The plastic brain

I woke up yesterday considering a series of photos I saw on Facebook the day before.  They were shots of the brain from “normal” people compared to people with diagnoses of ADHD, bipolar, depression and PTSD.  Those pictures got me wondering about what my brain looked like – a mosaic of all four, perhaps.

How plastic, or malleable,  is the brain?  How often does a normal person have a scan that looks like bipolar or depression?  The brains of people having their Bars run change dramatically. What else changes brains?  And how are brain changes reflected in the body?

There is a tendency to think that the biochemistry of the brain is what creates the disease.  This is old school thought, based on Newtonian physics.  In that old model we treat mental illness with drugs.  This is standard procedure in allopathic medicine,  the treatment of symptoms in a complex disease without addressing the underlying cause.

What is the underlying cause?  Well, we know that everything we see and experience is created by our minds (not brain).  So all apparently physical illness is mental in origin.  Sure we can address the issues with physical substances, since such material always works within the constructs of the mind, but causes are always a result of the movement of the mind.

I could easily qualify for at least two or three serious mental illnesses, yet I consider myself free of any major disease.  I consider these “diseases” (addiction, dissociation, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and depression) merely predictable manifestations of living a spirit driven path and having a goal of enlightenment.  Indeed, I don’t know anyone that is free of what might be labeled dysfunctional habits or mental processes.

Still, I would not consider these manifestations permanent.  Nor would I consider them caused solely by biology.  Anything that has a beginning has an end.  All created things change.  This is true by definition.  How plastic is the brain?



During the ThetaHealing® Class I taught over the weekend the question of choice came up.

Do we choose to be born as a human on earth?

Do we choose our parents?

Do we choose a purpose for this life?

I argued “no”.  However, on other occasions, I also teach people that everything is a choice.  So which is it?  Is everything a choice or not?

While everything is a choice, it is the nature of the choice that really negates most choices as not being true choices.  What do I mean?

Consider the following analogy.  You are offered a choice blue carbetween a red car and a blue car.  The dealer says they both work great.  Which one do you choose?  I decide I like blue.  I jump in my new blue car and start driving.  Half way home the bumper rattles loose and the car overheats.

I chose a car that “works well” and what I got is one that doesn’t work.

So, did I have a choice or not?  Depending on my perspective and mood I may say, “Yes I did have a choice” or “No I didn’t really have a choice”.

I think most readers can agree that there is something in our mind that attracts what we have in our lives.  In this way we create our lives.  It is the movement of our mind that creates the world around us.  Since it is our mind that is doing the creating it appears like we are choosing.  Yet are we?

The issue is similar to the car that was supposed to work well, but didn’t.  The reality we are presented with is deceptive.  If we are not getting accurate information, how can we possibly make an informed decision?  Further, our thinking and ability to make a choice is is tainted by judgments and emotions that cloud rational decision making.  We tend to be reactive rather that proactive.

I like the way the Buddhists explain this conundrum best. They say we are forced to be reborn over and over, because at the moment of death, whatever the mind is doing or whatever the predominate occupation of the mindstream during the person’s lifetime will naturally create the next moment of mind and the next form the person takes.

For instance if a person dies after a lifetime of feeling jealously over what other people have (even if they are rich) their mind will continue to feel this lack and create of life of poverty.  The new-agers might say “They chose to be poor to learn how to live without.”  The Buddhists might say, “They were forced to be poor because it was their karma.”  Both systems acknowledge that the “state of poverty” is one that can be changed at anytime.  All that is needed is a change the  “thoughts” or “beliefs”  of “karma” that hold it in place.

Similarly, life purposes, or actions that are driven by some unseen force, are often based on misconceptions.  For instance, the feeling that “I have to take care of my family, even if it means self-sacrifice” could be coming from a need to be approved.  One could be reacting to someone judging them wrong (this life or past) for not doing more for others.  Or it could be that the person feels guilty about their family dying in a fire in the last life while they were out with friends.  In this case, they are driven by some unseen and unacknowledged fear of disaster and the erroneous belief that they could do something to prevent it.  Indeed, the person may actually strongly feel, “I have to protect my family”.

Note:  Choosing to take care of our family is different than the drive to take care of our family that is created by the “I have to…”.

In our current condition, most of our actions are controlled by the subconscious mind.  With this in mind, I don’t think we consciously make many choices.  And if by chance we do consciously make a decision it is based on inaccurate information or limiting beliefs.  In addition, sometimes whatever we choose is outside current possibilities.  So, once again we do not really get to choose.

For instance, many years ago I decided to not get angry any more.  Anger is a waste of time and energy.  Right?  Yet, just a couple days ago I got angry when I saw that a company has mischarged my credit card.  In that moment, I was aware that anger was arising, but I was powerless to change that emotional reaction by choosing to do so.  Of course, I could choose to not feed the anger fuel, but that first automatic reaction was still driving me.

What would it take to live from a place of true choice?

What would it take to be free of automatic reactions?




Karma is defined as the movement of the mind and what it motivates.

It is said that the subtle workings of karma are harder to perceive than ultimate reality itself.  This suggests that the karmic results we see around us are not as simple as direct cause and effect. Many factors go into the results we experience.

In the opening lines of the fourth chapter of the Abhidharmakosa we are told

Deeds (karma) make up the multitude of worlds.

Since many people call the creator of the universe “God” we find here an alternate definition of God as Karma (and vice versa Karma is God).

Another good definition is offered by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Karma is the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.

What is “next existence”?  The Buddhist understanding is that we are all changing things and a changing thing lasts less than a second.  So our next existence is who we are in the next moment, and the next, and the next….

Simplified Model of Karma

When one thinks or does an action this creates a seed, trace or mental potential that is held associated with the mindstream.  At a later date, when conditions are optimal, the seed ripens and the karmic result is experienced.  For instance, if I give money to a friend, I create a seed that can ripen into me receiving money from someone in the future.

Four Characteristics of Karma

  1. All actions lead to a result of similar type.
  2. The consequences are greater than the original action.
  3. If you experience something, you must have done the causal action in the past.
  4. Once you do the action the result cannot be lost.


The first characteristic means that if I give someone money I get money as a result.  If I instead call them a name, then I create the potential to be called a name in the future.

The second characteristic implies that the seeds that are planted “grow” during their latency period.  Just like an acorn produces a great oak, the seed of giving a dollar has the potential to come back as a thousand dollars.

The third characteristic is that everything you experience is due to something you have done in the past.  No more room for being a victim once you have this understanding.  This also frees us to be able to create our liberation.  Freedom is only possible if we have control over our destiny.

The fourth characteristic is that once you create the seed, it will not just disappear.  However, it you do not want that seed to ever germinate then you can do the practice of the four powers that the Buddha taught.  The instructions are in my book:  The Twelve Steps as  a Path to Enlightenment.