Oddly, what seemed to pull it all together for me was the movie, "Amélie," that I saw for about the tenth time last night. The beginning of the movie is a long narration with clever, off-beat imagery about a strange little girl who will grow up to be the equally strange young woman in the movie.
The beginning of the movie shows her troubled childhood, a distant father (a doctor) who only touches her once a month to give her a physical examination. She's so excited by this rare contact that her heart beats furiously and he diagnoses a heart condition. Her mother, an obsessive compulsive, is struck down one day in front of a church by the falling body of a Canadian tourist who decides to end it all in her great leap.
Now we have a sad, angry, motherless child, with a distant father, who is friendless at school. Amélie lives under a dark cloud with sprinkles of fantasy that keep her alive and the most amazing visual imagination that carries through to adulthood.
One day, she takes a blind man by the arm and describes the everyday wonders of the Paris street where they walk and she leaves him off at the métro. As she walks away, she has an incredible sense of lightness, the air she breathes is freer, clearer, the flowers smell much sweeter and everything has a sense of wonder about it. After long suffering, she tips into the nirvana zone with open-hearted compassion and a mission to help others.
This awakening, this incredible lightness of being, this compensation for the trauma of her life up to that point made total sense to me after my years of research into mystical states of consciousness. But it was after sleeping on it and awakening that fresh ideas came to me this morning.
Andrew Newberg has used neuroimaging to see into the brains of Buddhist monks and praying nuns before and during their religious practices. Michael Persinger has used electromagnetic stimulation to the temporal lobes to produce a "God" experience and gave questionnaires to college students to find out what kinds of people are more likely to sense an invisible presence near them. Newberg ends up wondering if certain people are predisposed to have mystical experiences because of their brain circuitry or if their long practice makes it happen. Persinger believes it's an overaroused right hemisphere that does it, especially in people who are interested in creative writing or do it themselves.
I have come to believe that childhood trauma, like Amélie suffered, physically changes the brain, in line with the research of Allan Schore and others. Newberg doesn't take into account the deprivations that monks and nuns suffer as part of their vocation and Persinger doesn't take into account why certain people are more drawn in the first place to poetry and prose. His "God" helmet works best on people with either the circuitry or previously held beliefs that can allow it to happen. I suggest that a genetic predisposition to more right hemispheric dominance along with childhood trauma can lead to brain processing that favors both mysticism and the paranormal, along with novel, creative ideas, more visual imagery and poetic language.
The brain's complex, interconnecting networks, when synchronized, can confer great talents and insights, often feeling or sounding as though they come from someone or somewhere else. We are the authors of our ideas, our feelings, our creativity, but as a consequence of what precedes them, the combined resonances in the books we have read, the movies we've seen, the people we have talked to, all of which can recombine during the dark night, when our senses have shut down, then bursting into consciousness in the morning. The new thread of ideas is tenuous, though, likely to evaporate in the dream mist unless we write it down as quickly as possible.