The Heaven and Hell of Brain Chemistry

A Japanese samurai warrior visited a Zen master, seeking answers to questions that had plagued him.

“What is it you want to know?” asked the Zen master.

“Tell me, sir, do heaven and hell exist?”

“Ha!” laughed the Zen master in a contemptuous tone. “What makes you think you could understand such things? You are only an educated, brutish soldier. Don’t waste my time with your ridiculous questions.”

The samurai warrior froze in shock. No one spoke to a samurai that way. It meant instant death. Increasing the tension, the Zen master went on, “Are you too stupid to understand what I just said? Stop wasting my time and get out of here!” he shouted.

The samurai exploded with rage. As quick as lightening, his hand grabbed the sword, sweeping it over his head to get ready for the kill. In the split second before the sword descended to cut off the Zen master’s head, the samurai heard him say, “This is the gate to hell.”

Again, the samurai froze in astonishment. He got the message. It was his own rage that brought hell to him. The Zen master–as is customary among the greatest of Zen teachers–risked his life to make that fact inescapably clear. Pausing and then breathing deeply, the samurai replaced his sword. He bowed humbly, filled with respect and even awe.

“And this,” smiled the Zen master, “is the gate to heaven.” (1)

Hell is chronic stress. Neurologically, chronic stress indicates a brain wired for fear. Genetics initially wires our brain to make survival mode a dominant feature. Past emotional traumas intensify this condition. That puts the primitive brain’s fear center (the amygdala) in charge of our experience, meaning that fight or flight takes over. When we were in the jungle we needed fight or flight, probably a hundred times a day. But most of the stress reactions modern people experience comes from fearful, worried thinking that exaggerates problems, generating a persistent perception of threat. It’s the condition Mark Twain described when he said: ”My life has been a series of terrible calamities, some of which actually happened.”

The core problem is this: The primitive brain can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined danger and sets off a stress reaction when either is present. As a result, stress hormones debilitate higher brain function. We don’t realize our full potential, our emotional meter defaults to negative, and our relationships suffer from all the reactivity stress generates. On top of that, stress is lethal. It is the #1 precipitant of life threatening disorders. Clearly, stress is hell.

We can change this predisposition to the hell stress produces by rewiring our brain to give higher brain function greater control. How: by being at peace. Peace and heaven are synonymous. In its most essential form, peace means we are not afraid of or in conflict with an external condition. The result, psychologically, is a shift from feeling overwhelmed by circumstances to a way of being that makes us larger than circumstances. That the power of attitude and the evidence is the more we practice peace the more our brain wires in ways that make this dynamic state of calm and clarity second-nature. The process of rewiring is called neuroplasticity and the change it generates happens relatively quickly, in a matter of weeks. Higher order neural networks expand and integrate, allowing creative intelligence, self-confidence and positive emotion to flow. That’s as close to heaven as it gets. Who, in their right mind doesn’t want that?
There is a tool that can start the rewiring process right away: It’s called the Clear Button. Click on the image above to download it.

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(1) The Zen parable is from “Eastern Wisdom for Western Minds,” by Victor M. Parachin