Neurotheology and Spiritual Transformation: Clues in the Work of Joel Goldsmith

John K. Simmons
Western Illinois University

Reproduced with the permission of the author.

The original is to be found at

In a recent volume of the Journal of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, I describe a model for spiritual transformation in the context of sorting out the complex relationship between Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, and Emma Curtis Hopkins. Hopkins, often referred to as “the founder of New Thought,” was one of Eddy’s earliest and most talented students who, after a spirited gallop from Eddy’s stable, raced on to became a Triple Crown winner in the early New Thought movement.(1) 

Rather than seeing these two talented metaphysicians as separate personalities presenting sometimes conflicting perspectives on the nature of spiritual truth, it struck me that Eddy and Hopkins are actually personifications of two inevitable stages in the process of spiritual transformation.

In this scenario, Eddy is an apocalyptic prophet; Hopkins, the mystic, counterbalances the inescapable dualism present in Eddy’s apocalypticism with unitive certainty based on her mystical experience. 

Together, the Eddy-Hopkins paradigm delineates a three stage process necessary to any authentic spiritual transformation:

1) the intuitional stage during which a person begins to intuit the seamless tapestry of unitive being while rejecting the self-imposed limitations of life lived within the dualistic perceptual framework of the ego matrix;(2)

2) a decidedly apocalyptic dualistic stage – complete with suffering and sacrifice - during which the ego matrix is under full assault, and “mind-brain-consciousness” is reprogrammed to perceive unity (allness) through the mask of ontological dualism and multiplicity;

3) the unitive stage in which ego consciousness no longer defines reality but consciousness, itself, becomes a perceptual conduit for what the 19th century metaphysicians referred to as Divine Love.(3)     

The Eddy-Hopkins paradigm is, of course, a poetic way of addressing a perennial challenge to metaphysical certainty, the tendency for dualism to creep back into the most sincere quest for absolute unitary being.  Were these prominent late 19th - early 20th century spiritual visionaries alive today, surely they would be the first to point out that, physically or metaphysically, they are not joined at the hip. Nevertheless, while Eddy and Hopkins are not the same person or parts of the same person, their respective presentations of metaphysical truth do indicate process on the journey from ego to allness. 

Historically, Christian Science has provided budding metaphysicians with a doctrinally secure institutional framework for working through stages one and two in the process of spiritual transformation.  However, the truly adventurous, seekers like Emma Curtis Hopkins, seem to leave the movement, not necessarily out of spite or ill feeling, but because they attain the unitary experience promised by the mother religion.  It is as though in the presence of divine unity, “Christian Science,” as religion, vanishes by itself.  In the presence of God, being either “Christian” or “scientific” is unnecessary. 

In this article, I would like to turn my attention to yet another famous former Christian Scientist, Joel S. Goldsmith, who went on to describe his own entrance into mystical unity as The Infinite Way.  Goldsmith is particularly interesting because he spent 16 years as one of the most sought after Christian Science practitioners and had a remarkably collegial relationship with the often-contentious Board of Directors of the Mother Church in Boston.  Yet he chose to leave the Christian Science organization, not out of doctrinal or institutional disagreements, but because he attained the unitive stage (stage 3) and, thus, no longer needed the rigorous metaphysical boot camp of Christian Science to express or experience metaphysical certainty.(4)  

Is it possible to develop a clearer understanding of why serious metaphysical seekers like Hopkins and Goldsmith drew so much out of their experience in Christian Science then moved on?  The emerging field of neurotheology may explain how spiritual transformation is incumbent upon “brain retraining” in order to break out of the ego matrix, raise consciousness to a higher level,and experience the allness of being. 


While neurologists and psychologists have studied varieties of anomalous human experience for decades, “neurotheology” entered the general public conversation as the cover story in the May 2001 issue of Newsweek magazine.  “God & the Brain: How We’re Wired for Spirituality” explored the fascinating findings of researchers such as Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania and his late colleague, Eugene D’Aquili.  In their pioneering effort to understand the relationship between the human brain and spiritual experience, Newberg and D’Aquili used brain-imaging data collected from meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns in deep prayer to explain the physiological origins of mystical experience.(5)

Startling discoveries emerged with the application of powerful brain imaging technology that pinpointed the areas of the brain contributing to the experience of mystical transcendence.(6) 

From the perspective of metaphysical religions, most provocative is the realization that for mystical experience to occur, the parts of the brain that engender a strong sense of separate (ego) existence must “go quiet.” 
In other words, neurological studies offer scientific proof of an ancient process in any authentic spiritual transformation; mystical experience arises as ego consciousness is diminished. Complete with color graphics of the various parts of the human brain, the Newsweek article provides a “map” of neurologically based mystical experience. 

In order to feel one with the universe, normal brain circuitry must be disrupted.  Succinctly put in the Newsweek rendition of key changes in brain function, “Activity in the amygdala, which monitors the environment for threats and registers fear, must be damped.  Parietal-lobe circuits, which orient you in space and mark the sharp distinction between self and world, must go quiet.  Frontal-and temporal-lobe circuits, which mark time and generate self-awareness, must disengage.”(7)  

Current studies in neurotheology reveal the extent to which consciousness is, in part, the physiological connection between brain and mind.  Various parts of the brain guide the total-body autonomic nervous system.  To survive, any species needs to interpret sensory stimuli and make life-supporting decisions regarding sustenance, shelter, mating and all other fundamental survival activities. 

“Mind” is produced in the incredibly complex inter-connections between the autonomic nervous system and the higher structures of the neocortex.  Put simply, brain makes mind.  Neuberg and D’Aquili summarize the connection this way,

The brain is a collection of physical structures that gather and process sensory, cognitive, and emotional data; the mind is the phenomenon of thoughts, memories, and emotions that arise from the perceptual processes of the brain.(8)

Our emotions may hold the key to understanding spiritual experience. The limbic system, including the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus, assign emotional value to all incoming stimuli.  Interestingly enough, the three basic brain sections of the limbic system make up the oldest, most primitive parts of the brain, yet together they exert enormous influence on the autonomic nervous system not to mention the process by which “brain makes mind.”  In the information exchange of life, the limbic system places individual survival – what is good for me – above all else.  The “sense of self” created by this “ego-centered” interpretation, i.e., survival interpretation, comprises the bio-chemical energy that holds the ego-matrix together. 
Reaching stage three, unitive certainty, in the process of spiritual transformation described above requires really letting go of ego consciousness. (Rather like Neo and his friends in the popular movie, The Matrix, the quest is to break out of the ego matrix.)  This transition, from a neurological perspective, requires extraordinary attention to and observance of the “natural” workings of the emotional mind, the process by which the limbic system assigns value to incoming stimuli.  The primitive interpretive function of the limbic system is ego oriented and places us clearly within the abhorrence-preference mode of interpreting reality.  “This is good for me; this is bad for me.”  According to  neurological studies, two important cognitive operators work together in the brain/mind process of transforming incoming stimuli into reality.  The causal operator instantaneously seeks out and processes the cause of incoming stimuli in the moment-by-moment flow of consciousness. The binary operator organizes complex incoming stimuli into basic polar opposites. This interpretive function of brain/mind draws from the most primitive parts of the brain, interprets data on a survival continuum, and is decidedly dualistic.(9) 

Knowing up from down, a simple function of the binary operator, is important when navigating about the material world, but the creation of polar opposites also carries important emotional signals, especially when abstract concepts are involved.  Thus, mythically, theologically, and politically, human beings are wired to create dualistic cognitive structures in order to explain and deal with the unexplainable experiences of death, suffering, and change.  According to Newberg’s analysis, this process of seeking answers to life’s most troubling questions is the source of all human mythic/religious activity.  For instance, the cross-cultural prevalence of apocalypticism in human religious systems is only one example of the causal and binary operators, working together, generating a dualistic interpretation of reality that has had and continues to have an enormous impact on human consciousness and, thus, human behavior.  “Us” against “Them” becomes the focal point of consciousness, and religious systems can only reflect this ingrained neurological bias.  Political systems also reflect binary cognitive activity.  War, pervasive in human social experience, may actually be a cultural ritual to relieve existential dread in that “the other” is always configured as a threat in binary political scenarios.  Sadly, myth, history, and biochemistry find each other on countless bloody fields of Armageddon.   

Political ruminations aside, spiritual transformation, leading to the “Holy Grail” of absolute unitary being, requires “retraining” the brain in such a way that incoming stimuli are not automatically processed through the primitive binary cognitive operator, an interpretive aperture which “sees” a world of fear and danger.  Within the “I vs. Other” world view neurologically generated by the ego matrix, emotional value correlates with survival.  Brain science reveals that emotions are physiological manifestations of consciousness; there is no way of escaping this process; “I am conscious, therefore I feel,” with apologies to Rene Descartes.  Consciousness is fundamentally neutral, but in combination with the entire mind-body system, most human beings assign emotional value based on survival, which clutters pure consciousness with self-limiting concepts.
            Newberg and D’Aquili posit that the mind generates self-consciousness through a process of reification.  From the neurological perspective, reification “refers to the power of the mind to grant meaning and substance to its own perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs, and to regard them as meaningful.”(10)  As an infant’s brain begins to develop, the child begins to draw an important distinction between the outside world – a world that “happens to the child” – and the inner reality of the self.  “Self-consciousness” develops as thoughts, emotions, memories, familiar surrounds, loving parents and so forth are reified and become part of a personal self that is separate from the outside world. 
            It is hard to image how any human being could function without some rudimentary level of self-consciousness.  However, the personal self, so necessary for survival, seems to solidify into an almost impenetrable fortress separating the self from all else. It is almost as though humans over-reify personal existence resulting in a consciousness-inhibiting ego matrix. Developing out of infantile perceptual brain development, it is the set of constituents – bio-chemical, mental, physiological, perceptual, emotional, and sensual, etc. - that reinforce a sense of separate existence, or ego.  However human beings come to an erroneous sense of separate selfhood, to exist in the ego matrix is to experience existential emptiness and enter a world of neediness. 
Here we have the fundamental spiritual dilemma. The ego matrix builds on itself because humans learn quickly to seek to fill the existential void.  From the moment a person awakens to the last thought before falling asleep at night, the ego interprets all experiential phenomena on a survival continuum. At one end of the continuum are dire threats to individual survival; at the other end are pleasing phenomena conducive to individual survival.  The rational mind supports and justifies any decision that places the ego closer to survival while it habitually generates emotions of fear and insecurity when the ego finds itself in life situations that threaten individual survival.
 Habitual is the operative word, here.  The identity we create around the quest for individual survival is supported by a steady flow of justifications and rationalizations generated by the more primitive parts of the brain and sustained by endless inner arguments drawn from ego-oriented interpretations of reality.  The Buddha’s epiphany predates neurotheology by 2,500 years, but is nonetheless existentially accurate; desire guides the powerful human survival drive to find what is fulfilling, attain it, and “have it.”  Ironically, even tragically, success in fulfilling ego-generated desires only adds to the pervading sense of separate being, the ego.  The desire-fulfillment cycle actually exacerbates the conditions of separation consciousness, thus strengthening the ego matrix.  The ego matrix can only be transcended through the cessation of desire.  Yet “desiring” is intimately linked to survival.

The Metaphysical Language of Transcendence: God, Love, and Consciousness

Are human beings wired to live in misery?  Are we doomed to a brief and brutal existence in a bio-chemical, brain-generated hell?  So it would seem were it not for the instinct towards spiritual transformation.  Great spiritual teachers, mystics, even everyday people who might be blessed with a mystical experience, speak of transcending the confines of the ego-matrix.  Almost inevitably, the language of metaphysical transcendence includes words such as God, love, and, consciousness to describe the journey out of dualism and into absolute unitary being.  Metaphysicians of all varieties and theological differences are likely to agree that God is love.  How does neurotheology shape the meaning-tones of these important indicators of transcendence? 
            In a Chicago Tribune article entitled, “All in your head,” Ronald Kotulak explores how the mechanics of brain function – billions of neurons communicating through trillions of synaptic connections – results in consciousness.  He writes,
A big clue – one that runs through the work of physicists, biologists and neuroscientists – is that everything exchanges information…matter and energy exchange information to change states from particles to atoms to stars, planets, galaxies and living creatures.  In that sense, consciousness is a property of information exchange.(11)

The link between consciousness and information exchange is helpful in sorting out the aforementioned process of spiritual transformation.  Consider the connection between consciousness, the elusive word “love,” and “God.”  Neuroscientists tell us that the brain is a complex physiological computer that relies on bio-chemical interactions to process the information exchange of life.  If everything that exists becomes what it is through the process of information exchange, then the creative energy out of which “Being” arises is relational energy. Relational energy exists as a hologram in all phenomena as the conscious, creative energy of the cosmos; energy released in incalculable relationships creates the dynamism of consciousness, arising out of the bio-chemical information exchange of life; relational energy compelled the first, post-Big Bang hydrogen electrons to dance with (relate to; exchange information with) the oxygen electrons.  As “consciousness,” it is the same energy that empowers DNA molecules, spins the planets in a million galaxies, mothers the sun and moon, and puts a smile on the face of a dachshund.

            It follows, then, that God (and virtually all other language-concepts for Divinity) is relational energy.  Relational energy is the elusive “Creator.” Here is the answer to the riddle expressed in the following questions: “What is the creator of all things but nothing in and of itself?”  “What is immanent and transcendent at the same time?”  “What is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-pervading, that in which we live, move, and, and have our being, but beyond all language and all concepts?”  

To say, “God is love” is to assign the emotional valence of love to the transcendent, spiritual experience of divinity. “Love” is produced as relational energy by the information exchange of life.  Love is also the emotional indicator of hologramic resonance with divinity because love, as consciousness, is the only authentic self.  Unencumbered by the ego matrix, Being/consciousness freely exchanges the energy of love, and the experience of resonance with this energy, in the words of the great mystics in all religious traditions, is indescribably bliss.

It has almost become a cliché to compare mystical unity with romantic notions of “falling in love.”  Yet infatuation provides the most common human experience of the relationship between “love” and “sense of self.”  Potentiality for increased “relational energy” increases as love expands.  Falling in love means that at least temporarily the protective “force field” of the ego matrix is down.  To be in love is to share the same “being,” and the initial experience is one of extraordinary exhilaration. 

The more a person is “in love,” the more avenues open up for the expression of relational energy within the ever-present information exchange of life.  Romantic literature extols the beauty of the world as lovers suddenly find themselves experiencing new and exciting levels of energy exchange that seem to pervade all life experiences.  Life really does “feel” fuller, more complete, and definitely more satisfying.  Initially, even the nagging sense of existential emptiness is stilled. Everything “looks” more beautiful; life is good; there is time to “stop and smell the roses” when a person is “in love.” 

Unfortunately, falling “out of love” happens just as easily at this simple experiential level.  Nevertheless, there are interesting indicators within romantic love that point spiritual seekers in the right direction.  Starting with the premise, “love is self,” we can begin to draw parallels between the language of neurotheology and that of metaphysical spirituality.  How exactly is the brain “retrained” to lift consciousness out of the ego matrix and into hologramic resonance with divine love? 

From the example of romantic love,  “consciousness,” seen as relational energy, implies “sense of self.”  Love, as consciousness, may be the state in which the information exchanges of life travel freely without the constricting boundaries of the ego matrix.

Spiritual transformation, then, is incumbent upon freedom of consciousness. Love is the expression of freedom, the freedom to align and co-create as an indispensable, integral part of the conscious, creative relational energy of Being.  That is why freedom is such a foundational part of human experience and an attribute of our shared human existence that must be cherished, nurtured, and protected.

Since love is the exchange of relational energy and is aligned with the very essence of consciousness, it is ever-present.  Grounded in love, any idea, action, intention or creative path is aligned; nature and nurture embrace on the ever-spiraling, ever-evolving helix of becoming.  As the mystics attest, God is as present as God will ever be. 

The archetypal myths and transformative rituals present in all religious traditions are empowered by their inherent ability to diminish ego and open the “doors of perception” to a higher, fuller level of love. Neurotheology ultimately supports one of the most empowering realizations to arise out of metaphysical religion succinctly stated in one of Mary Baker Eddy’s most popular aphorisms, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.”(12)   

Why Metaphysical “truths” don’t work: The Mary Baker Eddy story

            Returning to the “process of spiritual transformation” mentioned in the opening paragraph, why is it that some metaphysical thinkers find their way to absolute unitary being while others remain trapped within an ego-generated dualistic metaphysical system, even while proclaiming the “allness of God?”  In the history of metaphysical religion in America, incidents arise in which an inspired Christian Scientist spends fruitful time within Mary Baker Eddy’s institutional creation, and then moves on to a more mystical, definitively less institutional, expression of metaphysical truth.  Emma Curtis Hopkins traveled this path; so did Joel S. Goldsmith.

            What does this historical pattern reveal about Christian Science?  On the positive side, Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings initiate the process of “brain retraining” in all serious students.  A Christian Scientist is required to “know the truth” when confronted with self-limiting circumstances such as illness, lack, or death.  From neurological perspective, knowing the truth means opening up new interpretive territory within the brain so that the perceiver senses the “perfection” of the relational energy, as Divine Love.  On the negative side, Mary Baker Eddy created a “false dualism” with her insistence that the material world is not real.  Claiming the allness of God, she nevertheless created a highly dualistic doctrinal creed, one that must be repeated at all Christian Science services,            

There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-All. Spirit is immortal truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual.(13)        

Claiming that all is spiritual and that matter is unreal is not the same as experiencing the unity of matter and spirit.  Such a strong statement regarding the illusory nature of matter has, for many Christian Scientists, actually engendered an oppressive sense of cognitive dissonance. 

Regardless of ones spiritual acumen, the brain is designed to interpret the world within a decidedly material perceptual framework.  If the material world is not real yet it seems real, then material perceptual becomes the enemy of existential truth; thus, we find a classic, apocalyptic dilemma embedded in Christian Science metaphysics.  Like the final battle in Matrix Revolutions between Neo and Smith, spirit cannot be “all-in-all” until matter, even the illusion of matter, is destroyed.    

Assuredly, this wise and spiritually inspired women experienced interludes of absolute unitary being and wrote eloquently of mystical peace.  However, in her outward expression of inward spiritual insight – evident in her institutional and theological rigidity - she seems to vacillate between stages two and three in the process of spiritual transformation. 

It is possible to track this vacillation by analyzing different creative modes in which she tried to express her spiritual realization.  In quiet moments, she chose to write poetry, which became the lyrics for her most popular hymns.  In this mode, hymn writing, one senses an inner-peace, a resolution of troubling opposites, and a definite resonance with relational energy.  Neurologically, peaceful prayer stilled the biochemical interactions that create ego while opening up parts of the brain that perceive interconnection and allness.

However, when Eddy turned to theology, almost inevitably, she vacillates and her writings take on a distinctly dualistic, even apocalyptic tone.(14) 

            The “devil” in her apocalyptic scenario is of course “matter.” If all is spirit, then how do we deal with a material world that, like it or not, provides some strong evidence for being real?  Though the intent of her “Scientific Statement of Being” is to express allness, she actually creates a highly dualistic, apocalyptic ontology in which spirit and matter are in conflict. Malicious Animal Magnetism, Mortal Mind, or Error are terms she uses to describe an evil mental force that has no power yet seems to torment human beings like any cloven-hoofed devil.  As described in Science and Health, it places the practicing Christian Scientist back in the dualistic maelstrom of apocalyptic battle.

Animal magnetism has no scientific foundation, for God governs all that is real, harmonious, and eternal, and His power is neither animal nor human.  Its basis being a belief and this belief animal, in Science animal magnetism, mesmerism, or hypnotism is mere negation, possessing neither intelligence, power, nor reality, and in sense it is an unreal concept of the so-called mortal mind.(15)

For the leader of a religious organization to say that matter is not real is to create an enormous cognitive challenge for her followers.  Perhaps this “metaphysical koan” helps in the process of brain-retraining and consciousness evolution, but for many disgruntled former Christian Scientists, the unreality of the material world only served to open a Pandora’s box of existential doubt and despair.(16)

Other followers, like Joel Goldsmith, used Christian Science as a rung in the ladder of spiritual evolution leading, in Goldsmith’s case, to some of the clearest written expressions of absolute unitary being in all metaphysical literature.

      Before moving on to an analysis of Goldsmith’s work, neurotheology provides a slightly different, less sanguine, reason for Eddy’s retreat into dualism just as she reached the gates of unitive certainty.  Once again, it is the powerful emotional factor in the brain/mind connection.  An advanced degree in clinical psychology is not needed to detect the familial roots of ontological dualism in Eddy’s childhood encounter with religion. She provides ample evidence in her autobiographical work, Retrospection and Introspection, while describing her admittance into communion at her parents’ Congregational church.

The Calvinist doctrine of Predestination overwhelms the twelve-year-old Eddy, and she succumbs to one of her frequent “fevers,” during which, she reflects on her parents’ spiritual influence:

My father’s relentless theology emphasized belief in a final judgement-day, in the danger of endless punishment, and in a Jehovah merciless towards unbelievers; and of those things he now spoke, hoping to win me from dreaded heresy.… My mother, as she bathed my burning temples, bade me lean on God’s love, which would give me rest, if I went to Him in prayer, as I was wont to do, seeking His guidance. I prayed; and a soft glow of ineffable joy came over me. The fever was gone, and I rose and dressed myself, in a normal condition of health. Mother saw this, and was glad.(17)

In observing Eddy’s conceptualization and institutionalization of Christian Science, it would appear that she never “overcame” the influence of her parents. Rather she internalized their disparate perspectives on the nature of divinity as poles on a much more primitive survival continuum that drew her, inexorably, back into the ego matrix. 

In order to solve the problem of a material world that provided her with nothing but torment, the causal operator and binary operator are neurologically called into play.  For Eddy, her consciousness was overwhelmed by the demands of the causal operator to resolve the binary tension between spirit and matter.  Her own consciousness provided the field of Armageddon in this apocalyptic battle.

However, like most apocalyptic religious scenarios, the only way resolution can be achieved is for spirit to win out; for matter to be destroyed.   In the three stage process of spiritual transformation, apocalyptic battles, whether they are inner or outer ones, leaves the seeker stuck in stage two.  Goldsmith, a devout Christian Scientist, was able to move on to stage three and in his own work describe stage three as The Infinite Way.

Joel S. Goldsmith

Brain Science & the Biology of Belief, by Newberg and D’Aquili, in addition to providing an accessible introduction to neurotheology, is intriguing simply because of the occasional spiritual insights that emerge rather spontaneously in the conclusions of two scientists.  One striking spiritual revelation can be found at the end of the chapter entitled “Realer than Real.”

The wisdom of the mystics, it seems, has predicted for centuries what neurotheology now shows to be true: In Absolute Unitary Being, self blends into other; mind and matter are one and the same.(18)

No one in the genre of American metaphysical religion has expressed the unity of mind and matter more clearly, more practically, and often poetically than Joel Goldsmith.   From the perspective of neurotheology, he was able to move beyond the recurring dualism in Christian Science because, through rigorous meditation, he was able to retrain the brain/mind processes and open up his consciousness to absolute unitary being.(19)

A cursory analysis of some key passages in his more popular books supports the need for some kind of “retraining activity” in the process of spiritual transformation or else the spiritual seeker, like Mary Baker Eddy, is left to vacillate between stages two and three, never achieving unitive certainty.  In A Parenthesis in Eternity, a book he wrote later in life summarizing his spiritual journey,he observes,

Without the practice of meditation, a spiritual teaching, whether pursued under the guidance of a personal teacher or through the study of books, descends to a purely mental exercise.  Spiritual unfoldment cannot come that way.  It is meditation that makes a teaching come alive, because meditation is the connecting link between our outer life and our inner Self, which is God.(20)

Here is the “piece” missing from formal Christian Science practice, as outlined by Mary Baker Eddy; clearly defined practice leading to spiritual transformation.  Goldsmith credits the “grace of God” for his own revelation that spiritual insight is incumbent upon transformation of consciousness.  Parenthesis opens with this important call to transformation,

[But] as soon as we make the decision that we are going to walk the way that leads to spiritual fulfillment, we have begun the necessary transformation of mind; we have begun our spiritual journey…No one of himself has the power to receive God’s grace. Grace comes through an evolutionary progressive unfoldment of consciousness.(21)

Evolutionary progressive unfoldment of consciousness is Goldsmith’s way of describing the change in consciousness that marks the journey out of the dualism inherent in the ego matrix and into unitive certainty; or the journey from stage two to stage three in the spiritual process.  Through meditation, the binary and causal operators no longer run the biochemical program that supports an impenetrable wall between ego and All.  In The Art of Meditation, he describes this change in consciousness,

There is an area of consciousness revealed in meditation through which we are instantly one with God and with all spiritual being and creation, and through which we find all forms of good instantly. This area of consciousness has been described as a Sea of Spirit, the universal or divine Soul, the Father within.  In achieving conscious contact with this Sea of Spirit or the Father within, we find divine Love pouring Itself into expression, so that we no longer live by personal effort alone, but by grace.(22) 

In his own words, Goldsmith describes the dissolution of ego consciousness as an opening that allows “divine Love” to pour itself into expression.  If “God” is divine love and love is relational energy, what Goldsmith is experiencing is the freedom of consciousness that allows the relational energy of being to freely exchange love as the expression of being. 

Through meditation, Goldsmith also came to an awareness of what I have termed hologramic resonance with divine Love “pouring Itself into expression.” To sense hologramic resonance or relational energy empowering everything that is requires an absence of dualistic, ego consciousness.  In his most poetic mystical expression, Goldsmith arrives at this higher level of consciousness,

In spiritual wisdom there are no pairs of opposites.  God is, and, therefore, there is no concern as to whether or not we can reach God, because there is nothing for which we need to reach God: the day is already beautiful; the fruit is already on the trees; the flowers are already blooming; the tides are flowing; the sun and the moon and the stars are in the heavens; harmony is.(23)

The divine as love as the relational energy of life is revealed in hologramic resonance with the life we live, here and now, not in some future kingdom of heaven or unattained paradise.  Once the binary operator is stilled and reality is interpreted through brain/mind programs that perceive the beauty and wonder of life, then the spiritual seeker arrives at “the truth” and finds it to be “right in front of my eyes.” 

The wall separating the ego from divine Love, once removed, allows divine Love, in Goldsmith’s words, to pour Itself into expression.  He tracks this process in yet another popular book, Practicing the Presence,

All through the ages, duality has separated us from our good, but it is a sense of duality, not duality, because there is no duality.  The secret of life is oneness, and oneness is not something that we bring about.  Oneness is a state of being…There is not God and you or I, there is only God expressed, manifested as individual being.  There is only one life – the Father’s.  We are outside of heaven with no hope of ever gaining entrance to it as long as we believe that we have a selfhood apart from God, a being separate and independent of God.(24)

For Goldsmith, spiritual transformation requires a radical transformation of consciousness, or sense of self, in which there simply is no longer any vestige of dualism present.  Mary Baker Eddy, in a pinnacle moment of spiritual revelation, described this state as “Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need.”  Goldsmith, through spiritual transformation linked to deep mediation, achieved a consciousness in which Eddy’s aphorism becomes reality.  Again, he describes this process as letting go, opening up, something more pouring in where once blockages stifled the flow, and similar metaphors of release and freedom,

When we let go of our human rights or human will or desires – even good desires – and absolutely resign ourselves to God’s will, It rushes in as if there were a vacuum, and when It takes over, we can feel Its every movement coursing throughout our body, right through the muscles and veins down to the nails.  All that the Father has is now flowing through us out into this world as a divine Grace, bringing to us all that is ours and bring us to all whom we belong…If we attain the consciousness of God, we discover that there is nothing but God – God appearing as flowers, God appearing as food on our table, God appearing as the clothing on our backs, God appearing as harmonious relationships, God appearing as the perfect functioning of our minds and bodies…There is no higher goal attainable on earth than an inner communication with this Presence that never leaves us nor forsakes us.  It does not send us food, clothing, or housing.  It is food, clothing, and housing.  It does not lead us to a fortress or a high tower; it literally is the fortress and high tower.  There is no sending of anything; there is no giving of anything except the giving of Itself.

            When the realization of the omnipresence of God is attained, there is freedom from worry, fear, lack, and limitation.  If a need appears, we retire within and tabernacle with this Presence, and in due time, It will appear outwardly as the very form necessary to our experience.

            As we come to this place in consciousness where we are able to relinquish human might and power, human opinion and judgment, a divine Grace, invisible, yet perfectly tangible to the person experiencing it, takes over.(25)

This lengthy passage from The Thunder of Silence clearly makes claim to absolute unitary being, the goal of all mystics in all times.   As William James noted in his classic analysis of human religious experience,

In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.  This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.  In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism…we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterance an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land.  Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old.(26)

Indeed, Goldsmith’s varied attempts to describe his experience of mystical unity resonate with the timeless utterances of mystics across temporal, religious, and cultural boundaries. The key question in the context of this essay, raised in the opening paragraph, is “How does dualism creep back into the most sincere attempts to achieve absolute unitary being?”  Mary Baker Eddy achieved mystic awareness yet her theological and institutional rigidity betrayed the power of her spiritual insight. 

As noted, the quest to establish spirit as all-in-all actually created a totalistic worldview in which spirit and matter were locked in apocalyptic conflict.  At least that is how many of her followers’ interpreted Christian Science teaching. 

Brain science at least offers some clues as to why Goldsmith was able to travel through the apocalypticism inherent in Christian Science and reach stage three in the process of spiritual transformation.

It is interesting to see how an intellectual quandary about the real meaning of “love” sparked Goldsmith’s brain/mind retraining and opened up his consciousness to mystical certainty. This change in consciousness also apparently relieves the spiritual traveler of the need for institutionalized expressions of spiritual insight for Goldsmith, after his revelation, eschewed all requests by followers of The Infinite Way to organize his mystical insight into a religious institution. 

As mentioned, Goldsmith was a highly successful Christian Science practitioner the 1930s and 40s.  Born in New York City on March 10, 1892, Goldsmith became acquainted with Christian Science after a practitioner he had befriended helped his father overcome a life-threatening illness.  During World War I, Goldsmith joined the Marines and, having embraced Christian Science, served as a Second Reader in a Christian Science Society formed at the Paris Island training camp. 

According to Sinkler, Goldsmith managed to avoid deployment to the war zone and used his time in the service to hone his skills as a Christian Science healer. By the 1930s, he was so successful in his healing work that he moved into an office at 236 Huntington Avenue in Boston, right across the street from The Mother Church.(27) 

Christian Science practitioners, according to Sinkler, would often gather at Goldsmith’s office after work, to engage in lively discussion on a variety of topics relating to metaphysical healing.  One afternoon, Goldsmith challenged them about the “frequent and indiscriminate use of the word, love.” 

His colleagues were shocked when Goldsmith admitted not understanding what the word meant.  What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself?”  What does it mean to claim, “God is love?” Deeply disturbed by his inability to grasp the meaning of the word, Goldsmith entered into periods of deep meditation during which he let go of any intellectual attempt to achieve the understanding he sought and allow God to reveal the nature and meaning of divine love.(28) 

The principles of The Infinite Way came out of intense, meditative experience.  Goldsmith realized that it was impossible to grasp oneness with the intellect or adequately capture it in language.  What he experienced was the disintegration of the ego matrix as the brain/mind connection opened up his consciousness to God as love and love as the ground of being, the relational energy

For Goldsmith, this revelation propelled him beyond the institutional boundaries of Christian Science. To be “present” to the divine Presence – the theme of his popular book, Practicing the Presence – required no outward structure because consciousness, minus the constricting limitations of the ego, embodied the presence of God as love.  This is not to say that human consciousness is God; but human consciousness resonates the dynamism of being out of which all phenomena emerge.  In another mystical classic, Living By Grace, he describes his “pathless path” to self-discovery,

In our work we do not ask for loyal followers.  Certainly I do not want any personal followers, and I am sure that those who get anywhere in this work will never want personal followers…no one will ever find God by merely following a particular teaching or obeying its rules and regulations.  You find God through the study of the letter of truth combined with meditation, prayer, and a very humble desire to know God, “whom to know aright is life eternal.”(29)

Through brain/mind retraining – meditation, prayer, or other transformative practice – a person’s consciousness is made ready to receive an understanding of unitive being that is simply incomprehensible to consciousness mired in dualistic mental constructs.  Without diminishing the activity of the more primitive cognitive operators in the brain, such as the binary operator, the student of metaphysics is left to run the same intellectual affirmations through the same self-limiting program.

Sinkler is not entirely clear on exactly when Goldsmith formally left the Christian Science movement.  After 10 years in Boston, Goldsmith and his wife, Rose, moved to Florida where Goldsmith continued his work as a successful Christian Science practitioner, often meeting as many as 135 patients a day.(30) 

Rose, like many Christian Scientist, literally obeyed the letter of the law and often spent 12 hours a day reading Christian Science literature.  Typically, reading authorized literature and studying the Christian Science lesson is the extent of spiritual practice within the Christian Science movement. This is not to say that Christian Scientists are not moved to periods of deep prayer and meditation while immersed in study. 

However, Mary Baker Eddy never provided her followers with a more elaborate spiritual praxis leading to spiritual transformation.  The student of Christian Science was asked to run the same metaphysical truths through the intellect, a decidedly mental approach to spiritual training.

Shortly after the move south, Rose died.  In a quandary over his inability to prevent his beloved wife’s death, he experienced a sudden revelation described, as follows, by Sinkler,

[The death of his wife] made him see clearly that the battle ground of every problem is in a person’s consciousness, that consciousness is the arena where the struggle takes place between what we call God, which is good, and the nonexistent, illusory thing called evil, and that if a person does not enter into the battle with evil, good will dissolve the illusory appearance of the evil.(31)

What Mary Baker Eddy termed mortal mind and then engaged in ferocious metaphysical battle ceased to have any ontological substance in the spiritual-transformed consciousness of Goldsmith.  Whatever spiritual instinct guided Goldsmith to begin intensive practice of meditation, the practice itself laid the biochemical foundation for the experience of absolute unitary being.  In Practicing the Presence, it is obviously clear to him that deep meditation is linked to the destruction of the ego,

The ego must be destroyed to make way for the one Ego, our Christhood…The secret of meditation is silence: no repetitions, no affirmations, no denials – just the acknowledgement of God’s allness, and then the deep, deep silence which announces God’s presence.  The deeper the silence, the more powerful is the meditation.(32)

For Goldsmith, the experience of silence heralded a dramatic change in the way he was able to engage reality and perceive the eternally perfect oneness of being.  Having overcome dualism through the process of spiritual transformation and accompanying evolution of consciousness, his ego was finally rendered speechless.

Concluding remarks:

This article offers little more than an outsider’s view of Goldsmith’s motivation for leaving Christian Science and forging ahead towards a more expansive or, at least, more consistent experience of unitive certainty.  Sinkler’s biography of Goldsmith is scant at best, and it would be helpful for the general discussion of metaphysical religions for interested scholars to explore the life of this unique American mystic in more detail.  Even in this short analysis, however, we do pick up important clues from the emerging science of neurotheology on the relationship between spiritual insight and the institutional, religious expression of that insight.

Without a dramatic change in consciousness on the part of leaders and followers in a given religious institution, religious expressions of unitive certainty tend to slip back into dualistic theological concepts.  Put simply, the noble quest for love becomes an often-paranoid struggle in which stability and control take precedence over freedom and transformation; fear is central, not love. It simply does no good to claim, as Mary Baker Eddy did, that being is spiritual if that exalted statement dooms the spiritual aspirant to a life-long, draining mental battle with the “suggestion” of materiality. 

Brain retraining is essential if this pit fall is to be avoided.  The dominant religion in Western civilization, Christianity, provides a classic example.  Jesus’ first sermon recorded in Matthew: 5-7 is a clear, factual description of how human consciousness perceives reality minus the ego matrix.  In effect, Jesus is saying, “When you rise above the ego matrix and experience spiritual consciousness, this is how the world works.”  

However, the institutional attempt to capture the essence of Jesus’ spiritual transformation in rigid religious dogma has, historically, been one marked by all the negative attributes of dualistic thinking, including fear, demonization of “the Other,” hatred, competition, and violence in the name of God.  In many ways, the rise of metaphysical religious traditions has been a historic step to reclaim authentic spirituality within Christianity.

What if the development of human religious life – a journey that may span as long as 20,000 years, maybe longer and includes the development of the great world traditions – has been “merely” ongoing conversations between overactive and evolving parts of the human brain?  As we have noted, brain science reveals that for a mystical experience to occur, brain regions that orient a person in space and mark the distinction between self and the world must go quiet.  Does that mean that “religion” is but a by-product of biochemical brain function?  Is “religion” all in a person’s head?

Using neurotheology, as some analysts have done, to diminish the importance of human religious activity is to miss the incredible implications of neurotheological studies.  Our understanding of how brain and mind interact tells us that we can choose what program we want to run on the “hard drive” of our consciousness.  The choice is there: do we run fear, hatred, tribalism, “I vs. Other” programming to interpret reality?  Or do we run love, compassion, and interconnection programming? 

What program we run on the brain/mind computer radically changes our interpretation of the information exchange that is life.  Contrary to Mary Baker Eddy’s demonization of the material world, it has never been the circumstances in the information exchange of life that have limited human consciousness; it has been our interpretation of those circumstances.

Human consciousness is evolving.  Rudimentary consciousness, the primitive cluster of olfactory, auditory, and visual operators developed as long as 5 million years, has, with the evolution of the neo-cortex, developed into the incredibly complex and diverse experience that is self-awareness.  From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that people, today, have different degrees of consciousness.  Are spiritual visionaries, like Joel Goldsmith, running more spiritually evolved consciousness interpreting programs through their brain/mind computer?  Do poets, artists, and philosophers use “more consciousness” in their interpretation of reality and, in doing so, get closer to understanding the ground of being as relational energy?

All the above questions are “working questions” in that the answers will be revealed through further study in neurotheology.  However, a more practical and immediate implication arises; the link between brain science and religion offers existing religious organizations an empowered vision and new direction.  What should religious organizations really be doing? 

Neurotheology tells us that all human beings in all cultures have the capability to cultivate and achieve spiritual awareness.  What neurotheology ultimately implies is that religions can focus on mind-training practices that further the evolution of consciousness.

Organized religions should heed the call to facilitate the evolution of consciousness and spiritual awareness by making transformative ritual practices central to their mission.   Religious rituals including prayer, meditation, singing, chanting, drumming, and so forth, have traditionally offered followers a taste of spiritual consciousness. If these time-honored spiritual practices are seen as central to all religious activity, then spiritual transformation will become the primary objective of religious organizations.

Religious doctrines, run over and over again through the intellect, tend to reinforce the ego matrix.  As Goldsmith, and myriad mystics before him discovered, the kingdom of heaven is now and every day is Judgment Day in the process of breaking down the barriers to absolute unitary being.  Studies in neurotheology are exciting because they realign human religious activity with its only authentic goal, the evolution of human consciousness. 

1. John K. Simmons, “The Eddy-Hopkins Paradigm: A ‘Metaphysical Look’ at Their Historic Relationship,” The Journal of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, 8 (Fall 2002): 129-151.

2. I use the term ego matrix, a pervasive worldview in human experience, to refer to the set of constituents – bio-chemical, mental, physiological, perceptual, emotional, sensual, and so forth – that reinforce a sense of separate selfhood, or ego.

3. Ibid., 131.

4. Lorraine Sinkler, The Spiritual Journey of Joel S. Goldsmith (Hollywood, FL: The Valor Foundation, 1992), 19-38.   Sinkler describes meeting Goldsmith in 1949, recognizing him as her spiritual teacher, then working with him for more than 15 years.  During that time, she served as his “unofficial biographer.”  In the preface to the book (p. vii), she states, “The material for this book has been taken from many sources: the tape recordings of Joel Goldsmith’s lectures and classes, letters written by him to me, conversations with him, and other unpublished material he gave me to use as I saw fit.”

5. Sharon Begley, “Religion and the Brain: How We’re Wired for Spirituality,” Newsweek, (May 7, 2001): 50-57.

6. Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili, Why God Won’t Go Away (NY: Ballatine Books, 2001), 1-10.  Published in April of 2001, it was really this book that sparked the Newsweek discussion and thrust Newberg into the neurotheology spotlight.  Newberg and his colleague used a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) machine to chronicle brain activity in meditating Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns in prayer.  The participants were connected to the machine via an IV line in the left arm.  The SPECT machine injects a radioactive tracer than indicated blood flow to various parts of the brain.  Blood flow correlates with neuron activity, thus the researcher is able to study which parts of the brain are active or passive during intense mystical experiences.  

7. Begley, 52.

8. Newberg, 33.

9. Ibid., 50-51.
10. Ibid., 149.

11. Ronald Kotulak, “All in Your Head,”  Chicago Tribune, Sunday, May 19, 2002, Section 2, 3.  Ronald Kotulak is a Tribune science reporter.

12. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1934),
13. Ibid, 468

14. John K. Simmons, “Eschatological Vacillation in Mary Baker Eddy’s Presentation of Christian Science,” Nova Religio, Spring 2004.

15. Eddy, Science and Health, 102.  Eddy was first introduced to the concept of animal magnetism and mesmerism during her studies with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66).  Quimby became a successful mesmerist and healer in the 1800s New England, and Eddy naturally crossed paths with him following her own spiritual and physiological quest for health and wholeness.  A controversy rages to this day concerning the question of whether Quimby should rightfully be considered the founder of Christian Science.

16. Caroline Fraser, God’s Perfect Child (NY: Metropolitan Books, 1999).  This book is one recent example of a person’s tragic struggle with Eddy’s claim that matter does not exist. The book liner accurately describes Fraser’s work as “a passionate expose of religious zealotry.”  Fraser grew up in the movement, obviously suffered greatly on her metaphysical quest, and with wit, detailed research, and a “passionate” blow for vindication, provides the best outside-the-movement account of Eddy’s strange life and the subsequent development of her “Christian Science” worldview.  Another moving account can be found in, Thomas Simmons, The Unseen Shore: Memories of a Christian Science Childhood (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991)
17. Mary Baker Eddy, Retrospection and Introspection (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1891), 13
18. Newberg, 156.
19. Sinkler, 34-35.  While a Christian Science practitioner in Boston, Goldsmith became fascinated with Hinduism and actually enrolled in Sanskrit classes at Harvard University so that he could become more familiar with parts of Hindu scripture.  Interest in Hinduism, no doubt, helped spark his move towards deep meditative practice.

20. Joel S. Goldsmith, A Parenthesis in Eternity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1963), 45.  Today’s reader, especially those informed by feminist sensitivities, may initially be put off by Goldsmith’s use of patriarchal language.  His cultural/religious background is, no doubt, shaped by androcentric attitudes and patriarchal social constructs, typical of his time.  However, his use of “father” does not seem to imply “maleness.”  Rather, he uses it to describe what I have termed, “relational energy,” a dynamic that would inevitably include a perfect balance between what duality sees as masculine or feminine qualities.  

21. Ibid., 15.

22. Joel S. Goldsmith, The Art of Meditation (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1956), 9.

23. Ibid, 8.

24. Joel S. Goldsmith, Practising the Presence (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1958), 58.

25. Joel S. Goldsmith, The Thunder of Silence, Lorraine Sinkler, ed., (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1961), 134-35.

26. William James, Varieties of Religious Experience (NY: University Books, 1963).  Quoted in Newberg, 106.

27. Sinkler, 1-38.  Sinkler’s account of Goldsmith’s life is obviously that of a devoted follower of his “non-path spiritual path”, The Infinite Way.  Apologetics aside, she does provide us with otherwise scarce material on the early history of Goldsmith’s life.  The “Mother Church” is the central church, the First Church of Christ Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.

28. Ibid., 32-33.

29. Joel S. Goldsmith, Living By Grace: The Path to Inner Discovery (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) 13.

30. Sinkler, 39.

31. Ibid., 40.

32. Goldsmith, Practising the Presence, 100.


The Core Teachings

The New Horizon

God is One


Break the Fetters that Bind You

Contemplation Develops the Beholder

Introduction (Practising the Presence)

Love Thy Neighbour

The Relationship of Oneness


The following passage is an epigraph for all of Joel's published books.

Illumination dissolves all material ties and binds men together with the golden chains of spiritual understanding;
it acknowledges only the leadership of the Christ; it has no ritual or rule but the divine, impersonal, universal Love; no other worship than the inner Flame that is ever lit at the shrine of the Spirit. This union is the free state of spiritual brotherhood. the only restraint is the discipline of the Soul, therefore we know liberty without licence; we are a united universe without physical limits; a divine service to God without ceremony or creed. The illumined walk without fear.