In his recent blog, my colleague Bob Schwarz discusses mind and its relation to energy psychology. His piece is a synthetic review of the modern paradigm and its application to the field of energy psychology. I highly recommend giving it a thorough read. Bob quotes Dan Siegel, who posits that the mind is “created by the body interacting with the environment.” This sentence struck me, as it ties into a question that I have been pondering for decades, and that humans have for millennia. Is the brain the origin of the mind, or its instrument?

The intersection of brain and mind is a profound question that bears considering. My own musings, reading, and experience have lead me to conclude that the brain is not the origin of the mind, but rather, the organ of the mind. Greater minds than mine have weighed in on this quandary, and I’ll synthesize some of their points here. I’ll also share some of my experiences to illustrate those points.

The mechanistic view: is the brain the origin of the mind?

The mechanistic paradigm is very popular today, and indeed, has held sway throughout most of history. In this view, the mind arises from the material brain and its processes. Memories are stored in “file drawers” in the brain, and dreams are the random firing of neurons.

An alternate view

A different, more traditional, yet also more modern, conceptualization of mind is that the mind exists on subtle, nonphysical planes. It might be understood as energy rather than matter. In this paradigm, the brain is the organ of the mind, just as the eye is the organ of sight. This hinges on the idea that we are much more than the physical, having our existence on subtle, energy realms as well as the material.

Carl Jung posited the collective unconscious. This was a sort of 20th century, western reprise of Patanjali’s “raincloud of knowable things.”  If we begin to think again about consciousness and mind as existing on subtle planes, which are as individual as they are universal, we can understand the interconnectedness of Being. The profundity of this understanding can open up new worlds of compassion, understanding, and healing.

Evidence for subtle mind

The question naturally arises: is there any evidence to back this up? Swami Sarvapriyananda, of the Vedanta Society of New York, speaks of the evidence supporting the subtle view. He ties his position to the hard problem of consciousness, posed by David Chalmers, co-director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness at New York University. A good (video) summary of Chalmers’s view is here.

The hard problem of consciousness deals with subjective experience. Our subjective experiences include information from our five senses, as well as emotion and thought, sleeping and waking, dreaming and daydreaming, awareness and lack of awareness, and more. How can physical processes create such subjective experience? How can a physiology give rise to the experience of self? If the mind arises from brain processes, how do these physical processes create a subtle subjective experience? Why are we not robots? How do we come to have the sense of “I”?

An answer to the hard problem – and there are other, mechanistic attempts at solving it – is that the mind exists outside the brain, and the brain is its instrument. Chalmers claims a preference to a panpsychic viewpoint, which states that everything in the natural world has consciousness or a mind. The vedantists say it differently: consciousness is the ground of being. In either case, this view is closer to what we find in quantum physics than in Newtonian physics: phenomena are better understood as energy and relationship rather than as material.

Mind, consciousness, and brain

Definition of terms is essential to understanding and conversation. In this paper, consciousness is more than mind. It includes mind, but also includes emotion, physical sensation, awareness, and even the absence of awareness. Mind is a subset of consciousness, and it deals with thought. Thoughts, emotions, and physical feelings are three different experiences that we have in our waking consciousness. In deep sleep, mind, emotions, bodily feelings are quiet but consciousness persists; our brains, however, do not register it. Some thoughts are quite concrete and mundane; others are more subtle, ephemeral, at times inchoate. Some thoughts are local; others are most definitely nonlocal.

Experience underscores the point

Here is an example. Years ago, I was sitting in meditation in the early morning, trying not to fall asleep. I had almost given up and decided to have one more go at attention. A subway car window appeared in my mind. “Interesting, what’s that about?,” I thought. Next, a man with curly dark hair, wearing a white tee-shirt, dark pants and a black jacket came into view. Finally, and quit surprisingly, he spoke in French. “Merd. A’vous de la torche?” he asked.

At this point I gave up on my concentration efforts and went to take a shower. Why was there a man speaking French in my meditation? What was he saying? I racked my brain. Having studied French for years, but many years ago, I had the gist of things. Merd is pretty well known. He was speaking quickly and using the formal “vous” but not enunciating the formal “avez”, but rather slurred an “a’ vous.” It wasn’t till later that I remembered “torche” is a flashlight. And slightly later, I heard on the radio that the Chunnel train had gotten stuck on its way from Belgium. Do you have a flashlight? This could be coincidence. But it could also be an instance of minds relating because they not material, but are energy, and therefore connected.

Everyday examples

We have all had those “coincidental” experiences of nonlocal conscious connection with people we are close to: we call each other at the same time, say the same words almost in unison, know the person was going to stop by or call before they do, or think of someone and then have them get in touch, as if they “heard” us thinking. These can all be examples of nonlocal consciousness.

There are more unusual cases, too. A friend of mine “heard” in meditation that she had the BRCA genetic mutation. She insisted on getting tested, though there was no family history of breast or gynecologic cancer. Her doctors were quite skeptical when they asked why she wanted to get tested, and she gave her honest answer! She did indeed have the gene and underwent surgeries to eliminate the potential sources of cancer.

And there are other stories like my friend’s. For example, ACEP member Larry Burke published a book, Dreams that Can Save Your Life, which documents many cases of people who learned they had cancer through dreams. These dreams led them to early detection and a higher cure rate.

In a similar vein, other researchers are investigating synchronous dreams. These happen when two people have the same dream, and the experience is not as uncommon as you might think. One of my sons and I had a synchronous dream when he was a child.

All of these examples – dreams, meditations, “coincidences” – seem to support the idea that we are indeed more than meets the eye, and that our minds exist outside of material brain processes.

Energy Psychology examples

The first form of energy psychology is called Thought Field Therapy. The name itself seems to indicate that there is a thought field which is probably not physical or local, arising from the brain. Rather, it is a field of thought energy with which we are interacting, giving and taking. Research into this new paradigm is already underway. Our friends at HeartMath and IONS are spearheading some of these inquiries, and their findings are compelling.

Additionally, an interesting phenomenon that is known in EFT circles is the phenomenon of what we term “borrowing benefits.” In group sessions, one subject will be working on their issue at the front of the room. The rest of the audience is tapping along with the subject. The subject gets better, and moreover, the fellow tappers experience a reduction in distress related to their own related experiences – even though they were focused on someone else. Other interesting cases have people tap on behalf of others, nonlocally and asynchronously, and the recipients experience reduction in distress.

One of my favorite tales of nonlocal healing comes from a paper I read when I was studying for my master’s degree. Adina Golman Shore did her doctoral dissertation on Reiki and published her results in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. I still remember reading her clever study, probably because I’ve been talking about it for the past eighteen years!

Three groups of people with depression and anxiety were given hands-on Reiki, distant Reiki, or a wait-list control. The people in both hands-on and distant Reiki groups received a significant reduction in symptoms. Moreover, the people receiving distant healing and those on the wait list did not know which group they were in. This is for me the most shining example of the power of nonlocal thought and energy. I hope that others will replicate Goldman Shore’s study and add to the body of research on this interesting topic.

Final thoughts

Much research is needed – and it is happening! – as the paradigm shifts from a mechanistic to an energetic concept of mind. Already, there is much evidence to support the idea that mind is energy working through the brain. The interesting cases that energy psychology often presents may be better understood or explained from an energy perspective rather than a material, mechanistic one.

What are your thoughts? Is this too woo-woo to be believed? Or do you subscribe to the nonlocal consciousness point of view? Is the brain the origin of the mind, or its instrument? I’d love to hear from you!