to you in the same way that you talk to other people, but because it shares your thoughts, it is aware—more emotionally aware of what is going on than your consciousness is.
This awareness that there is a concrete distinct entity within me that is God—or at least connected to God, radically changes my perspective. Although I may struggle with the idea of a supernatural God “out there,” I have come to realize that I have a constant companion—a comforter with me, who weeps when I weep, who rejoices when I rejoice, who lifts my burdens, mourns with me, and witnesses to me of truth.
When I embrace the truth of my god within, I lose a lot of misconceptions about God. My god within cannot restore a limb, but s/he can encourage our bodily systems to step up and fight disease, and in some cases heal us in a seeming miraculous way. My god within cannot change another person, but can perceive feelings and concerns of another person so that I can better serve them. My god within cannot change a natural disaster, but can motivate me to be prepared. My god within is not just a “man,” but is also both man and woman, father and mother, husband and wife, parent and child, and my truest friend…that I mostly ignore.
“Be still and know that I am god”
Amid the troubles of life, in our struggles to find God, sometimes I think I miss the mark, and go beyond what is present within me. Being connected to my God within seems to me to be the path to becoming a more whole-hearted person. But how do I do this?
It’s a tough concept, I know. Whenever I have tried to pray to myself, it doesn’t seem to work. But this brings me back to my thesis: that our ancestors have been praying to this God within us, and s/he has been answering for thousands of years. My God within is not my consciousness, not my ego-self. My God within—the interface to the God of all—is the “more” that goes beyond my ego.
From their experience with faith, in relationship with their understanding of God through their minds and hearts, our ancestors created symbols and ritual to help us connect with god, and we relate to these symbols in order to draw to God. As I see it therefore, the symbols of our religions are a reflection of this unique relationship.
I get a lot of value participating in the worship service, praying to a god “out there,” and performing the rituals of religion. Paradoxically, these help connect me to my god within. This is why I remain actively engaged in my faith tradition…the spirit speaks to me when I worship, pray, and participate. When I serve in love, visiting families and giving, somehow I find peace and support from my god within.