The greatest tragedy in human life is to live unaware of one's divine identity.
-- Reverend William Harper Houff
Blair is a small town about an hour from Omaha, set into the green fields, low hills, and open plains of eastern Nebraska. Most of the people who live in Blair also work there, as farmers, schoolteachers, or shopkeepers. A few commute to a larger city or neighboring town for employment or travel to visit family.
My children's great-grandmother, Laura, a woman of ninety-five, lives in Blair at a nursing home. She has accomplished much in her long life, including raising three children with her husband and then without him, helping to run a chicken farm, and teaching elementary school. She is my children's oldest living relative.
She is also very frail, thinks of herself not only as living but also as dying. "It is time for my soul to leave my body," she said once. Neither her vision nor her balance is good. She can no longer live independently and now exists in that time of life between life and death, and has the wisdom to know it.
Once while visiting her, my daughters and I took a walk on the parklike grounds of the nursing home, which sat near the edge of town. We had just come downstairs -- the children and I needed a little time walking outdoors after spending an hour in Laura's small room. The three of us were saddened, as we walked, by how quickly Great-grandma's soul did seem to be leaving her body -- almost like air gradually leaking out of a balloon. Her body's skin was shriveling and pale, her presence in the teaming, vital world contracting before our eyes -- and yet we also simultaneously experienced a different emotion that was difficult to describe, almost a mysterious sense of anticipation. We knew something incredible awaited Great-grandma, though we didn't know what it was.
Davita, who was eight, asked me, "Where will Great-grandma's body go when she dies?"
"Probably into the ground," I replied.
"What about her soul?"
Though tempted, as most parents are, to say "heaven" when a small child inquires about death, I said instead, "We don't know for sure. We could say she's going to heaven. We could say she's returning to nature itself, to the trees and the wheat fields out there." I pointed to the green plain at the horizon that surrounds Blair, Nebraska.
"Her soul will be out there, all around?" Davita asked.
"Maybe." I smiled. "We don't exactly know what happens to the soul after death."
Gabrielle, almost twelve, had been chewing on the moist end of a long blade of grass. Now she entered the conversation.
"Dad," she said, "what is the soul made of?" She had been to Christian and Jewish Sunday schools over the years. My wife, Gail, is of Nebraskan Protestant stock; I am of New York Jewish origin; our daughters have thus heard both Christian and Jewish answers to questions about the soul. Because we have lived overseas and are interested in world religions, they've heard Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and other responses as well. Yet I don't think she had ever heard an answer to this specific question. It was a somewhat unusual one: what material is the human soul composed of?
My instantaneous answer was to stall. "What do you mean?" I asked.
She thought for a moment. "What's a soul made of?" She did her best to ask again a question that I had no answer to at that moment.
I responded honestly, "I don't really know. I'm not sure anybody does."
"Well, but I know," she said.
I raised my eyebrows, amused. "Really?"
"Yes. It's made of God."
"The soul is made of God," I repeated back to her. "Okay. And what is God made of?"
She frowned. Behind her eyes her mind whirred, trying to figure out the logical quandary she'd walked right into.
"I guess I can't say 'God is made of the soul,' can I?" she thought aloud, applying simple logic.
"You could actually," I said, "and you're most certainly right. But it wouldn't answer your question the way you want it answered, would it?"
"No," she agreed.
"When Great-grandma dies," Davita said, interrupting our intellectual discourse, "will all the lights go out in her soul?"
"I don't know for sure," I responded. "But every wise teacher from all over the world seems to agree that her body will become dark when her soul leaves."
"That's what her soul is made of, then," Gabrielle said triumphantly. "It's made of light."
"Yes. Light." Gabrielle, still a little girl at eleven, yet beginning to develop the mind of an adult, looked at me with certainty. And now, I must admit, behind my own eyes, my mind began to whirr at a fast rate. Thoughts from the Bhagavad Gita, the Sutras, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Koran, flew into my mind. "Be ye lamps upon the world." "You are light for all the world." "Light particles are energy -- they cannot be destroyed." "The brain on a PET scan shows life because it lights up." Pieces of Newtonian and quantum physics, like children's rhymes, replayed themselves in my mind. Einstein's physics and principles of neuroscience tugged at me. Was this an epiphany? What if Gabrielle had stumbled onto a linking point between the human and the divine conversation, there in Blair, Nebraska, on an afternoon filled with feelings both of life and of death?
"You know," I said, grinning at the children, "there's actually something pretty profound in what you're saying, if we follow it all the way through. Though that follow-through might take some time, and a lot more research. But there's something very complex in the simplicity of what you've said."
They looked at me quizzically, which they often do when my words meander. Then we stood silently for a moment, taking in the view from the edge of the nursing home grounds in Blair, the sun beaming down on the green fields of Nebraska.
I thought, Okay, it's a given that we still can't really know what the soul becomes after death, but hadn't things changed since the times religious sacred texts were written, even in the past hundred years? Wasn't there a way to know what the soul is composed of and how it works while the body is alive? Because both science and religion have changed in the last decades, could it be that we are at a moment of truth as a civilization that we hadn't yet quite seized?
What was I thinking? I backtracked. Wait a minute. Was I, in an instant, conceiving of a way to provide a philosophical, religious, and scientific proof of the soul? Had I arrived at this idea by having a conversation with my children? If I had, how might this proof apply to children? It had grown, after all, from the wisdom of children.
It was very hot and very humid. Davita had had enough and asked to go back inside so we could return to their mother, Gail; Grandma Peggy; and the other family members still chatting with one another and Great-grandma Laura.
I led the girls back into the nursing home and up to room 214.
"Where did you go?" Grandma Peggy asked. She sat on the edge of her mother's bed, holding the aging matriarch's tiny hand.
"Just walking and talking outside," Gabrielle reported.
"We talked about you," Davita said, coming up to Great-grandma and giving her a kiss.
Instinctively wary that Davita might say something awkward like "we were talking about your dying," I said aloud, "We were actually being kind of philosophical -- we were talking about the human soul and children."
Grandma Peggy ruffled Davita's hair. "You're a good soul, aren't you?"
Davita nodded, giving her grandma a hug.
Great-grandma Laura, looking first at my two daughters with her light blue, watery eyes, then looking to Gail and me, commanded, "You take good care of these two sweet souls, okay?"
"They are beautiful young lights, aren't they?" I said, my mind still on my thoughts of moments ago.
"Yes," she murmured. "They are. God lives in your children."
"We'll take good care of them," Gail assured her grandmother. I nodded my agreement, looking from my position at the foot of the bed into my two daughters' eyes, so beautifully lit from within -- lit by the light of their own natures, by their sympathy for their elderly and dying progenitor, and by the light of God.
Everywhere around me hovered not only the souls of the dying but also those of young children. In my mind came a kind of verbal replay of the words "you're a good soul," "these two sweet souls," "God lives in your children." In these later moments of their long lives, Grandma and Great-grandma saw so clearly that near them stood not just "kids" but living, breathing souls -- discernible aspects of God. Did this really mean anything? Or was all this just about words?
No, I didn't think so. There was something more here. In response to the comments from the girls' grandma and great-grandma, my epiphany increased to include a sense of the obvious light in my children's eyes -- the same light in every child's eyes, and even beyond that light, the very essence of God.
The afternoon in Blair was a private epiphany, one I didn't share for quite some time even with my wife. But in it, this book began.
We think of our children as "kids." What if we thought of them as souls? This was the challenge, inadvertently presented, by a ninety-five-year-old woman. Her words were not just a metaphor but, I think, a real description. As she moved toward death, Laura saw the soul of the child quite clearly.
Most of us are too busy to think of our children as being anything other than "boys" or "girls." This, like thinking of them as "kids," is worthy and important, but how little we think of them as soul, as God, as infinite nature. Laura seemed to see the infinite material. And even Gabrielle's and Davita's thoughts and words, which were touched by the circumstances around them that afternoon, seemed to have a consciousness of soul itself.
We think of our children as "offspring." How would it affect not only our methods of nurturing children but also the growth of our civilization if we spent much more of our time seeing our children as infinite design? How would this awareness change what a child means -- not only to a parent, but also to human civilization? We think of our children as "young people" -- what if we understood how richly and fully they were God?
These questions arose in me.
We are aware of how a child's body develops. What if we could also know how the actual divinity -- the soul -- of the child develops? If we had in our hands a blueprint of the invisible "spiritual" growth of divine identity, how would families and indeed our human cultures plot their courses for the lives of children and adults? Would it be different from the course we plot now? Would both wartime and peacetime be different? Would our hopes and dreams be, if not different, at least more achievable?
These questions occupied my mind over the next few days as I came to acknowledge -- in the wake of our visit to Great-grandma Laura and my epiphany with my daughters outside the nursing home -- the uniqueness of our place in human history. Both our scientific and religious knowledge have developed to a point of creating an astounding new vision, a vision that is right before our eyes but that has not yet been recognized. I came to realize that a number of incidents in my personal and professional life had built to this recognition and led to an unfolding of ideas and human stories that needed further scrutiny.
As the weeks and months progressed, this book, The Wonder of Children, emerged. Initially, it came as an epiphany only, for I needed to spend a great deal of time checking neurobiological as well as religious sources to make sure my vision did, indeed, make sense. I am grateful to all these sources for the book you are reading now, grateful especially that an in-depth study of both sets of sources reveals what my epiphany had hoped it would reveal: a distinctly new point in human possibility. And a new way of understanding our children.
As a child development specialist, I have written this book so that any parent or caregiver of a child can find inspiration and practical wisdom in its insights. Simultaneously, as a student of both religion and science, I have written it in order to take our human understanding of the soul and God beyond where it has been before, to that place where science and religion can meet. Because the new neurosciences have reached a point of sophistication now, and because the world's religious literature is so readily available, via books, Internet, and teachers, we have come to a time in human history when the sciences of human nature and the metaphysics of divine nature can be seen running intertwined in the human project.
The Wonder of Children hopes to let you stand at the point of interconnection that human progress has created for us. At this point of connection, I hope you'll join me in noticing that a new human is emerging all around us. Our children are surely representative of that new human possibility.
As this book begins, we will discover the development of the human soul through a child's life. Gradually, we will come to see something startling, invigorating -- that God is the child, and in being the child, God needs us far more than we've realized. The universe is, in fact, not merely a spiritual one-way street, wherein we need an omnipotent God and receive his aid, but a two-way street (at least) on which God, a beautiful child, needs us in beautiful and mysterious ways.
As the book progresses, I will present a new approach to the new sciences of neurochemistry, neurobiology, genetics, neurophysics, neuropsychology, and sociobiology ("the new sciences" will be our short name for these). I will also explore with you the millennia-old metaphysics of human religion (including references to nearly all world religions). In this unifying approach, I hope you'll discover how the human body, mind, and heart actually participate in the process religious metaphors have, for some time, named as soul. Once that discovery becomes second nature, everything changes, even our concept of God.
In Part I, I will offer a proof of the existence of soul, then reveal how the human soul develops and matures in children. From this point, I will offer a glimpse into the divine blueprint every child is born with. Even further in Part I, I hope to show you that the idea of a soul/body split, with which we've all grown up, is an erroneous idea promulgated by an earlier era -- with the best of intentions, but one that is no longer necessary or even plausible. We are now able to observe -- utilizing new PET (positron-emission tomography) technologies (as well as SPECT scans, MRIs, skin conductance tests, and more) -- how completely, in the human lifetime, soul and body are one. The consequences of this new human ability are staggering; specifically, one outcome is that it brings us far closer to God -- the divine activity of the universe -- than we could imagine being before.
In this closeness you will find that many of the other dualities you and I have lived with throughout our childhood socialization and adult education will dissolve -- mind versus brain, science versus religion, nature versus nurture. Given the new sciences available to us, it is possible now to see that we've been raising our children and living our lives with a script in mind, one written by a young civilization, in which history -- both personal and cultural -- is built upon a stage of oppositions. We will discover how different -- how unified -- the world looks when we penetrate beyond the veneer of these old, barely useful oppositions.
In Part II of this book, the new understanding we've gained of what soul is and how it operates in children will lead to a deeper understanding of the soul of the adult. Who are we really as adults? How do we lose soul and how can we regain it? There are clues all around us, clues we can understand better when we understand the soul of the child. There are spiritual messages religions have been sending us for thousands of years -- concerning our lifelong divinity in human form -- which now we can fully hear. As the book builds to its final chapter, we will come to realize one of the most inspiring revelations: Having understood the soul of both child and adult, we can now recognize the actual face of God. The two parts and six chapters within this book constitute a step-by-step proof of this ultimate idea: God is the Child.
The new sciences are changing our human script. I hope that this book will inspire you not only by showing how that script is changing, but also by showing how your life -- especially as you care for children -- can be one of leadership as humanity poises itself to navigate this sea change.
It is a sea change at the heart of the very definition of human nature.
The New Human
By the time you finish this book, you may recognize a new human among us. As we explore the soul of the child and the soul of the adult we will be compelled to notice, with great joy, evidence of our present human evolution from the genus and species we call Homo sapiens -- an intelligent but xenophobic, brilliant but also warlike, human -- to an even more sophisticated human being. In Part II of this book, we will name and fully explore this new human, providing the same genus name, Homo, but a new species name, infiniens, a new possibility.
We are in a sea change, if we will but recognize it -- one that has been evolving for quite some time but most clearly during this last century. The technological and societal challenges of the last century have presented our lives with new challenges that our existing intelligence alone cannot face. We are evolving, as we always do, because of necessity. We are poised to learn of a new kind of intelligence by which to live life.
In exploring in this book the new human we are evolving into, our new intelligence, and our ability to know God, we will also discover the future of the family. What can we expect of the human family? What is the soul of the child asking of the human family? What can each of us do to protect the soul of the child? The answers to these questions lead to new expectations for children and for ourselves.
Arguably, the emergence of a new human -- with a new way of looking at children, family, self, and life -- is perhaps the single most important event in our current culture. It is also an event too little focused on by the human community. From the media, literature, and personal intuition we gain a fragmented sense that something new is going on, but we rarely integrate the fragments. The Wonder of Children offers an integration and focus grounded in our sense of the present and future of human childhood. As this book ends, we will circle back to where we will soon begin, at the point where human vision and intelligence, bound up in the mysterious and the holy, can provide our own hungry, truth-seeking souls with more than tradition and more than science fiction: a proof of the soul of the child that might, hopefully, impress an old woman who has seen it all.
Great-grandma Laura, who had lived a fruitful century, was experiencing the end of her life while her young progeny -- myself and my daughters -- were enlivened by a conversation and a vision of a new century. As Laura drifted off to sleep that afternoon, she closed her thin, almost transparent eyelids and inhaled and exhaled in that shallow way old people do. Outside the window lay the plains of Nebraska with milo, corn, and wheat, windless and moist under an ember-colored sunset. In the halls of the nursing home were now mainly muted sounds -- of human voices, of televisions, of footsteps. It became time for all of us to leave. We said good-bye to an old woman sleeping; we drove away, west, into an evening of yellow, red, and pink.
We did not know if Laura Whitcher, ninety-five, would live to see another afternoon gathering of her family. Driving from Blair to Lincoln, Nebraska, a trip that takes an hour and a half, we were subdued at moments, and happy at moments, the challenges and delights of family life weaving through our conversations and our silences.
Grandma, Grandpa, myself, Gail, and our two children had often made this car trip, and we enjoyed singing when we did so. Grandma Peggy requested that we sing the gospel song "Amazing Grace." And so that is what we did as we passed the town of Gretna, Nebraska, six souls singing together in a 1996 Oldsmobile 88. We sang for the living, and we sang for the dying.
I remember Laura Whitcher in every page of this book. I remember her and all the old people who have made possible the century of new discovery whose rewards we now reap. May this book do some justice to the nearly hundred years of life that not only one woman but also countless other men and women have given the world. Let us begin this book with the truth in mind that their lives speak loudly, if we will but listen, a message about the souls of the children they leave behind.
May Laura Whitcher continue her journey in peace, and may the message of her lifetime inspire us all.
Copyright © Michael Gurian
The human has no body distinct from the soul.
-- William Blake
Heavy snow fell that morning in 1990 outside Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Washington. From our ninth-story room, my wife, Gail, and I could see the buildings of downtown Spokane, and the houses, pine trees, streets, and then hills north of the city.
We had been placed in a corner room of the maternity wing. Just outside our door were nurses going about their business; other families gathering; children running, walking, and squealing, and parents reining them in. "Come on, son! This way! Your mom's over in this room." Doctors' calls came over the ceiling speakers; a phone rang; a child of six or seven, a brown-haired girl wearing her winter coat, peeked into our room. Amid the din of children, adult voices, and hospital sounds, Gail and I could also hear silence, the hidden source of all sound. The wet flakes of snow outside the window seemed to bring the silence into our room and hold it there; for a few moments at a time, we would listen to the hush, holding hands, not talking, just waiting for a moment of truth, our first child's birth, on a February day. Despite our love for each other, our contemplation of silence would keep as Gail felt another painful contraction.
Gail was thirty-two, I two months from that mark. We had met at twenty-six, married at twenty-eight, moved to Ankara, Turkey, for two years, then returned to Spokane because, as Gail put it to me in our apartment in Ankara, "It's time to have children." We had been teaching in Turkey for just over a year and a half by the time she felt the call of the unborn child. The high window and the snow of the hospital in Spokane reminded me of the Ankara winter in which we often sat in our fourth-story apartment, overlooking other buildings and the snow-packed streets, anticipating parenthood.
"I want to carry a soul inside me," Gail had said. "I want to experience this back home, where I know the health care system better. I want to do it soon. I want to get started as soon as we get back to the States."
We talked over logistics, made plans, spoke our hopes aloud and thought them silently, and made our way back to the United States.
Gail got pregnant in the spring, a year and a half after the Ankara winter. Over the months, she wrestled with a complex pregnancy that included bed rest in the last weeks, but now here we were at Sacred Heart. Her water had broken the night before and contractions had begun. By phone, our doctor advised us to wait till morning to check into the hospital. We had waited, sleeping a little, then woke, prepared what we needed, got in the car, and arrived at 9:00 A.M. A nurse checked us in then guided us to our room. Gail changed into a hospital gown, then submitted to a number of fittings with hospital equipment: Different parts of her body were hooked up by an electrical cable to different monitors, some monitors revealing her and the baby's heart rate, some their temperature, others their blood pressure. Each monitor emitted, by means of green or white light, myriad revelations about the child ready to be born.
Gail was ending her time of carrying a soul inside her, and now that soul, connected to our outside world by scientific measurements of electrical impulse, spoke to her, the nurses, and all of us who gathered in support. It would be forty hours before our first child, Gabrielle, emerged from the womb, but emerge she did, healthy, and bringing Gail and me to tears.
For countless billions of years, organisms of many kinds -- we humans being a recent addition to the long list -- have remade themselves, conceiving offspring in whatever way nature made possible. We humans have painstakingly raised our offspring so that they could continue our immortality by becoming adults who, in turn, remade themselves.
Until very recently, we did not connect a mother and a fetus to electrical monitors. Birth occurred in the tundra, the savanna, the farmhouse, the family home, the car, or anywhere, for nature sometimes just won't wait.
When birth occurred elsewhere but a hospital, a pregnant mother's grandmas and aunties and midwives and doctors could read the signs of life inside the mother, and the mother herself could feel them internally, but we could not measure or see by ultrasound or read by electric waves the life hidden in the womb. We intuited an essential life in there, and religions and human socialization guided us to protect it at all costs, but we did not yet touch that life with a science capable of displaying, for medical use, the soul of the child within.
A few decades ago, that changed. Machines that read electrical signals were attached to pregnant mothers. Nearly everything about a child in utero can now be read. This change has given us the ability to read signals of life out of the hidden hush and silence from whence life comes. As I look back on those first moments of Gail's birthing process, when she was being hooked up to monitors, and as I think of myself, her, and others watching the green lines tweaking up and down, the silver lines cresting and troughing, the digital numbers reading out blood pressure, the sounds of beeps and drones, I see something I missed back then: Right before my eyes was a brilliant example of the new science of the soul that humanity is now learning.
Those monitors were reading not just my daughter's physical signals; they were also reading her soul, the electrical energy that makes her physicality possible. They read what we would later call "the light in her eyes"; they read her ability to move her limbs; they read fetal precursors to her quick intelligence, her moods, her hopes, and her dreams. All these things are electricity, and the monitors read that electricity quite well.
It was right in front of me when my own children were being born, but I missed it. It's right before all of us. To see it, we need not get more monitors hooked up. We need only do two things: look more closely, and give ourselves the permission to think differently than we did before it became possible to touch, with signs, the actual light that the soul is.
Thinking Differently about the Science of the Soul
By the end of this book -- I hope, by the end of this chapter -- you will say to yourself, I had thought I was a free thinker, but now I know better what freedom is. I hope you will say, I understand better what it means to find peace, within myself and in my world.
A great deal of our thinking, and thus our human energy, is caged in old ideas. Many of the problems we get into -- within ourselves, in our communities, and on a larger scale, between nations and peoples -- are the result of these ideas. I hope to introduce you to some new thinking and new ideas (some of which are, in fact, quite old but haven't been fully understood till now; and some of which are distinctly new).
Thinking differently takes us to a number of doorways, and behind each is a proof of the soul of the child that I hope will intrigue and touch you. Should you be a person who needs no proof of the existence of the soul, nor of its composition, you may be tempted to skip these next few pages. I hope you won't, for in them we will find beautiful and common ground.
Here are some new ideas this chapter will present:
• The soul and the body are not split but are one.
• Religion and science, which have historically been seen as oppositional to each other, actually teach us the same things about the soul.
• Though we think of ourselves as separate from God -- God above and we below -- in fact, we and God occupy the same space; knowing this cannot help but change our attitudes toward life, death, and nearly everything in between.
• At some level, each of us has already noticed evidence of the workings of the soul every day, even though we may lack the language and understanding to articulate what we've seen; once we do recognize our inherent, and relatively new, human ability to synthesize this information, we become a new human.
• We have been afraid to notice, with certainty, the physical composition of the soul, for we have thought that to equate soul and body might downgrade the mysterious workings of God; new discoveries help us see that God is not diminished but pleased by our progress in thinking and understanding.
• We may have been equally afraid to experience certainty because to fully know the soul of the child, and thus the intimacy of God, is to be required to reshape our human lives; this reshaping, the subject of the second half of this book, is a joyful but also a challenging task, one we've been putting off for many generations, for it will require changes in the way we live, and the way we act.
As this chapter proceeds, I hope you will come to see, as I have, that soul and body are not split; God is more than we thought; religion and science offer parallel proofs of the soul; the soul is a very physical phenomenon; and we, as a growing civilization, will make major leaps in human consciousness, and in the care of our children, when we fully understand who we are caring for, and thus, who we are.
Let us start this pattern of discovery with what religions have told us the soul is; then we will compare what religions have said to what science can now show us.
Seeing the Light
What have religions told us, since the beginning of oral and written language, about the soul, truth, and God? How have they spoken of soul, truth, and God in ways that we find echoed in neurobiological, scientific terms?
Both established religions and small, tribal spiritualities have always and in no uncertain terms called the soul, God, and truth "the light." What might they have meant? And could this light be what the monitors in the hospital during my children's births -- and, indeed, during any medical procedure -- have recognized, watched, and displayed?
Join me for a moment in noticing how clues to the human soul are locked in the human mind and thus are evident in humanity's historical teachings, songs, and ideas. The human mind creates itself everywhere in words, and words cannot create anything but the mind, for the mind (in the most expansive sense) is what the mind knows. It cannot know anything else. The mind makes what it knows. And it knows a secret: The soul is a measurable, yet still mysterious, light.
We find examples of this hidden in all religions.
Hinduism, the parent of so many other religions in Asia, makes no mistake about calling the soul "the light." A popular phrase when I lived in India -- one that was brought over to the West in the later part of the last century -- went like this: "May the light in me see the light in you." This phrase integrates the Hindu sense that we are "beings of light."
In the Hindu philosophy, our body cannot exist separate from our soul. The Hindu concept goes something like this: "Your body is an illusion, it is maya. Everything is actually soul. Without soul, you would be nothingness, darkness, unseen -- the light is who you really are."
The Bhagavad Gita, the foundational text of Hinduism, refers to three modes of material nature. One of these, the mode of goodness, "being purer than the others, is illuminating." We will discuss later how "goodness" or moral action may well be a "whole brain activity" that "lights up the mind." The Gita, a teaching manual between the divine form, Krishna, and a young warrior, Arjuna, presents divinity as "seated in the hearts of all created, the light of the radiant sun."
Thus, in this ancient religion, not only is the individual person composed of light, but all of existence is also light itself.
In the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta, which recounts the end of the Buddha's life, we find the Buddha speaking: "Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Hold fast to yourselves as lamps."
In the Dharmapada, Buddha says, "The seeker who sets out upon the Way shines bright over the world." The Way is the meditative development of a sense of one's own soul, which leads to the display of oneself as a radiant being, en-lightened within, and illuminating, by serving, the world.
Tibetan Buddhist Lama Surya Das explains: "Tibetan Buddhism teaches that at the heart of you, me, every single person, and all other creatures great and small, is an inner radiance that reflects our essential nature....Tibetans refer to this inner light as pure radiance or innate luminosity; in fact, they call it ground luminosity because it is the 'bottom line.' This luminosity is birthless and deathless. It is a luminescent emptiness, called clear light, and it is endowed with the heart of unconditional compassion and love."
Rebbe Nachman, an ancient Jewish thinker, taught that devekuth, God's counsel, should be the goal of our explorations in life -- our Way. The experience of life itself, most notably of the joy and ecstasy of living, was to his mind the experience of "accepting God's counsel and thus, being caught up in God's light."
Nachman continues: "All of your future life is determined by what you find during the time of exploration. It all depends on how long your lamp can burn." The lamp again appears -- this time in the West -- as a descriptor for the soul.
In the Old Testament, God's conversation with Moses, which for all intents and purposes began the Jewish religion, takes place at a burning bush. Throughout Jewish lore, light and flame are God, in the same way that, at creation, God was Light. According to Jewish Cabalists, in order for Moses' soul to be able to hear God, God had to make himself plain by becoming the original material of which Moses was composed: light.
In the Jewish sacred text the Zohar, the Book of Light, human souls are known to have come about this way: There was a huge explosion of Light, and once the explosion had finished, slivers of light were left everywhere. Those slivers were us, the living. You and I are each a sliver of light.
Christianity is, of course, rife with references to the soul as light. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus preaches: "You are the Light for all the world. A town that stands on a hill cannot be hidden. When a lamp is lit, it is not put under a bushel basket but on the stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house."
Saul, who later became Saint Paul, discovered his "true self" while faced with an immense light, which temporarily blinded him. Jesus was in the process of crying out "Why do you persecute me?" when Paul "saw the light." In seeing God's light, Paul knew his own soul completely.
The Christian poet Dante, in the Purgatorio, presents the soul as a beloved female figure, Beatrice. Depicting a man's soul as a beautiful woman was a literary convention of the day. Even more interesting is how he associated this soul with light. As Dante writes in the voice of his instructive mentor, Virgil: "Save all questions of consequence till you meet her who will become your lamp between the truth and mere intelligence."
Saint Augustine wrote in his Confessions of both the soul and God as light, fire, flame, and the lamp. In one case, Augustine refers to God and the soul as one -- the light. In this passage, he refers to his youthful ignorance of God's true word. "At that time of ignorance, as you, the light of my heart, do know, your apostolic words were still not known to me." In another of his myriad, similar "light references," he cries for his soul: "The light is clouded over! But look! It is before us!"
Referring to his own ignorance of the truth, he confesses, "I did not know that [the soul] must be enlightened by another light in order to be a partaker in the truth...for you will light my lamp, O Lord my God, you will enlighten my darkness....For you are the true light, which enlightens every one in this world."
In Catholic churches, and in nearly all other places of religious observance worldwide, the lighting of candles and lamps is another indication of the human intuition that luminosity -- radiance and light -- is germane to our divine composition. Perhaps in Christianity, candle flames and candles symbolize the soul because of Bible stories surrounding the Apostles' apprehension of the Holy Spirit -- when the Holy Spirit appeared, tiny flames danced on each of their heads. No matter where the source of the symbol, in nearly every world religion, flame is soul, soul is flame.
In Zoroastrianism, a root religion of Islam (as well as other religions), the "God" is Ahura Mazda, the Unquenchable Flame. Individual souls issue from the original light.
This "love of light" is very true in Islam as well, where the candle flame, in the religious poetry of Háfiz and Jalal al-Din Rumi, is directly linked to soul. Muslim texts, most especially the Koran, are filled with constant references to light. Sura XVIII, The Cave, provides one of the richest, multilayered uses of light. In this Sura, young men must seek refuge from persecutors in a dark cave, wherein they become closer to God. God's guidance is felt as light; furthermore, illumination of the self is light; knowledge of one's own soul and love of and by God is light; and God's power is light. In this Sura, we find the idea that is implied in every religion: Not only is the soul light, but also God is light. This is a hint of what will be developed much further in this book -- that if we are light, and God is light, and our children are light, we have stumbled upon a great idea, which creates a new way of viewing the human.
The Islamic daily prayer cycle itself is based in the sun's light cycle. Muslims pray five times a day -- Fajr, the dawn prayer; Zuhr, the noon prayer, or just after the sun has reached its greatest height; Asr, the afternoon prayer, when the sun is halfway down; Maghrib, prayer at sunset; and Isha, night prayer, which transpires after the sun has set and when darkness is all around. Not surprisingly, given the light-orientation of Islam, Isha symbolizes death. The soul's light has left the body, metaphorically speaking, in Isha. Night prayers focus on the return of the soul's light.
Awwal, the state of being in which Creator is fully creation, a personal sense of adoration is reached as one realizes: "O Allah, you are the infinite open ray of light!"
Jalal al-Din Rumi, perhaps the most popular Muslim poet of all time, uses metaphors of light, including fire, countless times to refer to the soul and God.
In one case, using "I" as the Beloved God and "you" as a searcher, he writes:
You are burning up your soul to keep the body delighted, but you don't know what you're doing. I am another kind of firelight.
Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-born poet whose book The Prophet has touched millions of hearts, writes:
I have found that which is greater than wisdom. It is a flame spirit in you ever gathering more of itself.
Most religious traditions are based on texts written by males and are structured such that males are the primary celebrants. But there is also a long tradition of female, Goddess religions, which we've all learned a great deal about in the last few decades. Do the Goddess religions create a different picture of the soul than do the traditional patriarchal religions? Though there are many differences between these types of religions, they both agree that a human being is light. In Goddess traditions, the light of the moon is often more active than the light of the sun, but that light is still the source of being.
In the beginning there was darkness, then the light, say nearly all the creation stories of all the religions. An African Goddess creation tale has this opening: "There was darkness, like the inside of a rock, and then it was as if the rock of the world shattered, and all was light. All the souls of the Great Mother poured forth from the light."
Shamanism is the general term used for native theologies, aboriginal worldviews, and tribal religions. Shamans are the equivalents of priests, rabbis, priestesses, and healers.
Medicine men and women are famous examples of shamans. Tribal cultures gain their religious and spiritual understanding not only from life experience but also from shamans; thus the cultures are called shaman-based, or shamanic, in the same way the West is known as being Judeo-Christian.
Shamanic religions resemble Goddess religions in that they tend to be more "earth-based" than are the "sky-based" monotheistic religions. God, Allah, and Jesus are people of the sky, we might say, in comparison to Mother Earth, Grandfather Rock, or She Who Talks with Wind. While Father Sky is an important part of shamanic religions, he does not dominate them in the way the Father God dominates Western religion.
Shamanic religions are filled with original human mythology, living examples of the ideas that monotheistic religions borrowed millennia ago.
Not surprisingly, in shamanic culture, light and soul are one and the same.
Shamanic folk tales, for instance, are filled with references to darkness becoming light. In one Native American tale, the world is created by Coyote falling into a dark pit, discovering a flaming branch, then bringing this flame out of the pit: from this, life was created. Every living soul, according to this Plains story, is a flame of light.
Among the natives of the Andes Mountains, most notably the Incas, we find the practice of paq'o initiation. A person goes through a number of trials -- life trials and ritualized ordeals -- along a journey toward spiritual maturity. A spiritually mature person, a paq'o, is defined as one able to visualize the fields of energy that constitute each being. These fields, invisible to an uninitiated or spiritually immature individual, are quite lit up for the paq'o. The spiritually mature person, or shaman, learns how to "read the light," then how to interact with every person as a "field of light."
Philosophies of the Soul
Religions have dealt directly with what soul is, and religions have influenced the minds of philosophers who did the same. The discipline of philosophy, as a companion to religion, has been defining the human soul for millennia.
Aristotle, for instance, argued that the soul could be found "throughout the body." For him, the soul was a light under every part of our skin -- it was the light of all cells and organs.
Aristotle may well have been responding to something he didn't like in Plato's ideas about the soul. For Plato, the soul was an Ideal, a kind of living idea, that existed in a state of transmutability -- it could change all the time -- until it entered the darkness of the body, becoming "the pilot of the body, as a charioteer is the pilot of the horses who pull his chariot."
Saint Augustine, who was both a religious figure and a social philosopher, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the most famous philosophers in our history, each lived as philosophical bookends to the Middle Ages -- Augustine at the beginning of that time, Aquinas toward the end. Augustine melded Christianity and Platonic ideas, seeing the body as being piloted by the soul, which God places, or "breathes" into us. Aquinas imagined the soul more complexly and was one of the first philosopher-scientists to try to imagine how this cosmic breathing actually might feel in our cells. He proposed that the soul was like light breathing throughout ourselves, like having God within us.
René Descartes, the seventeenth-century philosopher famous for concluding "I think, therefore I am," argued that the soul was actually located near or in the pineal gland, and was lit up enough for a few people, people of extraordinary gifts, to see there.
These are just a few of the concepts of the soul that can be found in our Western philosophical tradition. But they all have one thing in common: The soul is depicted by the philosopher-scientist as a "spark."
"The soul is the spark of existence."
"The soul is the spark of light within us."
"God planted a spark within us, then breathed wind onto it, giving us life."
In these last few pages, I have tried to display something that has perhaps been right before our eyes for generations, but which we were not fully aware of: All religions and philosophies, while seemingly "culturally separate" creations that use different metaphors to express ideas about the human soul, have in fact been revealing the same truth -- whether in the mountains of India or Tibet, the burning city of Carthage, the Greek empire, or in the Hebrew, Christian, Moslem, or Goddess traditions. We might even say that the idea that God is light, that the soul is light, that we are light, is burned into the human psyche.
Now what shall we do with this displayed idea? It is a piece of a puzzle. How shall we utilize it?
The Science of the Soul
Let us utilize it this way: Whether in world religions or in the history of philosophy, the soul is known as light, or as a spark, and now the new sciences can show us why.
What Is Light?
First, what do we know today about this light our ancestors called the soul? What do we know about light itself? We keep using the word light -- but what do we know about this light, which as soul is obvious to us, yet still so mysterious?
As neurophysics researcher Joel Achenbach puts it: "There has been light from the beginning. There will be light at the end. In all its forms -- visible and invisible -- it saturates the universe....Light reveals the world to us. Body and soul crave it. Light sets our biological clocks. Light feeds us, supplying the energy for plants to grow....Light is more than a little bit inscrutable. Modern physics has sliced the stuff of nature into ever smaller and more exotic constituents, but light won't reduce....Our lives are built around light, our daily existence is continuously shaped -- and made vivid -- by that ambiguous stuff that dates from the beginning of time."
We know this fascinating fact about light: It has no volume. This means it needs other shapes and things of mass by which to show itself. Even when a beam of light shines, its hidden qualities are not revealed unless it is placed against a mass. For instance, every beam of light carries every color in the spectrum, but we don't see these colors unless the light is shot into a prism; only through the reflection in the mass of the prism do we see an aspect of the nature of the light.
We know this too: Light is both a particle and a wave.
We know that the speed of light is constant for all observers.
We also know that at the speed of light there is no time. Albert Einstein was the first to fully understand and prove this. At the speed of light, time stops.
We know that light can be guided. Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow developed the LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) in order to utilize the possibility of cohering light into a narrow beam. The uses of this narrow beam, from medical surgeries to telescopes, are infinite.
We also know that all human communication technologies are based on manipulating not just sound but also light. Technology expert George Gilder put it this way: "Light was made by God for communications."
This, then, is a little about light. How shall we connect what science knows about light with what human wisdom has taught us?
The New Science of Neurochemistry
The science of neurochemistry shows us that the human being, like all living things, is only alive in relation to the electrical energy -- the light -- it organizes. We are electromagnetic energy, vibrating, luminous, flowing, and quicksilver. The very neurochemistry of human life is electrical -- a spark, a flow of light. It is a volumeless, fast-moving, minute spectacle of light.
In the same way that a lightbulb illuminates when we throw the wall switch, or a candle flame burns when lit, living beings are alive with light. PET scans now show us that every action and every thought is composed of electrical energy. We process electrical signals while walking in a park, experiencing sensations from wind, light, trees, or from television signals, walls, airplanes, the taste of curry or hamburgers, the thousand smells around us, noticed or unnoticed. All are electrical energy stimulating human sense organs, then through them, the brain, then the brain stimulating the human nervous, respiratory, and circulatory systems. The circle of electrical energy a human being participates in is an endless circle of electrical stimulation. We experience the stimulants and the electricity, though we don't call them electricity -- we call them "feelings," "smells," "actions," or "words" -- but they're all electricity. They're all light. Whether a galvanic skin response test is administered to our bodies, or an EKG to our heart rate, or a PET scan to our brain waves, or a series of monitors to a mother's full uterus, all will measure that light.
When the electrical energy is gone, we all know instinctually that death has occurred. More than anything we fear losing that circle of electric energy, because to lose the spark of light -- the electrical energy -- is to be deleted (at least so we fear) from all of existence and nature as we know it.
For this reason great thinkers have argued in favor of a split between the soul and the body, a split that has, as we will see in a moment, kept us from fully caring for our children and for ourselves. Suffice it to say that just because death appears to exist does not necessarily mean the soul and the body are split. Soon I will show what I mean.
First, however, let us look a little more closely at the workings of the electromagnetic energy that is the ground of our being -- the spark, the light, the lamp that is soul and body as one.
Your child's small body operates by virtue of cell activity; it is cell activity. A slug inching across your sidewalk also experiences cell growth and cell activity, but in a more simplistic way than you or your child do. A slug's life is termed, in neurochemistry, "simple cell activity," and human life is termed "complex cell activity." Your child is a complex of cell activity that is built on the same basic type of cell activity of all natural life.
The atoms that constitute each individual cell, as you may remember from high school physics, are composed of protons, neurons, electrons, and even quarks and newly discovered quantum particles. Not surprisingly, protons, neurons, electrons, and quarks are all electromagnetic energy in a constant process of vibration. When Aristotle found the soul "throughout the body," he knew neither about complex cell activity nor about quarks, but he sensed that the whole body was lit up with vibratory resonance; and he was right. The human body is a mass of electrical impulses.
These impulses need an organizer, which is the brain. A mass of lit-up cells, the brain is small in an infant but grows to approximately three-and-one-half-pounds in an adult. The brain is composed of neural networks of axons and dendrites connected by synapses, which interact among themselves through neurotransmitters. Not surprisingly -- these neurotransmitters travel -- at or near the speed of light.
The brain is divided into three major areas:
• The brain stem, which is the basic survival brain, emits signals for human digestion, breathing, and the fight-or-flight instinct (when I'm scared I'll either confront my aggressor or run).
• The limbic system, which takes in sensory information and sends signals, including our hormonal signals, to the rest of the brain, generates most of our emotional processing.
• The four lobes at the top of the brain (the parietal at the top of the head, the occipital at the back, the temporal on both sides, and the frontal just behind the forehead), which we call, for short, the neocortex, make us capable of advanced, uniquely human reasoning such as making moral decisions, speaking a language, having abstract thoughts, reading, composing music, and so on.
The three parts of the brain run on electromagnetic current, and every connection that is made among them is made by filaments of light -- neurotransmitters and synapses among axons and dendrites. There are countless signals flowing through the brain at one time, most being memories or echoes of previous experiences we've had. In order for a single thought to occur, hundreds of thousands of neurons must vibrate as electrical pulses move throughout the brain.
Is this the candle flame? Is this the flame spirit, the infinite open ray of light?
The Brain-Body Systems
The connection between this small electrical mass in the head we call the brain and the larger electrical mass we call the body is made via the sensory, nervous, circulatory, and respiratory systems. Signals come in through these systems and activate the brain, which then responds to them.
A little boy or girl hurts a knee playing soccer. The soccer game, the desire to play soccer, the collision with the other player, the nerve-ending pain reaction, the emotions and feelings, the call to a parent for help -- all are electrical signals that run from the environment to the senses, body systems, and the brain, and then back again. They all can be traced as electrochemical light particles.
Is this not what was meant by "your soul is a lamp" or "the soul is slivers of light"?
The neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, coauthor of Why God Won't Go Away, gives the following example of this process vis-à-vis sensory information. "The basic functional unit of the human nervous system is the neuron, the tiny, spindly cell that, when arranged into intricately woven chains of long neural pathways, carries sensory impulses to the brain. At the basic level, sensory data enters the neural system in the form of billions of tiny bursts of electrochemical energy gathered by countless sensors in the skin, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. These neural impulses race along neural pathways, cascading like a line of falling dominoes, leaping synaptic gaps and triggering the release of chemical neurotransmitters as they carry their sensory messages."
Because electrochemical neurons and other such particles exist everywhere in the human system, were we to place a child's whole body on a body scan, no experience or reaction in the child would occur that could not be detected via electric impulse: via light.
The Exterior of the Body
Usually when we use the term "body," we mean all that is contained within the skin. But the science of neurochemistry extends this definition to also include the heat put out by the body; thus we can detect the soul not only in the body but also around it, along its edges. From ancient shamans to modern health care professionals, many have long been aware of the soul around the outside of the body. Technology can now show us the electrical current that has been called our "aura." When scanned by infrared technology, bodies are shown to give off light and heat.
Most of us have not actually used infrared technology ourselves, but we've probably seen an action film in which a character such as a soldier can't fulfill his mission unless he is able to see human targets at night. After the soldier places infrared goggles over his eyes, his targets -- which had been indiscernible to the naked eye in the darkness of night -- now show up because of their body heat.
People often think that infrared technology is picking up only the heat emanating from within the body, that is, the heat "inside it" or "beneath the skin." But infrared technology picks up the haloed outline, or "haloed exterior," of the body as well. The heat emanating from the body is, in fact, not only contained under the skin but is also released beyond the skin, around the exterior body.
Native American touch healers, who during prayer states move their hands about an inch above a prone body without any visible physical contact, are touching not the skin and bones of the body but the halo, the electric currents of body heat, invisible to the naked eye -- heat expressed and emanated by the contained, fast-moving electricity within the physical body we call a human being.
Is this not the soul around the body, which is depicted in religious paintings as a glowing halo around a human being?
The Soul Right Before Our Eyes
Having looked at some of the ideas from both religion and science, is it not possible now to say that no matter which technology is used, your child will show evidence of the soul? Do not the brain, the physique, body systems, and body heat all appear as light? Having raised this truth to consciousness, does it not become easier to remember that within that child (and within yourself) there is actually no separation among brain, nervous system, body, and body heat? The disconnect between "soul" and "body" lies only in our perception, our thinking. In reality, we are all electrical currents processing life at the speed of light, without separation among brain, nervous system, limbs, and halo.
The soul, we might say, is right before our eyes. Perhaps it has always been so, but because we did not have the technology to fully understand the interconnection of soul and body -- the complete unity of them in light -- we perceived a split between soul and the body. We need no longer struggle with that split. Now we can scan the human, using PET, SPECT, and other technologies, similar to those that monitored Gail and our baby. Now we can see that the human being is light itself.
I would go even further to argue that we can see the essential, luminous unity of soul and body even if we don't have access to PET scans or infrared technologies. Various scientific technologies have provided physical and empirical evidence of the existence of the soul, which religions and philosophy have always posited. But you don't need to be a doctor or brain tomography technician, nor have your baby in a hospital, to "see the light" that is the base composition of your child.
The spark, the light, the slivers of light, the vibrating pulses of light, the heat -- that soul of the child -- are inherent in our experience of the child, as the soul of a human is inherent in our experience of any human.
Let's recall some types of experiences we've all had that might make this most clear.
Perhaps you have felt the soul of another when you feel sexual "heat" emanating from your lover. You can physically feel that body heat, that love or even lust, and it is very real because hormones and pheromones are coursing not only through your lover's body but also emanating from it at the speed of light.
Perhaps you've felt the heat too when you reach for your child and sense the amazing heat a little body puts out. You are feeling not only the heat within the body but also the electrical heat expressed by the body's systems.
Not only when you feel the heat of your child's body but also when you look into your child's eyes, the electricity of soul is quite clear, especially in the lit, candlelike quality of the eyes. World traditions guide us to call the eyes "the windows to the soul" because we see the soul, at an instinctive level, in our children's eyes, and in the eyes of most people around us.
We also see "soullessness" when we look into the eyes of people who are evil (we will explore the neuroscience of evil more completely in Chapter 3). Perhaps the first thing a person notices about a Ted Bundy or another mass murderer is "cold eyes." If you read crime novels, something I do to relax during summer vacations, you will notice that most serial killers are described as having cold eyes. When an actor depicts an evil person, he generally forces a coldness into his eyes. For instance, John Malkovich, in the espionage thriller In the Line of Fire, with Clint Eastwood, rarely blinks, and looks out at the world without emotional warmth. In The Silence of the Lambs, psychopath Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, has the coldest eyes that great actor can manage.
These "cold eyes" are very real, neurochemically: They lack, in simple terms, the normal heat that light -- moving rapidly and generating complex, active waves -- gives off. The brains of psychopaths are minutely lateralized in comparison to those of normal people, that is, they compartmentalize activity into fewer parts of the brain. When we explore this more fully later, you will get a clearer sense than you may have had of why you get goose bumps and feel visceral fear at the sight of a psychopath's cold eyes.
The warmth or coldness in a person's eyes is an easy way of experiencing, in everyday life, the light the soul is. But what if you are blind? Can you still "see" the soul?
Yes. Blind people utilize touch to experience the soul of another, feeling through the skin of their fingers not only the contours of a face but also the body heat put off by another. In utilizing touch, blind people don't look into someone's eyes to discover a window to the soul but, instead, feel another's heat and body to gain a sense of the soul they have met. Blind people can have uncanny intuitions about the moral character of others and yet never see into others' eyes, intuitive proof that the soul is multifaceted and "visible" to the touch.
It is possible, also, to notice that any of us can experience the certainty of soul by using our ability to touch.
When your infant daughter reaches to clamp her fingers around your finger, she is using a physical gesture to ask you to recognize her as the spark of life you adore. Your adoration of her physically increases her electrical energy, and in turn, the quantity and quality of her electricity of emotion in the limbic system; this increase instructs her digits to clamp harder, so that you will increase your electromagnetic adoration, your light, even more.
When your child runs toward you and gives you a hug, you feel an electric jolt of pleasure. This joy is your electrochemical reaction to your child's love. It is a blending of two electrical fields. The biochemist Rupert Sheldrake, one of the first to identify living beings as energy fields, calls human beings "fields of light." In his terms, I and my child are, in the hug, two fields of light immersed in each other.
We all feel this electricity of love as little electric shocks all the time -- and we especially yearn to feel those electric shocks when we are away from our loved ones. We say to the person next to us on the airplane or the train, "I can't wait to get home to see the light of my children's eyes." We long for the joyful feeling of connection between ourselves and our children. This feeling is experienced on the cellular level as one of electromagnetic, luminous connectivity. It is remembered by the brain as a tactile connection -- a hug, a kiss, or a caress -- and stored as much more. It fills the memory, activating the limbic system expansively, driving us to get home to our loved ones. All this happens as electrical current, both in our own minds and memories, and between ourselves and our children or partner upon reunion.
When we are sad, we seek "the light at the end of the tunnel." Think about when you are lonely -- you feel "low," "blue," "encased in darkness." In an immensely imaginative novel by James Stoddard, called The High House, the narrator writes: "The constant dreariness had sunk into his soul and he would have given much for a real ray of sunshine." In another passage: "The grey clouds left all subdued, drained of light and life." This is the experience we all have -- thus it is constantly written this way in books. Dreariness, depression, and darkness yearn for light.
If visual and tactile ways of noticing the soul are the two ways we think of most quickly, sound comes next to mind. We constantly sense the electromagnetic pulsing in sounds, though we may not realize it. Sound is a form of light. What do we mean?
When you coo at your infant son, he picks up the electrical signal of sound in the parietal lobe, which then causes another cavalcade of electric pulses, causing him to coo back. The aural stimulation simply can't happen without life being "lit" in each of you -- electrochemical vibration. Sound is electrical vibration. In Hinduism and ancient Judaism the religious equivalent of the big bang -- creation -- is sound and light together, the explosion of creation being depicted as the emergence of light from darkness and the divine voice from nothingness. Among the Christian disciples during Pentecost, the Sound of God is a rushing wind (the Holy Spirit).
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras was perhaps the first scientific thinker to promulgate the idea that sound and light are partners, an idea that is verified in the modern physics of sound. In Pythagoras's view, everything was composed of sound -- electrical vibrations. "And all these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony, in which each element, while having its own function and character, contributes to the whole." Ancient Hindu doctors, in turn, believed that the human body had seventy-two thousand nadis -- energy channels analogous to nerves -- by which sound traveled, and which could be used in healing. Science has verified the existence of even more than seventy-two thousand nerve channels by which sound can be carried.
In ancient Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the "sound" God made when he created life was the sound of "breath." God breathed life into the world, bringing light with that breath. This is the sound of electrochemistry. The act of breathing is directly linked to the expression of light in the human body. As air is inhaled and exhaled, it floods our cells with electrochemical activity. Aboriginal shamans in Australia believe that people must put their hands to their mouths when they're astonished so they don't lose their souls. These shamans fear that as "the breath leaves the body, so will the light."
rdWe've looked at ways that the light we are calling soul, this soul we are calling light, is experienced by us both through technological devices and in everyday life -- monitors, PET scans, infrared technologies, touching a child's finger. There is still another way we instinctively know the light. We know when the electric current of life, the heat in a person's senses and feelings, is gone. Gradually the light seems to leave an aging person's body -- Great-grandma Laura, or any other who, right before our eyes, seems to be gradually diminishing. There are other times, as well, when death comes suddenly; we do not have the time to watch the soul gradually diminish. These are times of quick death. At a memorial service for those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a minister spoke these words as he spread sacramental incense: "Eternal rest grant unto them, and may perpetual light shine upon them." The emotion we all felt, whether at the site or in the television audience, was like an electric current, made even more powerful by the truth in his words -- our felt sense that the dead were, though no longer living in our realm of perception, nonetheless light itself.
Beyond the Soul/Body Split
Whether you look into a child's eyes, feel her tiny fist, or hear his coo, you know, instinctually and by human instruction, how to refract back the light of love your child is showing you. I am saying in this chapter that when all metaphors, and even feelings of love, move aside, we are left simply with the electricity itself.
And that is not a reduction but an invitation to greater wisdom. In this wisdom, we discover that neurochemistry is showing us a way beyond the soul/body split. There is no human cell not composed of the current, the light, the candle flame. The electrical impulses that vibrate in and through us are soul. Our bodies are our souls too. It is not even necessary to use the terms "body" and "soul" except as metaphors.
This is a neurochemical circling back to the original conceptions of human life.
When Hinduism and Buddhism insist that the body is an illusion, they are using a metaphor to express what is a fact: Soul and body are one.
When the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims all insist that we are the light of the world, they are insisting in metaphor what is a fact: We are light, whether one uses the word soul or the word body to define us.
When Native tribes, aborigines, and members of Goddess religions and shamanic cultures insist that there is no separation among a human, a deer, a leaf, a rock -- for all these "things" are made of one material, the Great Mother -- they are insisting in metaphor what is a fact: Separations are illusions, especially separations between what is divine and what is material.
Still, many of us will continue to have the notion that there is, in fact, a split between soul and body. It just feels right to think it. Not only has this idea been a part of Western thought for millennia, but doesn't the existence of death create the need for a soul/body split? The body dies -- mustn't the soul remain alive? Since the soul remains alive when the body dies, mustn't the soul and the body be made of different materials, and thus not be the same divine material -- or, at least, mustn't one be more divine than the other? At death the electricity, the light that we are, leaves the body. But it cannot be destroyed, given that it is energy, which can only be transformed not eradicated. So we are back to the soul/body split.
Or are we?
Inherent in the idea of a soul that is not quite a body and a body that is not quite a soul is also another idea: We can only think of soul and body one way. What if we could mature our minds to the point of realizing there is another way? What if we could stretch our minds such that they could accept two seemingly opposing ideas at once and also realize that they are not contradictions?
Accomplishing this would be an example of polylogical thinking. Our culture's reasoning process, however, is currently based mainly on monological thinking. We tend to search for one idea that explains everything, whether it's why our child turned out a certain way ("Because he wasn't fed breast milk") or why a business deal went badly ("Because I wasn't better prepared for the meeting"), when in fact there are many other reasons for each result. Because it is hard to track many reasons, we track one.
As this book develops, we will move deeply into polylogical thinking -- the thinking of the new human, thinking that goes beyond our previous definitions of intelligence, into a new kind of spiritual intelligence. For now, let us simply keep in mind the possibility that all three of these things might be true:
• The soul and the body, during this lifetime of breath, are one.
• The soul, as light, is also capable of existence without a human body.
• These two ideas are in no way contradictory.
As we move into the next chapter, we will in fact discover that to eschew this kind of polylogical thinking is to bring peril upon ourselves, especially upon our children.
Speaking of the deeds we do and the spiritual context in which we do them, the popular Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran writes how illogical it is for us to think that the actions of our bodies are separate from those of our souls: "Who can spread his hours before him, saying, 'I do this for God and this for myself; this for my soul, and this other for my body'?" We do everything for God, Gibran teaches. Everything we are is soul.
To exist without this idea, we will find, is to exist in eternal conflict between the material world and the spiritual world; it is to lose ourselves, our children, and those we love in a war between flesh and spirit. It is, ultimately, to disrespect the divinity of God's creation: matter, flesh, self, and child. Inherent in our monological thinking about soul and body is, we will notice, a hidden and inappropriate disgust for matter and for flesh, and a resultant idealization of an invisible soul, which leads to a painful result: Thinking the light of God to be not of this world, we do not nurture the light of God fully in this world.
Where We Go from Here
If your faith in the existence of the soul has never faltered; if your understanding of the sacredness of every human life and every moment of that life has never been stronger; and if your belief that the body is God's temple has always been complete, you may think to yourself, Why has it been necessary to prove the existence of the soul? Why has the author taken the time to begin a multilayered, book-long argument with the idea that the soul and body are one? You might think, I already know my children and I and all beings are children of God, so why has the author written of a deep coherence between religion and science regarding the soul of the child?
When I watched my wife get strapped up to the neuroelectrical monitors in our child's birth room, I was a young, excited man seeking to be fully present to the occasion, my emotions bounding between fear ("Will Gail and the baby be all right?") and joy ("There's never been a moment like this!"). I followed orders, helped Gail breathe, got out of the way during the "transition" phase, when she became angry, stayed as close as possible through all phases, and when it was time, cut Gabrielle's umbilical cord.
I saw a little girl's body come out of Gail's adult body. I did not, except perhaps in the most unconscious sense, see a soul. At some deep unconscious level I certainly must have experienced my child as light itself, for my joy, like a luminescence inside me, welled up into tears as I held her. I know Gail's did too, as did the joy of others present, from a nurse who had befriended us, to our children's godmother and godfather.
Yet I did not realize the light consciously, and even more troubling to me, I did not -- until the conversation at Great-grandma's nursing home -- realize the divinity, the actual soul of my two children, in every moment of their lives. I had, for most of the days and nights of their lives, lots else to do. I knew my children as mainly bodies to be transported to the bus, to school, to friends' houses, to sports activities; I had known my children as economic interns that I must train to "make it in the world." When I thought of them as souls, it was in regard to getting them to Sunday school, or providing them with "time in nature," or time in character development experiences. I had not integrated a sense of soul into my own children's lives, even despite the fact that I am a man of religion.
Am I unusual? Don't most of us fall into this trap? Don't we miss the soul of our spouse, our coworkers, our friends, our children? We tend to. We are focused on other things.
Perhaps for that reason more than any other, I have provided the picture of soul you've read in this chapter. We need the picture -- we need to connect the dots. We need to see the truth that is right before us: Our children are not just "kids" -- they are light itself.
We think of our children as "kids who are doing sports." As this book proceeds, I hope you'll come to think of their sports activity as divine play.
We think of our children as "going to school to get good grades." I hope you'll soon think of your children's learning as their active engagement in knowing their own and the world's divinity.
In a culture as busy and competitive as ours, we think of children as success objects, pushing them to "succeed at all costs." I hope you'll join me in thinking more than perhaps you have about their divine destiny as souls, and their inherent right to live a life of meaning, spiritual purpose, and mission.
We think of our children as "ours." What if we thought of them as long-standing souls, whom we have only borrowed for a few years, as light is borrowed, not owned?
We think of our children as bodies because so much of what we must do for them involves, from the first day of life, care of their bodies. I hope you'll soon think of your children, yourself, and all around you as light itself, which needs to be cared for not only as body but also as soul.
Won't these kinds of rethinking lead us to realize how much more we can do to make children's lives holy, and our own lives more meaningful?
I hope by the end of this book you will not only answer this question in the affirmative but also know how to activate your answer. Bonding and attachment to children is only complete when we know and attach to the soul of the child too. This is a crucial element in human development that you and I are best suited to give the soul of the child; more than that, it is an element on which all of human life depends, and an element not well enough understood today.
This secret element, this treasure, whose actual growth we can observe in the next chapter through the science of neurobiology, is if not the source of the light itself, then at least the very air, the oxygen, that keeps the human candle lit.
Copyright © Michael Gurian
Nurturing the Souls of Our Sons and Daughters
The Wonder of Children
Nurturing the Souls of Our Sons and Daughters
The Wonder of Children offers Michael Gurian's scientifically argued steps toward better care of our children's souls. You'll learn how and why to:
Increase bonding and attachment in the family and bring the extended family back into the raising of children.
Control a child's media use and expand time spent in the natural world.
Guard against damaging brain stressors that can trigger disorders such as depression and substance abuse.
Examine the potential toxicity of a child's daily schedule.
Increase the time children spend in spiritual process, understanding the mysteries of life, and experiencing joy and a sense of belonging.
A passionate and practical guide, The Wonder of Children puts forth a finely wrought argument for greater attention to the spiritual side of childhood.
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In the opening chapter of The Wonder of Children, Michael Gurian reveals how the book grew from a conversation with his daughters during a visit to their dying ninety-six-year-old great-grandmother Laura. What do you think of eleven-year-old Gabrielle’s insight that the soul must be made of light? How does the author support this idea with discoveries from PET (positron-emission tomography) technologies, SPECT scans, MRIs, skin conductance tests, and other findings from neurobiology?
2. Do you think of science and religion as being in opposition to each other? Why or why not? How important do you think it is for science to confirm religious belief?
3. How persuaded are you by the scientific “proof” Michael Gurian presents for the existence of the soul? How have your own views of the soul changed, if at all, from reading The Wonder of Children?
4. How do you think our methods of childrearing would change if, as the author suggests, we stopped thinking of our children as “kids” and started thinking of them as souls? What does Michael Gurian mean when he boldly asserts “God is the child”? If we had positive scientific proof of children’s divine identity, how would that change what childhood means—not only to parents, but to human civilization?
5. One of the central ideas of < see more