Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #160 Your Spiritual Brain
About this episode

To learn how to keep your spiritual docking station open so you can look for synchronicities in your own life, be sure to tune in for the full episode. Martha will also guide you through her Silence, Stillness, and Space meditation to allow those synchronicities to start showing up!

Your Spiritual Brain

Martha Beck:

I have been rereading a book that I really love. It’s called The Awakened Brain by Lisa Miller, I’m obsessed with her. You may have heard me talking about her before. And one of the things that amazes me so much is that she is a very well-regarded Columbia professor. So, very Ivy League, has degrees from all the most hoity-toity institutions. And yet, her body of work is all about what she calls a spiritual docking station in the human brain. And what she found… And let me tell you this, when she was doing her original research, people were not pleased with her. They did not want to be reading about spiritual docking centers in the brain. When I was at Harvard, I literally never met another student who was a mother. And I think I knew one professor who was a mother, and that was it. But Alice Miller writes in her book, The Awakened Brain, not only…

What? Lisa Miller, sorry. Not Alice Miller. She wrote a whole bunch of things called like The Drama of the Gifted Child. She’s a beautiful, brilliant psychologist as well. But Lisa Miller is the Columbia professor who wrote about the research she did that showed that when people are open to a spiritual reality, they have access to much more physical and mental health. That being open to spiritual realities makes us resilient and more resistant to anxiety, depression, all these other things. And I wanted to talk about the personal story that Lisa Miller puts into this book because that too… I mean, when I was in school and graduate school and being an assistant professor, you did not talk about your personal life. You didn’t have a spiritual belief and you did not talk about anything in your personal life. You were just a professional. And there was a split down the middle between anything you did at home and anything you did emotionally, and then the stuff you brought to work.

But Lisa Miller writes about her struggles to have a child while she was getting her degrees and becoming a full professor and the rest of that. And it was one of the things that opened her up to the idea that she, herself, might have a spiritual docking station. Now, as I talk about this, what I want for all of us is that we can start to identify times in our lives when this kind of phenomenon has happened to us. One of the things she in her class at Columbia was she asked students if they would notice and record synchronicities that they experienced in their own lives. So, anything that just seemed like an improbable coincidence. A synchronicity, I’m sure you know, is when something happens that seems to confirm or indicate that there is something going on in the universe that is not just physical, that there’s something making all this happen.

If you’ve seen the movie, The Matrix, the hero in that movie is going along and he’s in what he thinks is real life, but he knows that it’s possible to create a projected world, and you never know whether you’re in a projected world or the real world. And in one scene, he’s just, all these things are happening. And then a cat walks by in the background, and then a few seconds later, the cat walks by in exactly the same way. And he realizes, “Okay, the rest of the program is running well, but there was a little glitch in the program, and I definitely saw that cat go by twice, so I know I’m in a projection.” So, a synchronicity is something that happens to you that feels so improbable and it fits so well that you actually can’t believe it happens without some kind of method behind the madness.

One time when I had published my first book, only my first book that actually… Well, my first book sank like a stone. But the second one, Expecting Adam, went out into the world and I was so desperate to be a writer and so invested in this book. I mean, it was my whole heart and soul. I’d put the deepest aspects of my heart into this book. And then, I went on a book tour and it was my first book tour and book tours were already becoming things of the past. And I would go to a bookstore all gussied up, and I’d have a chaperone and I’d feel all special, and there would be a poster with my face on, and it was amazing. And then, I’d start talking to three bookstore employees and someone who was just looking for a coffee bar and got lost, and it was very depressing.

And at one point I was so exhausted on the book… Well, the book tour ended. And months went by, and then I just decided that it had failed. And I was in a bookstore, which was a place of great pain for me at the time because I wanted so much to be able to build my life around this, writing things down. And I didn’t think would ever work, and I have any ideas for other books. And I was walking with my head down through this Borders bookstore, and I bumped into a table and I looked, and it was a table where they’d set up this display. And for whatever reason, somebody in that store really liked Expecting Adam, because when I raised my eyes, I was looking directly at my own book. And there it was, and it was up on this display stand. I don’t know who put it there. I don’t know why I wandered into that bookstore. And I don’t know why I raised my head at that precise moment, but that’s an example of a synchronicity, and I’ve had so many others.

Another thing that happened was that I was wandering along, again, always wandering along. When you’re a writer, there’s a lot of wandering around, wishing you were more successful. That’s the definition of most of your life. And nothing seemed to be going right. And on my cell phone, I got a call from a strange number, and they didn’t have a lot of spam back then. So, I answered the phone and the person on the other end of the phone is named Sally Quinn, and she is a very well-known maven of social functions in Washington DC, and she writes for the Washington Post, and her husband, Bill Bradley was the editor, famous editor of the Washington Post.

And she said, “Is this Martha Beck?” I said, “Yes, it is.” And she said, “Listen, you wrote this book about your son with Down syndrome, and I didn’t want to read it. I thought, ‘Who wants to read a book about a child with Down syndrome?’ But I’ll tell you what happened.” She said, “I was sitting in my office in the Washington Post, and suddenly I just got up, walked out of my office, walked through the whole floor, walked into somebody else’s office, it was empty. On the desk is a copy of your book. I picked it up. I read the flap. I thought it’s about a kid with Down syndrome. I don’t want to read that. Took it back to my office, sat down, read it cover to cover. And I’m here to tell you that I loved it.” And she was a great advocate for that book, and I’d never even heard of her. And she had called me, not by accident, but the way she encountered the book said to me, “There’s something going on here that’s not just random.”

So, Lisa Miller talks about her own struggle trying to have a child in the Ivy League, which as I said, is very rare. And she actually talks about asking her students to track synchronicities and how it’s incredibly difficult for them. Week after week, she said she’d teach these Columbia classes and no one would have a synchronicity to talk about. By the way, while I’m talking, I want you to be thinking about synchronicities in your own life because that’s spiritual docking station that Lisa Miller says we all have in our own brains. So, after weeks of not having any synchronicities to report her first crop of students, well, one of the women raised her hand and said, “Look, I think we’ve been taught to look for other things. I think we’ve been taught to close that aspect of our minds. What if we all this week just open our minds to the possibility of synchronicities and then go out and look?”

And so, everybody set an intention that they would be open to the possibility of synchronicity. It’s like they opened the door of the docking station in their brains, and they went out into the world and they all started having synchronicities. I’m getting-

Oh my God, one of Lisa Miller’s students is on this. This is amazing. That’s a synchronicity. Holy crap. Okay. So, the incident I wanted to talk to you about, I think Lisa Miller has so much grit because to do this in the Ivy League, it’s like standing up naked and saying, “Now, I’ll sing the national anthem. I mean, it’s really high risk. She writes in her book about trying to have a child of her own and going through endless, horrible IVF treatments. Oh, they’re horrible. They’re horrible if you’ve been through them, I’m so sorry.

And then, she was lying in her bed one night and she was not asleep. She actually became very, very alert, she writes. And then, she sat up and she felt a presence in the room. And the presence said to her, “If you knew you could get pregnant, would you still think about adopting a child?” And she said, “No.” And she said, I felt a little guilty, but the truth just popped out. All right, the presence went away or wasn’t as obvious. So, then, she and her husband went through more IVF treatments and they also started to get pictures of children from around the world that they could possibly adopt. And one day they got a picture of a little boy in Russia. And the minute Lisa Miller saw this picture, she fell in love with this little boy. I mean, this was her son, no question, and her husband felt the same way.

That night she went to sleep, and then she woke up again and the presence was back. And it said, “If you knew you could get pregnant, would you still consider adopting?” And she was like, “Hell yes. That’s my child. Of course I would. He’s mine. I’m in love with him.” And she felt this rush of joyful feeling. And then, she woke up her husband, she actually started laughing, and her husband woke up and she told him about it. And they were so excited that they celebrated by conceiving a child, which turned out to be healthy and wonderful. And now, they have two, the little boy that was theirs all along and the child they conceived that night. So, there’s another example of a synchronicity.

And if you’re thinking about this, if you’re opening the docking station, you are in violation of the left hemisphere dominated culture that made up the Ivy League. Congratulations. I really, really want to go through the rest of my life with that docking station, good and open. I want to invite every metaphysical aspect of the matrix that wants to come play with my brain. And I believe that this can be done as long as I keep doing the things that make logical sense, the way Lisa Miller continues to do really good, solid science, then I will be grounded so that when I open myself to the matrix, the things that happen to me will not be my mind spinning out fantasies, but my brain starting to perceive aspects of creation that are made by consciousness, rather than made by meaningless chaos.

Because there’s something out there, folks. In Expecting Adam, I talk about it as the Bunraku puppeteers. In Japan, they have these incredible puppeteers. They work with puppets about four feet tall, and the arms and the legs and the hands and the feet and the head, they all work separately. And the puppeteers dress all in black, and then they stand on the stage and they move the puppets. And the puppeteers are in full view, but they stay so still and move the puppets so skillfully that you forget they are there, and you think that the puppets are moving by themselves. It feels to me when I open the docking station of my own brain that these loving, gorgeous, beautiful presences like the one that woke up Lisa Miller those two nights, are able to access my body, move through me, give me the experience of seeming to do everything myself, but also, relaxing into being moved by this force. And I think that that’s one of the reasons that we decided to be human, so that we could have that experience.

All right, so Kate, former student of Lisa Miller, thank you. Welcome to the class, and thanks for being our reigning synchronicity du jour. Okay, somebody says, “Why did our Western culture want that docking station closed?” I think it’s because it was very easy for people who believed in metaphysical things and turned it into a religion to get very dogmatic and rigid, and they stopped being spiritual and started being merely religious. And that’s what created things like the Spanish Inquisition or the burning of witches and heretics. I mean, religion was used to create huge amounts of suffering. And so, then a few hundred years ago, a bunch of intellectuals in Europe went, “Forget all that. You don’t get to tie me to a stake just because I say that the Earth revolves around the sun, instead of vice versa. I get to observe what I want to observe and nothing else is real, nothing.”

But in doing that, they became as dogmatic as the religious dogmatists, right? And they’re like, “No, no, no. We will not tolerate anybody who has any kind of meaning that comes from a different state of mind than this one right here.” So, our culture, whether religious or intellectual, is very dogmatic and fundamentalist. By contrast, both those attitudes, religion and extreme fundamentalist science, they both have the same belief. We know how it is, you don’t. And if you look for example, at Asian spiritual traditions, they don’t start with, “We know all the things.” They start with, “We understand that nobody can know anything for sure, and nobody knows everything.” And so, there’s a basic openness, that’s the docking station.

And then, you just start to look for, oh my goodness, I can’t be sure of anything. But there seems to be a benevolent flow of good things that is allowing me to exceed my own limitations and do things that I couldn’t do as a little isolated fragment of physical reality. So, yeah, our Western culture did close the docking station, but we can open it up by just saying, “This week I’m going to look for synchronicities and I’m going to accept that maybe the Bunraku puppeteers are here helping me along through life.”

So, Jessica says, “Do you consider synchronicity as the same as miracles or slightly different?” I don’t know. To me, it’s all a miracle. I was just reading Jerry Fodor, a great Western philosopher, American philosopher. He’s talking about how we are alive. And he says, “Nobody has any idea how matter can be infused consciousness. Nobody even has any idea what it would be like to have the slightest idea how matter can be infused with consciousness. It is a complete miracle that we’re even up and walking.” So, I just consider it all the mystery and leave it at that.

So, Kate, Lisa Miller’s for a former student as she is known to us here… No, she’s Kate, she says, “What do you think synchronicity is? Energy from the universe? Do you think we can create positive synchronicities?” Yes, in the sense that I believe all consciousness is connected. So, consciousness has no barriers or boundaries. And I believe, along with Max Planck, Nobel Prize winning physicist, he says, “I regard matter as derived from consciousness.” And we’ve talked about this, and Lisa talks about it in her book about quantum theory and how when energy is observed, it becomes matter and all the other things that we know from quantum mechanics. I think that the reality behind matter is that everything is consciousness. And since consciousness is not split, everything I feel is felt throughout the entire universe and everything felt throughout the entire universe is in me. It’s inconceivable, but I still believe it’s true.

So, I believe that when we tap into that, there’s something about being willing to believe, just openness, not dogmatic belief like the Spanish Inquisition, but just openness. I’m going to say, “I’m going to look for synchronicity and see if it happens,” the universe, the consciousness in other things responds to that. Oh, another beautiful thing, I love this in Lisa Miller’s book, The Awakened Brain, when she’s trying to have a baby and she goes to all these IVF treatments, her body is scarred and tormented by all of it. And one day she goes home and there’s a little squiggly something lying on the doorstep of her house, and she looks closely at it, and it’s an undeveloped embryo from a duck egg. It’s like this little weird haploid duckling that never is. And by this point, she had lost a lot of embryos herself. And so, it was like a symbol, like who sees a duck embryo lying on their doorstep?

And she was like, “I’m sorry, but it feels like a sign that I’ll never be able to carry a child and that it’s all hopeless.” And it was a pretty difficult sight. The next morning after feeling sad about this, she hears a knock on the door, knock, knock, knock. She goes over, opens the door, there’s a female duck standing on the doorstep, and the duck puts a big fat juicy worm down right in front of her and then waddles away. And she was like, “Okay, that was weird.” And to her, later in retrospect, it was the universe saying, “Here, you’re worried about dying embryos. We’ll give you a dying embryo. Here, the universe wants to help you see that it’s going to be okay, we’ll send a full-grown duck to give you a worm just to let you know that she believes in you,” or whatever. I don’t know.

These things often happen to me with or through animals. So many. I told y’all about the last time, which is just, we went to Costa Rica and we were there for a week in the jungle and hadn’t seen a single monkey. So, I just went into a meditative state, connected with the consciousness of everything, found me some monkeys, not with my eyes or my body, but with my consciousness, asked them if they would mind coming to see us. They said, “Yes.” I let it go. They showed up about a half hour later and played for hours. I mean, animals respond so directly that it feels like it’s not even a synchronicity, it’s just a conversation.

Anyway, Zoe says, “I’ve had times in my life that are just brimming with synchronicities, big and small, but right now and for a while now, nothing. What is it that changes?” I think there is an ebb and flow in nature with all things, but I do believe that if you invite it, if you talk about it, and if you are at peace with asking, it happens a lot. And when you get anxious and desperate, it eludes you because the consciousness of the universe does not respond to your desperation, it responds to joy. And Oprah was the one who told me, “The universe will never reward your desperation because that would teach you to be desperate all the time, and that the universe wants you to be joyful.” So, it rewards your joy, your love, your trust. And when you don’t have joy, love, or trust, it gently pulls away so that you can learn that’s not the best method for getting things to go the way you want them to go.

Michelle and Magenta says, “Do you think we can attract or block synchronicities?” Yes, peace allows synchronicities, anxiety blocks synchronicities. So, Delia Deliancourt, I don’t know how to say you guys’s names, but this person says, “Can you experience synchronicity without relaxation? Or does seeing synchronicities create relaxation?” I think it can create actually too much excitement. You think, “Oh, I’m magic. I can do anything,” and then it’s gone. Because it’s not something we can manipulate as humans. It’s something we manipulate as consciousness. And it’s only when we relax our human nervous systems that we can feel into the consciousness of the universe because the consciousness of the universe is deeply, deeply, deeply peaceful.

So, I do think relaxing helps. And I have seen many times when somebody was not relaxed at all and they tried for so many years to get something to happen, and then either they got too exhausted or something just blindsided them. In one case, a friend of mine was in a car accident, and as her car was twirling, and it 360’d several times, she went into a place of complete peace and relaxation because her nervous system was doing that for her. And in that moment, all the synchronicities that had been trying to get to her seemed to come in, and for the next few weeks, it was just one synchronicity after another. But she did relax, paradoxically because her life was in danger. So, let us ask for synchronicities and then relax.

Michelle says, “What do I need to do when I ask internal self for guidance and get silence?” Well, we’re going in a minute or two to do our silence, stillness and space meditation. And if you hear silence, if there’s nothing, the two things you can do, if it feels like a cold silence, be very kind to yourself. Wrap yourself in a fluffy blanket and sit and offer yourself loving affirmations. May you be well, may you be happy, because you may have split from the universe in thinking you are not perfect, and the universe thinks you’re perfect. So, to get back in tune with it, you have to be nice to yourself. And then, if it’s just the silence, if it’s a warm silence, go into it, into it, into it, into it. It’s infinitely deep. And you may just find that answers come up in the silence. Like the being that spoke to Lisa Miller. It said things to her, but it was absolutely silent at the same time.

Katie says, “If we’re open, can we receive more synchronicities or are they always playing with us and it’s just about us being aware?” Lisa Miller said… This is the Lisa Miller show today. Lisa Miller says that the more you think about them and the more you invite them, the more they happen, Carl Jung said the same thing. I have found the same thing. Let’s all think about them this week and then we’ll see if they happen, okay?

Jindra says, “Question, you earlier suggested we hold a wish deeply, then loosely, and it will arrive. That hasn’t worked. But I suddenly do things I hadn’t thought of doing unplanned. And wow, suddenly they’re needed just now by others.” I’ve had this too. I thought I knew what I wanted. I would set my intention. I would do all the good things. I would relax, I would visualize, I’d do all that stuff, and then something completely different would happen. But the completely different that happened was always better than the thing I had imagined. Often, I couldn’t imagine what wanted to happen, so I was imagining something else. But while I was trying to make that happen, I went into the right state to receive what I really wanted. And what I didn’t even know I was ready for came to me out of the blue because I’d gone through the process. So, it’s willing to do it. And again, we just can’t be too fixated on the outcome being exactly how and what we want it to be. We can’t control this. We can only surrender to it.

Okay, finally, Elizabeth says, “How do we follow synchronicities that seem to be extremely risky in our material world, especially if you have little ones depending on you financially?” I am so aware of this, and I have even recently done things that feel like a huge risk when a lot of people depend on me financially. I do things that have nothing to do with MBI, my company, even though MBI is keeping a lot of families going, and I feel like I should always be doing that for them. If you’re an entrepreneur, you know exactly how I feel. It’s like you have a whole bunch of babies, and I don’t always want to do that. I’ve been spending huge chunks of time just painting lately. And I know it sounds stupid compared to what other people are facing, but even that little departure feels to me like a big risk.

And yet, when I do it, synchronicities flood into my life. Things come to pass that I didn’t know I wanted. My family seems okay. So, all I can say is begin to experiment. Relaxing into the expectation of good things at worst will make this easier. And at best, it can support your family through the Bunraku puppeteers, and you won’t even have to put forth any huge effort.

I went a little over time. I am so sorry. But if you want to stick around for a few minutes, let’s do our space silence and stillness meditation, because that’s what allows synchronicities to show up. So, first of all, big thanks to Lisa Miller and Kate, her former student. And let’s go into the meditation with the intention that this week we are open to synchronicity. All right, here we go.

Relax. Breathe easily. Breathe deeply. Uncross your arms and legs, and let yourself shake out any tension you can. And then, ask the strange question, can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the emptiness in the molecules between my eyes? Is it possible for me to imagine the huge volume of empty space inside what seems to be the solid matter of my face? Can I imagine the emptiness that spreads over my skull and then down through my body all the way to my sit bones and my knees and my feet? Can I imagine the emptiness that makes up most of my body? Can I imagine the stillness in which all the functions of my body are acting?

Can I imagine the absolute stillness that holds us all right now and eternally? Can I imagine the silence beneath everything I hear? Can I imagine the love that is the stillness, the silence, and the space? Can I imagine that this is my essence, this stillness, that nothing can threaten? Can I imagine all the stillness, space and silence in the universe turning toward me as I open myself to synchronicities, to spiritual experiences, and to happiness? Can I imagine that the next week will be full of joy, happiness, and action, always suspended in silence, stillness, and empty space?

Take a few more deep breaths, think about what you want most, allow synchronicities, and we’ll be back to talk some more at the next Gathering Room. Bye. Thank you all so much. Bye.

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