Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment: An Interview with Co-Authors David Perlmutter and Alberto Villoldo
Feb 28, 2011 04:21PM
● By Linda Sechrist
Neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., and medical anthropologist and shaman Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., are the co-authors of a new book, Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment. This groundbreaking guide explores how to acquire enlightenment—a deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things and the pure awareness and experience of peace and joy—that will pave the way for success in the challenges of life. Combining spirituality and science in practical ways, the book contains nutritional advice; recommendations for dietary supplements and physical exercises; shamanic practices; and meditations and visualizations that, when used together, can awaken the higher brain.
Perlmutter, who practices in Naples, is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition and the author of The Better Brain Book. Villoldo has studied Incan shamans and the 5,000-year-old medicine they use to heal through spirit and light, in the jungle and the Andes mountains. Today he trains Western shamans—doctors, nurses, therapists and lay people—in the principles of energy medicine at his Healing the Light Body School.
How do we know if we are operating in the old brain or the new? If the nature of reality is stored in our neural networks, what does this mean?
Dr. Perlmutter: We are operating in the old brain, the limbic system of instinct and emotion, when we have an instantaneous response to something. In our instant response, we are not relating to the event via thought processes or acquiring knowledge through the use of reasoning, intuition or perception. In an emergency situation, this reflex response is good.
When we pause and reflect on the meaning of our actions or plan and recognize future actions and consequences, we are using the neocortex, part of which, the prefrontal cortex, is involved in meditative and transcendental experiences. This sophisticated new brain defines us as humans and allows us to reason, create new ideas, express selfless love, write poetry and music and think logically.
Dr. Villoldo: Shamans believe that all we perceive is a projection through our senses of an internal map of reality, which we carry in our psyche. Whatever the landscape of your map, it is one that you are informed about by your culture and genes. For example, in our American culture, red means danger. To the Chinese, it means fortune and opportunity.
Most of our maps of reality are encoded in neural networks located in the more primitive limbic brain, which is very survival-oriented and predatory. When we perceive from here, we see a world full of fear and violence, rather than the world of safety that we perceive from the neocortex.
Shamans have a perceptual tradition, and when they want to change their world, they don’t pass new laws or come up with new ideas, they simply change their perception (internal map), and the world changes.
Your perceptions won’t change, and you can’t establish new maps of reality, until you repair the brain. This is why Christian mystics and shamans, who discovered ways to create higher order in the brain with neural networks wired for joy, peace and creativity, went into the desert or jungle to fast. They ate specific foods that triggered the process of neurogenesis, which grows new neurons or repairs those that have been damaged from stress and emotional trauma.
What is neurogenesis?
Dr. Perlmutter: The recent discovery of the process of neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to actually grow new neurons, which we can do even into our 80s and 90s. This discovery overturned generations of conventional wisdom in neuroscience, which purported that the human brain was limited to the neurons it was born with.
We once believed that our genes and DNA were locked in, and that they dictated what we would become. Then we discovered the dance between nature and nurture, and that our life experiences and our environment affect our genes. All of our life experiences and lifestyle activities have an effect on which genes turn off or on every minute. Thousands of genes are activated or inactivated by the amount of sleep we get, the supplements we take, the foods we eat, how we exercise and what we choose to think about.
What is neuroplasticity, and what does it have to do with the science of enlightenment? Can shamanic practices help optimize brain function?
Dr. Perlmutter: We can cultivate a new relationship with our more sophisticated brain with the gift of neuroplasticity, the building and strengthening of new neural networks that can override the limbic brain and pave the way for freedom from trauma and destructive emotions. This allows us to express the genes for health and longevity and even enlightenment.
Through neuroplasticity, the brain is able to rewire neural pathways and even establish new neural superhighways. However, focused attention and engaged stimulation, and not just repetition, are required to create these networks, which create new, more positive associations within your day-to-day experiences.Dr. Villoldo: Through shamanic practices, we can awaken extraordinary human capacities that include things we once thought were out of the ordinary: intuition, nonverbal communication, entanglement and synchronicity. My students find that as they begin to heal, they no longer live in the predatory universe, which the ancient [limbic] brain perceives. They discover that the universe goes out of its way to conspire on their behalf.
How can the five-week Power Up Your Brain program help us see, live or feel things differently?
Dr. Villoldo: I was born in Cuba during the revolution and saw a good deal of violence during my childhood. Twenty years ago, I went to New York City to live in an apartment in SoHo. I arrived during the hot, sticky days of summer and saw a lot of men sitting on doorsteps. They had bearded faces and were dressed in sweaty shirts. Initially, I was convinced they were stabbers, murderers and rapists. Several days later, I discovered they were very nice people who were my neighbors. I saw murders and stabbers because of my history with violence.
We are born with 50 percent of our personality already defined for us in the womb. We need nutrients to repair our brain, and shamanic practices that allow us to establish higher level networks, so that we can finally heal what no amount of talk therapy can repair.
Dr. Perlmutter: The program’s nutrition and lifestyle recommendations target specific gene codes for the production of a protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key mediator for stimulating both the growth of new neurons and enhanced viability of new pathways. The production of BDNF is activated by a variety of factors, including physical exercise, caloric restriction, curcumin and the omega-3 fat, DHA. You can treat yourself to stem cell therapy by taking control of your gene expression, thus connecting to that part of the brain that ties us into our spiritual experience.
For more information, visit PowerUpYourBrain.com. The Perlmutter Health Center is located at 800 Goodlette Rd. N. in Naples. Phone 649-7400.