Matters of the Mind, with Dawson Church

“This mind is the matrix of all matter. We must assume there is, behind this force of atoms, the existence of a conscious, intelligent mind” 
— Max Planck

Intersections and Roundabouts 

Our understanding of the relationship between mind and matter has cascaded throughout history with such a dramatic thirst for answers that it has caused our effort to bifurcate into countless veins of study, fragmenting our hopes of a cohesively unified and comprehensive perspective that, in all truth, would have likely been impossible to achieve in the first place.  

Our journey towards these understandings has taken us all over the proverbial map, navigating our perspective through valleys of religion and mountain tops of scientific postulation, through tangled forests of psychology, oceans of biological evolution and arid deserts of secular spirituality. 

Every field has cultivated its respective assertions and, where certain overlaps exist— largely on the fringes of each field of study — scoffs can be heard from the nuclei’s at the center. For instance, physics may hold firm in a physicalist interpretation of reality, whereas some layers of quantum physics support more idealistic notions of how consciousness (say, through the observer effect) is seen to have a significant impact on material reality. 

These overlapping fringes, however, are usually and historically the volatile edges of study that prove just as creative as they do self-destructive. They are, by their very nature, sources of new ideas, mold-breaking and innovative, largely nonsensical but experimental enough that, from the pressure of scrutiny and criticism, diamonds can sometimes be generated. 

And no more fringe-filled and overlapping areas exist than those which relate to consciousness. Whether intersecting with physics, astronomy, divinity, neurochemistry, evolution, or even (of late) technology, consciousness proves itself as dynamic and versatile a field of study as anything else. 

On its own, consciousness doesn’t take us very far (in terms of palpability). But as soon as we begin infusing the study of consciousness with other streams of knowledge, we can see some remarkable revelations come to light. Maybe not so much in the fluffier applications of self-improvement (say, the laws of attraction or the powers of visualization) but in the more tangible fields of interest — anywhere from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Jung’s work on the subconscious to the more modern work being done with artificial intelligence and augmented biotechnologies like Neuralink. 

We may never come to know how mind truly interacts with matter but we seem to have a cornucopia of possibilities at our disposal. While we understand certain premises, we may not necessarily buy into the various conclusions that follow them (i.e. a collective or universal consciousness); and while we know that there is undoubtedly some truth to the idea that we can, to one degree or another, materialize the kind of reality we seek to exist in, we stop short of praising the powers of our consciousness which seem to get us there —  every time. 

Everyone is privy to their own flavor of combinations when it comes to understanding consciousness, whether that entails a combination of biological understanding or one of a more spiritual context. Moreover, the idea that the mind can influence our reality in such a dramatic way isn’t exactly digestible for those who have accepted the more ‘verifiable’ and tactile means of navigating life (physics or mathematics, for instance). But, for countless others, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

And, for Dawson Church, author of numerous works which seek to highlight this apparent potential of our mind, it’s the only thing that he’s focused on elucidating through the devotion of his own life to exemplifying this seemingly undecipherable relationship between mind and matter by working in his own unique overlapping edge of study. 

Mindful Preamble 

“The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of this realm.” 
— Sir James Jeans

In his approach, Dawson works to break through the confines of the typical compartmentalization that overlays the discussion between mind and matter, a divergence that few have been able to navigate with any measure of success. In so doing, he provides an exceptionally convincing perspective on the powers of the mind, not through the typically haphazard approach of infusing logic and smooth argumentation into spirituality but, rather, through an understanding of neurochemistry and a substantiation rooted in physiological investigation.

I had the chance to ask Dawson about his work, which resembles an architecturally-sound house built atop a solid foundation that has been poured into the questionable and often-criticized land that contextualizes this subject. Anytime the powers of consciousness are discussed, an insatiable need for proof is categorically sprinkled into the mix. We can’t seem to help it. 

Nevertheless, Dawson’s reliance on actually investigating neurological activity and uncovering the immaterial secrets of the mind through a material investigation into the minds matter has revealed something that can’t necessarily be denied, something that re-affirms a fundamental conception that the likes of Plato or Kant have spent their lives elucidating: the mind is everything. 

The Q&A

Q. At this juncture, many minds are accepting of the fact that we can, to one extent or another, create our surrounding reality. Some employ a quantum mechanical explanation for how the observer effect materializes reality, some people look at a many-worlds approach to selecting their chosen life into existence, others follow the laws of attraction, simulation theory, or maybe vision boards as an example.

Do you see the unification of these respective angles and approaches on our horizon, or some all-encompassing approach to accepting this powerful human ability, or do you feel that we’re still ways away from fully acting on this intrinsic human quality of ours?

D.C.: In my book, Mind to Matter, I describe how our minds and brains create reality. This reality is of two types — one is the reality inside our bodies when we think stressful thoughts, for instance, we turn on certain genes, which in turn create hormones that circulate throughout the entire body.

The final link in the synthesis of the stress hormone cortisol is a gene called CYP11B1 and this gene is upregulated by emotions like fear. When we release that stress and move it to relaxation mode, we upregulate a different gene called CYP17A1 which regulates the synthesis of DHEA, our cell repair and rejuvenation hormone.

This is just one example of the hundreds of thousands of biological processes set in place by mental processes like thought, emotion, belief and intention. Our minds and brains also affect molecules outside of our bodies. In the 1960’s, Professor Bernard Grad of McGill University began doing a long series of studies involving the effect of states of consciousness on living organisms. In sum, he had healers bless water and then use that water to sprout seeds or grow plants. Typically, the plants watered with the treated sample grew faster and stronger than those watered with an untreated sample.

Recent applications of Grad’s work have shown that treated water produces plants with greater amounts of chlorophyll. Similarly, intentions have been shown to speed the healing of wounds dramatically. There are also dozens of studies of distant prayer and other forms of positive intentions — taken together, they show an effect from these mental processes.

A recent analysis of meditation studies shows that meditators report higher levels of non-local phenomena, such as synchronicity, clairvoyance and precognition in their lives.

It’s taking a while this information to filter down to the masses. Only a small percentage of the population makes any effort to control negative thinking, even though it has been linked to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases.

I wrote Mind to Matter as a popular science book with many examples and case histories in addition to the science to show people the dramatic effects that their thinking is having on their lives.

Whatever the framework you use, whether it’s prayer, intention, visualization, affirmation or positive psychology, live as though your thoughts create reality.

Q: If I’m correct, you posit that we can create our reality through the manipulation of our minds magnetic fields, through which proteins and DNA coalesce to construct or influence our environment — somewhat of a skeleton for the matter that will appear around it.

Is it fair to assume that we can begin to manipulate these patterns themselves?

They who, say, have an awakened mind or they who have control over their minds magnetic fields — can they also control their EEG patterns to the extent that they can perhaps cheat the system and copy this coding — this pattern — and leverage this understanding in a way whereby we can make the entire process more efficient? Akin to how we’re trying to decipher the big bang by copying and pasting the formula and ingredients into our own scientific systems of study rather than trying to observe the natural phenomenon. A bit of a devils’ advocate question, as I’m not necessarily a fan of over-applying the scientific method..

D.C.: I began my life as a very unhappy human being. By the time I was 15 years old, I was so depressed and anxious that people couldn’t stand to be around me. I remember walking down a hotel hallway and noticing a full-length mirror; I stopped to observe myself. Long, wavy brown hair, John Lennon glasses, blue bell-bottom jeans and a leather bag of books slung over my shoulder.

As I stared at my own reflection, the words popped unbidden into my mind: that’s the saddest face I’ve ever seen.

I realized I had to fix myself, so I went to live in a spiritual community. There we studied the perennial philosophy that underlies all the words religions, meditated, and learned energy healing. But the ecstatic experiences, described by the saints, eluded me. I read about how Rama Krishna, the 19th Century Indian saint, would enter states of Samadhi so deep that he couldn’t be roused for days. Saint Teresa of Avila described mystical union that was so profound that she used the metaphor of marriage, complete abandonment to the divine.

I couldn’t relate. As a teenager, I couldn’t relate to these stories. My only aspiration was to get a little bit less unhappy. Yet nowadays, we have the ability to look into the minds of contemporary Rama Krishna’s and Saint Teresa’s using EEG’s and MRi’s. We map the brain states of modern day adepts and, in my book Mind to Matter, I refer to this as the awakened mind. It’s a distinct pattern of brain waves common to adepts of all religions and also common to people in flow states.

Now that we’ve reverse-engineered enlightenment, we’re able to train people to acquire these states very rapidly. I taught a recent seven-day retreat at which we had all the participants hooked up to EEG’s on day 1 and day 7. Early on, it took a lot of time to bring them to the awakened mind; by day 7, one woman was there 47 seconds after she closed her eyes.

Science has now enabled us to reverse-engineer the brain states of a spiritual master and teach a novice to do this in just a week.

Q: The universe contains many patterns that resemble algorithms. How mountain ranges resemble electrocardiogram charts of the heart; how dark matter looks like the web of the internet or the neurological net of our brain, which resembles mycelium networks, fractals, Fibonacci sequences, golden ratios, etc.

Let’s assume that someone is able to shut down the entirety of their brain’s activity — Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta waves, all at once. What do you think would follow?

Would we see an explosion, like the universe at the beginning of the big bang? Sir Roger Penrose, among others, has recently posited that there is no end to the universe, only a repeating cycle. The laws of thermodynamics also confirm that energy simply transfers and never actually extinguishes. And so what would you idealize happens when our brain’s activity — the physical neuronal firings — cease for good?

D.C.: What happens when all brain activity ceases — well, all brain activity will cease or every human being when you die. Consider a corpse a nano-second before death, a nano-second after death. That corpse still has all the cells, all the enzymes, all the hormones, all the genes, all the biological equipment necessary for life, yet is dead, even though everything physical is still present.

Just having the machinery isn’t enough. You also need consciousness.

So one day, you’re brain activity will cease but there’s no reason to believe that the consciousness that has been encoded by your brain activity, will cease to exist.

The brain does not contain reality any more than your smartphone contains the person you are speaking to on it. Like your smartphone, it’s a piece of material equipment that translates energy and consciousness into matter and form. That energy and consciousness is independent of whether you’re using the smartphone or not. When the smartphone dies, the signals which it had been transfusing continue.

Consciousness is not dependent on your brain continuing to fire for it to exist.

But at that point, your consciousness is free from it’s previous tethering to its physical body so it returns to the greater consciousness of which it is a part.

The Taoist’s refer to this as merging with the Tao — the all that is, the Universe.

That’s why meditation is so valuable. It allows us the opportunity to merge with the Tao every day. Without the inconvenience of physical death. So in Mind to Matter, I give people seven evidence-based meditations; MRI research has shown that these meditations produce dramatic changes in brain structure and function in only 4 weeks.

Consciousness thus begins to shape neurological activity. Used consistently, the software of your mind creates the hardware of your brain.


Read more about Dawson's work here

Image by Gerd Altmann