To hell and back

Lynne McTaggart

Despite the Covid epidemic, last Wednesday’s assault on America’s Capitol building, the violence and the extreme polarization, the isolation from loved ones, the economic catastrophe befalling millions, I remain hopeful.

That may sound extraordinarily naïve, given that most of us are in the midst of the darkest night of the soul we will ever experience.

Radio 4 in the UK is about to air a reading and interpretation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, marking the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet, and as the BBC newsreader Katya Adler, who is hosting the event, reminds us, it begins with the famous lines that every Italian knows by heart: ‘Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Or in English:

 ‘In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself astray in a dark wood where the straight road had been lost.’

Despite our present journey and even more difficult roads we know we are about to navigate, I am hopeful, largely because our current calamity is causing a massive brain rewiring among all of us – and all to the better.

I am fascinated by neuroplasticity – the ability of our brains to change, adapt and grow new neurons in response to need.

We are now learning that this happens with stroke victims, thanks to the work of the psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist Dr. Edward Taub, who discovered that after just 10 days of attempting to move a paralyzed limb, the brain would create an ‘enormous increase’ in gray matter, creating new neural connections to enable movement.  And the more the affected limb was moved, the more new neurons would be created.

Other recent evidence shows what we’ve always suspected:  people who are born blind make other neural connections to compensate for a lack of visual information, so that they develop a heightened sense of hearing, smell, touch and even cognitive function.

In the past, neuroscientists imagined the brain as something akin to a complex computer, which got fully constructed in adolescence.

But we now know that the brain revises itself throughout life, depending not simply on the nature of requirements to move about in our world, but also on the nature of our thoughts.

Certain sustained thoughts produce measurable physical differences and change its structure. Certain parts of our brains get larger, the more we think something.

For instance, Buddhist monks involved in compassionate meditation experience an increase in the ‘can I help you’ portion of their brains; even novice meditators practicing mindfulness meditation can increase activation of the ‘happy-thoughts’ part of the brain after just eight weeks.

What this means, quite simply, is the more we think a certain thought, the more embedded it becomes in our consciousnesses and, indeed, in our lives.

After all the extraordinary events of 2020 and this new year, I believe that we will undergo an enormous amount of brain rewiring, should we choose to focus on what is positive about our current experience.

Much like a blind person, now that we are deprived of so much ordinary activity – the-every-person-for-themselves, making-it-getting-it-and-spending-it cycle of the West’s daily diet – our brains will increasingly grow preoccupied with the things most essential to the continuation of our humanity.

In other words, we are developing a new stock market of values.

Our current situation is forcing us to move beyond the selfish and the material.  Locked down in our homes, what do we need new stuff for?  How many more tracksuit bottoms does any of us need?

We are beginning to recognize that two vital connections give our life meaning: a strong community connection, enabling us to share and give, and a strong spiritual connection.

Even in Dante’s Purgatory, which was depicted in the Divine Comedy as a waystation offering an opportunity to repent and change, the souls there demonstrate a need for both connections.  Not only do they acknowledge their own wrongdoing, but they interact and even sing together.

What most distinguishes them from the souls in Hell is their ability to take responsibility for their own actions, and connect and share with others, rather than turning against others and blaming them for their current situation.

Hell, in Dante’s inferno, is not other people, as Jean-Paul Sartre maintained.  Hell is an excessive focus on the self.

Now that we are forced to be isolated from our loved ones, it’s beginning to dawn on us that connection to others and that need for some sort of spiritual transcendence are the two non-negotiable values of our human experience.

When not satisfied, it can even lead to the kind of violence America experienced on Jan 6.

In The Biology of Transcendence, Joseph Chiltern Pierce wrote: “We actually contain a built-in ability to rise above restriction, incapacity, or limitation and, as a result of this ability, possess a vital adaptive spirit that we have not yet fully accessed. While this ability can lead us to transcendence, paradoxically it can lead also to violence; our longing for transcendence arises from our intuitive sensing of this adaptive potential and our violence arises from our failure to develop it.”

When so many of our freedoms have been removed, there is one simple power that no one can take away from you: your own extraordinary extended human potential, your transcendent ability to heal and be healed.

I have discovered one simple route to achieving an instant community and a connection to oneness and a higher spirit.

If you don’t have one already, I urge you to form a virtual Power of Eight group in 2021, where you will discover connection, spiritual transcendence and your own extraordinary adaptive power.

You can create one by asking for members in your time zone on my new Community site:, on my Facebook page Connecting and Healing through the Power of Eight, or as part of my year-long Power of Eight Intention Masterclass:

Most of all, what a Power of Eight group offers you is hope.

In one of the world’s most beloved movies, The Shawshank Redemption, based on the Stephen King short story, Andy Dufresne, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, spends 19 years patiently tunneling through the wall of his prison cell, covering the hole with his poster of Rita Hayworth, then clambering through a sewer pipe to freedom and a new life in Mexico.

He leaves money hidden for his prison buddy Red to join him, with the note:  ‘Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’

May you hold onto both hope and connection in 2021.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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919 comments on “To hell and back”

  1. Brilliant writing, Lynne. This last year has definitely been a most testing time. I know I am not the same person. It was a time in purgatory, of self reflection , healing and the ahah moments. Thank you for your insight and encouraging words. The reminder of the power of brain rewiring is timely and wonderful.

  2. Lynne
    We started our 1st PO8 2.5 years ago. It has been extraordinary. In Dec. we started another one to focus on our democracy. "Our Intention is for the 2020 election in the USA to bring Balance to the US Senate, resulting in enhanced cooperation among our Senators, and a decrease in animosity. We intend that the Senate chamber is irresistibly filled with this energy in 2021 and they experience this transformed space to move forward productively on behalf of the American people" . Although none of us condone violence, it is clear that the events on Wednesday were what had to happen to literally break the spell of deception that has enveloped our nation and our politics. Some of the speeches and changes in behavior in the aftermath were unimaginable under the past circumstances. We are grateful that the harm was minimal and send Grace to the families who lost loved ones. Our new Po8 will be meeting monthly to Intend for increases in bipartisan legislation. If anyone wants to join us or form a similar group, we look forward to creating a new political environment. Laura has my contact information. We are deeply GRATEFUL to you for your leadership in this field!
    Diane Short, Lakewood CO (MileHi Church)

  3. I am also very hopeful that recent events will, ultimately, have a beneficial effect for humanity as the collective purges energies that are detrimental and need healing. However, the brain's plasticity is a two way street. Neurons can wire in ways that are beneficial, and in ways that are not. Unless the person is very conscious, painful events in which the individual feels helpless rewires the brain in ways that create more pathways in the brain's survival center, thus making the individual more anxious and stuck in the "fight, flight or freeze" mode. The HPA stress axis of the brain gets energized with more neuronal connections and the connections to our higher executive brain functions lessen. This is the opposite of what a person wants.

    To prevent this negative new wiring process, it is imperative that we all feel our feelings fully at this time and give loving attention to our fears so that these feelings can be fully processed as events unfold. Otherwise, these feelings get stuck and reset the central nervous system so that the fight or flight response becomes embedded in the brain and body. Like I mentioned, neuroplasticity goes both ways, it can be beneficial, and it can also be detrimental as the body responds to new stimuli.

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