This article contains steps and best practices for rewiring the brain for spiritual transformation and conscious evolution so you can be the person you want to be and create the life you want by design, not default.
Do you ever feel discouraged because you know you are not living up to your full spiritual potential, that you are a hearer of the Word but not a doer? That your old ways win out? If so, you are not alone. Mankind has been struggling with dual natures since time immemorial. The good news is that you can rewire your brain to upgrade your mind. You can choose to activate the best parts of all aspects of human nature and bring less desirable aspects of your nature under control. If this were not so, the spiritual masters would never have asked it of us.
Neuroscience tells us that belief structures reality. Proverbs 23:7 say the same thing. “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is”.
We know this, but feel powerless to change ourselves, let alone anyone else or the world around us. We get excited about changing, commit for a few days or weeks, and then forget about it or get frustrated because it feels hard to create what we want to see in our lives and in the world.
The truth is that change is possible. The science of neuroplasticity proves that we have power over our thoughts, actions, feelings, and choices. We can evolve as individuals and societies. Ancient wisdom, such as Buddha’s Eightfold Path or the apostle Paul’s encouragement to practice self discipline and to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, light the way. Today, we also have the benefit of modern brain science showing us how to make changes happen in the best possible ways.
If you no longer want to keep creating your life by default, if you no longer want to keep contributing to the demise of the environment and the suffering of your fellow creatures, if you do want to step up as a powerful creator of your own life and your corner of the world, then read on. The way of conscious evolution and spiritual transformation is simple, but not easy. Rewiring the brain takes commitment and courage, but you can do it. You are worth it, the world and our fellow beings are worth it, too.
The war for your mind
An ongoing war continues to be fought in the neural trenches of your brain. The war is between the egoic self-serving ways of the world and the ways of spirituality with its focus on non-violence, compassion, sanctity of all life, and union with the Divine.
The army of bad habits and cultural programming led by those who sedate and placate us with distractions and pleasure costs us well-being, contentment, and spiritual purpose. We have more than ever and are unhappier than ever. Many people feel as though they live meaningless lives of quiet desperation and feel powerless to do anything about it.
Yet there is hope. The spiritual path may be arduous, yet it is highly rewarding. Spiritual masters through the ages have exhorted humanity to subdue (not eliminate, big difference) their brutish Homo sapiens nature and transform into devoted beings who exemplify unity, compassion, joy, and right living in all they do. They instructed their followers in the way and led them by example.
Today, we have another ally in our quest for spiritual transformation and conscious evolution: brain science. Science and spirituality form a winning duo in the battle of rewiring the brain and quality of life. Together, they show us how to make this life-long process of renewing the mind and becoming enlightened, fulfilled humans possible.
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational [logical, intelligent] act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you]. -Paul (Romans 12:1-2 Amplified Version)
The Aramaic Bible in plain English translates this passage as “do not imitate the world but renovate your minds.” The word “renovate” suggests making what is old new again, more functional. It suggests effort and perhaps a dismantling of the old. Parts of an old house may need to be gutted before new electrical circuits, drywall, paint, and fixtures are installed. We do not need new minds; we need to update our minds with software containing spiritual values and ethics that stem from seeing and loving the inhabitants of our world as God does. That includes ourselves.
The Desire and Willingness to Change
A few things must happen before you start rewiring the brain for real change. First, it is best to understand the belief you want to adopt and why it is best for you to adopt it. Most of us understand reality the way we were brought up and have been conditioned by the culture in which we live. We accept these worldviews as true and may not know another way or even that there is another way.
Secondly, you have to be convinced that the change in belief is correct as opposed to what you already believe. Most of us are slow to accept new truths and even slower to take steps that veer from our familiar beliefs and behavior patterns. When it comes right down to it, some people would rather hasten their deaths than make a change.
Asking oneself to change habitual thoughts and behaviors to follow the teachings of spiritual masters challenges us to the core. The brain may be wired to change and adapt, but it does not like it and sends fear and anxiety warning signals to get you to avoid it. This is true even when you know in your heart that rewiring the brain for conscious evolution and spiritual transformation are in your best interest. Expect fear and press on knowing the upgrade is worth it.
The Role of Learning and Habits
The process of learning and automating habits and skills is key to shaping the brain.
Scientists confirm that the brain is “soft-wired by experience” (Arden 2010). It is capable of creating new connections and neurons at any age in response to new experiences. When neurons fire together, they wire together. For example, when you see and hear a barking dog, visual and auditory synapses in the brain link up. You associate the creature called “dog“ with the sound called “barking“.
The first few times you practice a new skill, you have to concentrate and proceed slowly as your brain forms new neural connections and your body gains muscle memory. You may feel anxious and lack confidence in your ability to do well. The more an action is repeated or practiced, the more ingrained the neural pathways become and the faster the neurons fire together. You gain confidence in your knowledge and ability; if you do the action often enough it becomes automatic. You do not have to think about it because your brain and body know what to do and how to do it.
When you want to ingrain a new pattern in your life, think repetition. Learn and create new mental habits and skills by repeating the thought and behavior over and over an extended period of time.
For better or worse, habits become so automatic that you do them without conscious thought. Habits define who we are and how we live our lives. William James, one of the 19th century’s most influential psychiatrists wrote: “Our lives are but a mass of habits.”
Everything you do, whether rarely or never, often or in excess, falls into the realm of habits, not free will for the most part. Habits churn up thoughts and physical sensations to make you think and act accordingly, even when you want to choose differently. It takes knowledge and determination to dismantle old habits and create new ones.
Rewiring the Brain: 5 Steps to Condition Your Neuro-circuits for a Spiritual and Mental Upgrade
Upgrading your neural networks to live a more spiritually aligned life is possible with the help of science and spiritual guidance. A strong relationship exists between spiritual practice, habits, and the malleable nature of the brain. Regardless of age, you can explore options and choose which habits you prefer to keep and which ones to disable or upgrade. The technology of science and the wisdom of sacred teachings will show you how to rewire your brain for joy, right living, and benevolence. You have the option to maintain circuits installed by default or design new neural networks that align with a spiritual path.
It is possible to alter habits of thought, word, and deed without a spiritual component, but the process may prove more challenging without that extra guidance and inspiration to draw upon. Stories of Masters living the faith in a variety of circumstances model how to think and live. The Spirit within stirs your heart and mind. Likewise, you must do your part. It takes discipline to weaken habit patterns that do not promote your conscious evolution or the common good. Dedication and consistent practice are needed to form new habits associated with the higher purposes to which you are called.
Success is more likely when you make your brain and nervous system allies in your quest.
When you have a difficult time upgrading your neural networks for change, remember, it is not your fault. A part of the brain called the amygdala sends danger signals any time you try to step outside the box of familiar habits and the status quo. Once the signal is sent, your thoughts and body sensations tell us to avoid the situation. This is not self-sabotage, it is a primitive survival mechanism that still serves the valuable purpose of keeping you from taking life-threatening risks.
The problem is that everything new, even perfectly safe activities, register as risk. Willpower can help you override these stop measures for a while, but then, when you run out of willpower, it is easy to give in, forget about your new habits, and go back to your old ways.
This pattern can be overcome by strengthening the capacity of the frontal lobes to curb the panic response. According to psychologists, the disciplines of goal setting, visualization, positive self-talk, and arousal control enhance your capacity to rewire the brain by preparing your mental and spiritual circuits for an upgrade. Then, you take action.
Believers of different faiths and maturity levels have goals by different names, but their spiritual practices are essentially designed to cultivate the same virtues.
In Buddhism, adherents are encouraged to become more sensitive to the suffering of others so they feel an urgency to help alleviate that suffering and attain liberation. They are encouraged to cultivate the virtues on the Noble Eightfold Path which includes right thoughts, views, and actions. Christian texts exhort believers to put aside the ways of the flesh and to manifest the fruits of the Spirit: love, peace, kindness, and self-control.
By every name, people of faith are exhorted to at least do no intentional harm to anyone in any form and are encouraged to do acts of compassion out of their devotion and love for the Divine. These are big goals, our ultimate goals while living on Earth.
To be practical, set a series of intermediate goals that will move you along this path. Set goals that rewire your brain circuits as well as goals that involve actions. Make sure they are goals you want, not “should” goals put on you by others. Otherwise, your chance of success is slim and you will not be happy. You’re far more likely to be successful in transforming a habit if you make the decision for yourself. Decide what traits you want to upgrade in the near future. Describe what that looks and feels like. Be open to evolving and up-leveling your ideas as you progress along the path.
For example, you might decide to stop criticism and harsh words before they come out of your mouth and replace that habit by speaking your truth calmly and kindly. At the same time, or shortly thereafter, you set the goal to disallow violent thoughts from expressing themselves in your brain. That means an end to criticism, insults, being judgmental, guilt, shame, blame, and keeping a record of wrongs.
What you see with your eyes and visualize with your mind’s eye enter your brain and shape your reality. The brain accepts visualizations performed with emotion as reality. The following visualization exercises will help you upgrade your neural circuits by rewiring the brain for spiritual transformation and conscious evolution.
- Identify your ego acting out. Point a finger at someone who has traits you especially do not like. The three fingers pointing back in your direction suggest that you find and accept these hidden traits within yourself. Be brave and steadfast. A dark night of the soul may precede your transformation. Like a caterpillar in a chrysalis, you must die the old you so the authentic you can emerge.
- See yourself free of irrational fears, selfishness, lusts, and power ploys. What does this look and feel like? Play with one idea at a time. Do not expect your ego to help you with this. Spirit will light the way in your heart and soul.
- See the Divine in yourself and others. Envision a world in which we live in love and unity with the entirety of the Creation. Visualize or look with your physical eyes at the natural world around you. Feel the deep love God has for the Earth and all its beings. Appreciate the wonder, perfection, and beauty of it. Look through the eyes of the Spirit within you. See the unity underlying everything in the sacred web of life. Employ as many senses as you can when you visualize. This makes it real in your brain and helps it form new networks.
- Meditate on the virtue of compassion. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes or paws. Compassion is part of us because we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine. Meditate on the care Jesus, Buddha, Mahavira, Muhammad showed to beings of all kinds. Create scenes in your mind. Watch and listen to each scene as a short movie. See it, feel it. Put yourself in the scene with them as an ally. Visualize “the Compassionate One” and contemplate how humans created in the likeness and image of God are to exemplify that compassion on Earth.
- Watch and listen to movies, videos, and audios that reinforce the programming you want to install and reinforce in your brain. Watch programs that show the wonder of the animal kingdom, the beauty of the Earth, and people giving of themselves to help others of all kinds. As much as possible, limit exposing yourself to broadcasts conversations, and activities that reinforce the cultural programming you are trying to overcome. Especially early on, it only takes a little bit to quickly overwhelm your efforts to change.
Use positive self-talk.
When you think or talk aloud, your brain listens. Use this ability to help you achieve your goals.
- Encourage yourself. Cheer yourself on. Acknowledge out loud when you act on your inspiration to show love and compassion. Reward your brain with plenty of kudos so it knows this is what you want more of and give you a shot of feel good chemicals for doing so just like when you eat your favorite treat. You can do it. You have the Divine on your side.
- Speak the truth to yourself and others. Walking in truth and righteousness builds confidence, trust, and fortitude. Pray out loud for the knowledge you need to perceive a situation accurately. Seek wisdom for how to apply what you learn to your life and in service to others.
- Read passages aloud that support your goals. Commit them to memory and speak them to yourself often.
- Acknowledge to yourself and to others that if we were truly treating the Earth and our fellow beings with reverence and compassion, we would not allow things to occur that degrade the environment. Affirm that you are now doing “x and y” to do your part to make the world a better place.
- Broaden you scope of “neighbor”. Speak through the Spirit within you the names of all who are “neighbor” – the races and religious affiliations of people around the globe, species of plants and animals of land, sea, and sky. Feel your soul open and soar as you speak these names with reverence.
- Pray compassion prayers and meditations for healing yourself, others, your fellow beings, the planet. Pray aloud and with intention. This practice will upgrade your neural circuits and cultivate empathy and compassion within you.
- When you miss an opportunity to show compassion or purposely harm someone with words or deed, do not berate yourself. Acknowledge it, forgive yourself, and ask forgiveness in of the wounded party, if possible. Do what is necessary to make it right. Then encourage yourself with positive words. Remind yourself that your authentic inner self is wired for non-violence, love, and compassion for all, including yourself.
Practice arousal control.
Change, and even the thought of change, puts the brain on high alert. It floods your body with chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious. It churns up thoughts to accompany those feelings, including rationalizations and excuses as to why you shouldn’t do this new thing or why you should do the old thing. If you do not manage this arousal, or stress response, it will stop you from achieving your conscious evolution goals.
- Close your eyes, take a deep belly breath. Breathe in through your nose and blow it out through your mouth. Observe the sensation and sound of the breath going in and out of your body. Repeat twice more. This is just one way to rein in anxious feelings.
- Live righteously. When you avoid lies and wrongdoing you have a lot less to feel anxious about.
- Pray, meditate, contemplate. Commit a few sacred verses to memory that help you feel protected and safe. Mentally rehearse your new way of being. Visualize yourself taking the actions you desire. The brain does not know the difference between imagery and reality when you visualize with emotion. See it, feel it, say it out loud, get your body involved.
- Start small. If you feel led to volunteer three days a week at a shelter and the thought of that overwhelms you, then start with one day. Visualizing yourself going one day a week and get comfortable with that idea. Schedule a visit. Tour the facility and familiarize yourself with volunteer opportunities. This helps your brain feel more comfortable.
- Link up with others who are doing the same works you are interested in. The brain finds safety in numbers. Learn about what they do and how they do it. Accompany them, observe, and help out. Think of this adventure or short-term commitment as an experiment, not a full-time obligation.
Rewiring the brain takes consistent action.
The above practices prepare your mental and spiritual circuits for an upgrade, but your character will remain unchanged unless you put love and compassion into action. Dr. James exhorts: “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make.” And continue doing so.
Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. ( James 1:22)
Every good that is worth possessing must be paid in strokes of daily effort. By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities.…Put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way, make arrangements incompatible with the old. -Dr. William James
Remember, repetition is key to learning and establishing new mental and behavioral habits. Make the above disciplines part of your regular spiritual practice to increase your capacity for spiritual transformation and personal growth. Act ‘as if’ these new thoughts are a regular part of your life. You are not being a hypocrite, you are rewiring the brain to habituate new thoughts and behaviors. This takes training and practice just like any other skill.
- Be vigilant; do not give up or give in to your old habits or pressure from individuals who want you to play it safe in the status quo of your tribe.
- Live your life as a prayer. Be accountable for every word and deed. Be mindful of how your treat others and yourself. Every day, find ways to treat yourself with unconditional love and kindness. This will feel unnatural at first. Eventually, it will become who you are. Do the same for others. An easy way to start is to be aware of opportunities to perform quick and simple random acts of kindness. Spare yourself that critical word and encourage yourself instead. A kind word to a sales clerk can brighten her day; gently placing a suffering worm back on the ground after it was washed onto the pavement by heavy rains saves a life. The more you do this, the more you will hear the still small voice of Spirit inspiring you throughout the day.
- A spiritual practice you can put in place right away is to ask yourself each day : “How will I use the gift of this sacred day that will never come again? Act on the inspiration you receive without delay. Even if the actions take only a minute, congratulate yourself for following through. Think of this as a grand experiment. Have fun with it. Not how you think and feel as you embrace this new way of being. Note how you become more attuned to the still small voice within and you continue this daily practice.
8 Additional Tips to Rewire Your Brain
The following tips will help you deal with difficulties you will experience as you endeavor to upgrade your spiritual neural circuits and ways of being in the world. They are also proven ways to help your efforts be successful.
Expect to feel pressured from within yourself and from your culture and “tribe” to conform and stay the same. The apostle Paul was well aware of this powerful pull when he told the Ephesians to gird themselves with the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:11-18)
The sword of the Spirit is the teachings of God, the two-edged sword the virtues of love and compassion that stand up for goodness and Truth and against evil. Know what and who you are standing for. Know who and what you are up against. Expect resistance from those conditioned in Stay humble in God’s grace, lest pride lock you in battle with people instead of issues.
Set your mind on things above, not on worldly wants and concerns.
As part of rewiring the brain, declare that you will no longer engage in or support harmful acts against others. Uphold that declaration to the best of your ability and knowledge.
Renouncing has a very real effect on the function of our brains. Every time you renounce undesirable traits such as cruelty, greed, and hate, you strengthen neuro-pathways in the middle prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain regulates empathy, compassion, morality, emotional balance, and fear. It helps you think before you act and respect your intuition.
When you intentionally choose restraint and realize you are doing so directly, you are less likely to harm yourself or anyone else. Over time, with consistent awareness and effort, you will become less habituated, impulsive, and anxious. You become stronger, more stable, and more aware of a menu of choices for how to think and behave. You discover what your mind can endure and what your heart can metabolize.
Pray, meditate, and have faith. Study sacred texts and the lives of spiritual masters. Seek counsel from God and wise spiritual teachers. Upgrade your circuits and resurrect the sacred part of your life. Do not opt out by telling yourself you are weak or frightened or insignificant. Be diligent and persistent. To do nothing is to be complicit. Jesus understood this tendency in people. He admonished his followers to stay faithful to the calling.
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. -Jesus (Matthew 26:41)
Reward yourself often.
Reward yourself when your thoughts and actions align with your goal. This does not sound spiritual but it is an important part of rewiring the brain. Brain science shows that whenever you get rewards, the brain releases feel good chemicals. For example, when you eat chocolate, you get an endorphin rush and the body says “More please, now”. It works the same way for doing good deeds.
Rewards are especially important when you feel like you are enduring something difficult or depriving yourself of something. If you want your brain and body to partner with you on the spiritual path, reward yourself with a smile, positive affirming words, even a little treat once in a while. Just make sure the reward is in no way counter to the goal. In other words, you would not reward yourself by buying angora socks or having a second helping of steak if your goal is to upgrade circuits related to kindness to animals.
Accept that you will slip up.
When you do, be kind and patient with yourself. Let go of any guilt and thought of punishing yourself. Reflect on your patterns and beliefs. You have had a lifetime to become who you are. Change takes time. Acknowledge how long you stayed steadfast. Restate your goal and how you are going to do it. Tweak the process if need be. Remind yourself that rewiring the brain for spiritual transformation is a process. Then dust yourself off and start again and again.
Remind yourself that you are one with your Creator. Trust that spiritual connection within you. Your willingness and desire to live a compassionate life comes from the divine spark, your authentic self within. Keep saying “yes” to that impulse. Continue planting seeds of compassion and love. You will have setbacks along the way but you only fail when you give up. This journey is about maturing spiritually and being a light in the world. Do that and you have done well.
Surround yourself with support people.
Surround yourself with supportive people and individuals on the conscious evolution path who exemplify the traits you aspire to make your own. You are highly influenced by the people around you, especially authority figures and peers, and from the media. Your subconscious mind takes in social cues from everyone and everything without you being aware of it. They sensitize you to some things and desensitize you to others.
Try this experiment: Go several weeks without watching shows with verbal or physical violence. Then watch a movie with violence. Note your increased visceral and mental responses to that show.
Support people include like-minded individuals, coaches, mentors, and spiritual masters. Talk to them. Read books and scripture that encourage love and compassion from a variety of sources. Watch docudramas and read biographies about Gandhi, Saint Francis, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa and other role models of compassion.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
Allow yourself to feel the full range of human emotions. You were designed to experience them. Emotions are the means by which we experience and connect to ourselves, God, and others.
When you see someone happy or safe because of your help, it is natural to feel joy and satisfaction. Celebrate that and your brain will encourage you to do it more often.
When you are wronged or see someone else being wronged, it is natural to feel fear and anger. When this happens, feel the emotion, listen to what it is telling you, then release it. Beat a pillow if you want. Take a breath. Then decide how you are going to respond.
Responding is different than reacting. A positive way to release the energy of strong emotions is to channel it into right action. Right action is not always nice. Jesus used the energy of his anger to clear the temple of merchants. Use your emotion fuel wisely for good.
Today, we have tools that can help make rewiring the brain quicker and easier. Thanks to technology, you can avail yourself of guided meditations, hypnosis audios, and brain entrainment audios for general or specific upgrades. Here is a guided meditation to get you started.
Learn more about these methods and try them out on the following pages:
Spiritual Transformation: Do right by your fellow beings
Nonhumans suffer terribly at the hands of humans and as a result of our modern lifestyles and grabs for their habitat. If you want to upgrade your neural circuits to live in alignment with Spirit, then doing right by your fellow beings is part of that conscious evolution.
How do you do right by your fellow beings, including those you do not like or agree with? How do you overcome, or at least soften your prejudices against other beings? How do you help elevate our society to one that honors all Earthlings as valuable members of the web of life?
Mahatma Gandhi shed light on the answer to these questions. He is an example of someone who practiced nonviolence to all creatures as best as he could and promoted peace among Indian Muslims and Hindus during a time of great conflict. One day, a distraught Hindu confessed to Gandhi, “I am going to go to hell. I killed a Muslim boy,” Gandhi calmly replied, “I can tell you how to find your way out of hell. Go out and find a homeless Muslim boy, take him into your home and raise him as a Muslim.”
These words impart an important lesson about changing attitudes and actions toward those perceived as different or “wrong”. To raise the Muslim child according to his religion, the Hindu man had to take social risks. He had to be willing to open his heart, upgrade his mind through education, and make a commitment. He had to make a personal and financial investment in someone culturally unlike himself.
Actions shape the mind just as beliefs shape actions. What you do speaks louder than words to your own mind and to others, even when doing so is difficult and challenges your beliefs and assumptions.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Learn about different races of people and their religions. Use the information in Section One of this book to compare and contrast their beliefs with yours. What core beliefs do you share in common? What did you learn from them that can help you on your spiritual path?
- Learn about several species of animals. How are they like you? What are their preferences? Their lifestyles? Their needs and struggles? Their talents? What do you admire about them? What can you learn from them? Books, articles, and videos are wonderful for personal study and reflection and for sharing with children and in study groups.
- Explore several local, national, and/or international organizations dedicated to helping animals, people, and aspects of the natural world you don’t naturally feel an affinity toward. Educate yourself about their missions and why they are important. Read how their work is helps the suffering and needy and/or supporting a healthy environment in a specific locale. Imagine yourself in their situation and empathize with them. Choose one or more organizations to support with a donation or by taking a requested action such as signing a petition or sharing an article with your social network. The point of this exercise is to widen your circle of association, appreciation, and compassion for those outside your comfort zone.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. -Jesus Matthew 6:21 NIV)
- Refer to living beings as “someone” or as “he” or “she” instead of “it” or “something”. This simple shift in vocabulary has a profound effect on your perspective and behavior. We have a much harder time acting mindlessly toward a “someone” than an “it”. Rocks, chairs, plastic wrap, and cars are “it”. Lizards, groundhogs, raccoons, deer, robins are “someone”. When you see a dead creature in the road say, “Someone was killed on the road.” We have not been cultured to think this way, yet it is imperative if we want to correct our thinking and become more inclusive about “us”. Even if you don’t want to make a habit of this, experiment with it. Note your reactions and use them to learn about your programming. It is quite telling.
Humans are unique in our capacity to reason and make choices about how to think and behave. We can choose to focus more on how we are alike and what we share in common. We can choose to celebrate and appreciate our differences, or at least accept and tolerate them. Of course, this will be easier with some groups of people or species of animals than others, but if, at the very least, our general modus operandi advances to “live and let live”, the world will be a better place for all. And if we can extend that to help other people and species flourish instead of thinking humans alone are entitled, then we can help usher in heaven on Earth for all beings, including ourselves.
Gliebe, Sudi Kate (2012, June 13) Neuroplasticity and Spiritual Growth: Weaving Circuits of Faith