Can a chemical imbalance block my connection with God?

Q. I came down with a bad case of the flu recently and I thought I would feel better if I meditated and practiced my Workbook lesson. Yet instead of feeling more connected, I felt totally cut off, from God and from the Course. It all seemed completely meaningless, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get past that. Is this just a matter of something going on in my brain? Can a chemical imbalance block my connection with God?

A. Ultimately, our brain is just a projection of our belief that the mind is small, separate, concrete, and vulnerable. In reality, we think with the mind, feel with the mind, and connect with God with the mind.

Yet while we are in this world, and still believe in the causative power of the physical, brain states obviously do affect us. On the level of our experience, even though the mind can causes changes in the brain (which is one interpretation of what’s called neuroplasticity), it also works the other way around: changes in the brain lead to changes in our experience.

To put this differently, while we experience ourselves as being inside this brain, then, yes, chemical changes in it will make it harder or easier to connect with God. Indeed, while in the brain, almost everything we experience will be mediated by a corresponding brain state. (I say “almost everything” because there is mounting evidence that a variety of expanded states are associated with a decrease in brain activity; by the brain, in other words, getting out of the way so the mind can be more itself.) This includes spiritual experiences, which also have their corresponding brain states. Indeed, there is a whole science nowadays, called neurotheology, that investigates the correlation between spiritual experience and brain states. Andrew Newberg is the most well-known researcher in that field.

My advice would be to not take what you experienced seriously. If you were meditating and someone blasted a horn in your ear, chances are that you would have difficulty feeling connected to God. It’s just the nature of our condition at this point. In principle, the effect of that loud noise on your brain is not really any different from the effect of flu on your brain. I would treat it, therefore, as par for the course. It doesn’t mean anything. It comes and it will go.

And while the Course doesn’t address the brain issues that I am now, it does address the importance of not giving sickness the power to provide evidence for certain points of view. In a number of places, the Course suggests that we choose sickness in order to prove certain “truths” to ourselves. Lesson 136, for instance, says that sickness apparently “proves the body is not separate from you, and so you must be separate from the truth” (W-pI.136.8:2). Somewhere inside, in other words, we have made a choice that says, “If my body can get sick and make me suffer, that will be proof that I am one with my body and therefore separate from God.” If, then, once you get sick, you take that message to heart, then the sickness has fulfilled its sick purpose.

How much better would it be, then, if instead you said, “This has no meaning. It makes no statements about who I am. It proves nothing about me.” Helen Schucman had a vision of Michelangelo’s Pieta, in which Mary holds the body of Jesus after it was taken down from the cross. In the vision, Mary looked down on the dead body of her son and said, “This means nothing.” May we look at our own sick bodies and say the same.

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