Dark Light Consciousness: The Neurobiology of Our Inner Light
It’s the dark matter in our brains that sends us towards the light.
The dark mosaic of the human brain reveals itself more and more each year to medicine, neuroscience and the increasingly complex scientific instruments we have devised to explore it. And yet sometimes we forget that long ago our ancestors in the temples and per ankhs or “houses of life” in Kemetic Egypt, as well as India and the ancient temples of Israel discovered through their various contemplative disciplines, the paradoxically dark and luminous forces within the brain that modern science has only now begun to unravel and understand.
These classical scientists realized through their own empirical exploration and internal reflection that within each of us sleeps the potential to activate a personal connection, not merely to that unconscious level of the mind explored by Freud, Jung and others of early 20th century European psychology, but also to what appears to be a supramental or superconscious realm of the mind well known by the mystics, gifted artistic and scientific individuals, and others in personal episodes of profound illumination. It is manifest in the writings of the Egyptian’s Book of the Dead, in the Hindu Vedas and the Kabbalistic texts, as well as the writings of Christian mystics. It appears like a force that is paradoxically both dark and yet luminous, or at times full of a certain kind of internally perceived light. The whole trajectory of the early Egyptian and Hindu yogic systems and other mystery schools was to develop empirically derived methods of meditation to align ourselves with this reality.
Saint Teresa of Avila (March 28, 1515-October 4, 1582) described this internal light as it progressed through the body and brain, illuminating with its inner luminosity the soul in increasingly ecstatic experiences. Her written accounts begin with what she termed “mental prayer,” a form of concentration and contemplation. This lead to the loss or transcendence of the human will in what she described as “prayer of quiet.” Eventually this opened into a kind of “devotion of union,” the coming of the ecstatic state, and culminated in the “devotion of ecstasy or rapture” (Medwick, 1999). This clearly parallels the yogic path in its higher stages, particularly the higher stages of Hatha and Raja yoga.
The great Christian scholar, scientist, mystic and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, building on the spiritual exercises explicated 400 years earlier by Saint Ignatius Loyola for opening the inner eye to see this internal light, described in modern terms the high formless union of science and religion in a form of rapture in The Divine Milieu (1960). Both Teresa of Avila and Teilhard de Chardin described in different ways the same ancient intelligent force as it courses through human evolution, illuminating the soul. This is an experience known to our ancestors for millennia.
Historic Images of the Serpentine Inner Light
It was called the Ureaus by the indigenous African or Kemetic Egyptians and kundalini in the Hindu yoga traditions, with other traditions from the world’s diverse cultures having their own name for it. It appears to be a genetically rooted or innate bioluminous evolutionary impulse in us, serving not only as our wellspring of intellectual and creative genius but also of spiritual transcendence in its myriad forms. It is often simply called the serpent power.
Psychological science in our own day is coming to recognize that it is the intelligent, conscious and still unfolding force of evolution itself in our species. It is called serpentine in many traditions because of its observed clinical motion through the body at times and shape and contour of the human spine up from its base and into the brainstem, brain core, the brain’s dark surface and beyond.
The goal of every discipline of meditation, regardless of methodology, is the dissolution of thought — the mesh of human experience. This allows the self to disengage from dense mental constructions of all kinds in order to enter into the progressively extended range of consciousness that unfolds beyond it. The advantage of the Ureaus or kundalini is that, like the clear light experience of meditative practices, its emergence outshines conventional conceptualization and thought, at least briefly, until stabilized.
The Kemetic Egyptians in their academies and per ankhs, the houses of life where medicine and psychospiritual experimentation and experience was conducted, represented the Ureaus as twin serpents in alternating curves and balance, coiling themselves seven times around the spinal line until meeting in the apex of the brain where it spawned wings and took flight, i.e., spiritual flight. It was seen as a sign of awakened consciousness in the double serpents or urai of the pharaoh’s royal crown, a crown that flowed out of the light sensitive pineal gland situated in the mid center of the brain. It was the focus of psychological training and progression in the mystery schools of Kemet for years, moving from neophyte all the way up to the sons of light.
Certainly the early desert fathers of Christianity knew of its existence. The Kabbalistic seers referred to the internally luminous tree of life. The Hindu yogis have a similar tradition, as do many of the peoples of West Africa. This knowledge would later find representation in the image of the Greco-Roman staff of Hermes with its serpents coiled again seven times around the spinal column until similarly reaching the apex of the brain and then taking spiritual flight. This caduceus is still the predominant symbol used in medicine today, so when you visit a physician’s office you are implicitly paying homage to this tradition.
Personal Bliss And Cosmic Consciousness
Scholars and masters of the contemplative traditions set amidst the pyramids and deserts of Africa and Israel, as well as many classical meditative disciplines scattered across the earth, have studied this phenomenon for millennia. The testimony of practitioners asserts that when awakened by various means this biogenetic force is perceived as unfurling along the spinal column up into the brain, opening and connecting one’s individual consciousness, suffusing it with awe and bliss.
The Christian tradition refers to the Passion of Christ; other traditions delineate their terms and references. The process fuses our highly energized and awakened consciousness with a wider consciousness of the universe, enfolded within the dark matter and energy of the cosmos. This has been the observation and testimony of the greatest heroes of our species across the ages. At the root of creativity and spiritual genius in innumerable cultures and civilizations, this intelligent force appears to create portals that literally enfold time, space and the luminous matrix of reality itself.
Once activated, this biogenetic process begins to unfold a series of experiences or planes of awareness only dimly intuited at our normative level of consciousness. Awakened consciousness moves up through what the Kemetic Egyptians termed the Amenta or Primeval Waters of Nun. Today we call this the unconscious mind, with its drives, primordial fears, awes and dynamisms rooted in what appears to be midbrain limbic structures developed during the era of our Australopithecine progenitors millions of years ago. This was the level of consciousness that Freud and his contemporaries explored. It then moves up to and through the most sublime of emotions and conceptions of the dark-covered cerebral cortex and prefrontal lobes, before eventually transcending even ideation itself in a current of energy and bliss. The seamless subjective apprehension of a boundless and radiant intelligence, appearing to pervade all of existence, is to experience bliss.
This biological phenomenon is innate in all of us but it arches far beyond our biological substrate. Drawing from research in quantum and relativistic physics, neuroscience, and biochemistry, as well as the ancient traditions from Africa and India, along with the latest findings from the emerging field of neurotheology, where brain science meets spiritual reality, new research in this dark and paradoxically light-infused phenomena is called dark light consciousness. It explores the ancient science of the Ureaus, revealing in modern clinical terms and detail how it is intimately connected to the living dark matter of brains called neuromelanin.
Our Gray Matter Is Light Sensitive
Neuromelanin is a light sensitive, energy conductive biopolymer and pigment found in progressive amounts within the spinal column, brain stem, in critical brain core areas, and indeed in the nervous system of all higher life forms on our planet. Located within the deep cerebral hemispheres of humans are masses of nuclei called basal ganglia. These centers of dark living matter containing neuromelanin are the clusters of nerve cells surrounding the thalamus. They are responsible for initiating, detecting and integrating gross and subtle movements. Parkinson’s disease, which leads to tremors, rigidity and a stiff, shuffling gait, is a disease of these nerve cells. These sophisticated sensors may also be partially responsible for detecting more subtle movements within the wider environment, such as the geodynamic forces within the earth itself, phenomena alluded to in the ancient Memphite Theology of Kemet mentioned by G. G. M. James in his classical Stolen Legacy.
The whole purpose of the disciplines of meditation and contemplation as stated earlier, be they Christian, Kabbalistic, Kemetic or Hindu, or the deep rhythmic movements of ecstatic dance, or many other methods developed by our species, is to initiate resonance and entraining stimulation of these dark living centers in the brain so the spiritual current can be free to arise and move up through the body, the brain core and beyond.
Because it is light sensitive and orients itself toward light, neuromelanin is capable of orienting us in the wider reality of not only the local earth, but perhaps also the wider constellations and stars that are unfolded when an awakened inner eye is opened. It helps orient us in the wider milieu. Similarly, the recent 2015 Nobel Prize winners in medicine, John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Evard Moser, have identified specialized neural cells that orient us in place and then pool these cells into a grid-like system to map directions in that space. Neuromelanin neural systems woven through the brain stem and core are believed to orient the intelligence of the inner opened eye by forming a kind of gestalt or grid-like system of these light alignments that parallel neuromelanin sites in the brain (Bynum et all, 2005; Bynum, 2012). This suggests in very real ways that we are a cosmic species only now beginning to awaken to our relationship to the universe on a mass scale.
All of this is not to confuse simple surface skin melanin, which is variable from racial group to group, and even from person to person within the same family, with the neurologically rooted neuromelanin, which is found in all humans. Significantly, the amount of neuromelanin in the brain directly increases as we progress up the evolutionary line from simple mammals to more complex ones to the great apes and finally reaching its zenith of concentration in man.
This neuromelanin, the so-called gray matter of the brain, is light sensitive despite being under the surface of the skull away from direct sunlight. The dark light of neuromelanin appears to serve as the morphic template of what our spiritual traditions refer to as the subtle or light body. Neuromelanin is crucial to the interface between the dense local body we see and feel, and the more subtle energetic body we sense and radiate. It is the backdrop of our existence, felt but unseen, much like the cold, dark matter that, together with gravity, forms the infrastructure of the cosmos holding together the galaxies and constellations. Many classical disciplines teach us how to safely awaken and stabilize this biospiritual energy of the Ureaus through meditation practices, breathing exercises and yoga in order to prepare the subtle body for more expansive and illuminative experiences. This is the main trajectory of the mystery schools.
The last two decades of neurotheological research have shed considerable light on the interrelationship between consciousness, neuroscience, biology, medicine and the biological roots of spiritual experience. In books like Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain and The Biology of Belief and The Transmitter To God: The Limbic System, The Soul and Spirituality, as well as innumerable popularized books by quantum physicists suggesting that consciousness itself pervades the universe, e.g., The Conscious Universe and The Self-Aware Universe, to name only a few, all conclusions point to a primordial connection between these realms of human exploration.
Modern science owes a debt to the classical scholars of Kemetic Egypt, India and Israel and is finally doing its part in the rediscovery of what our ancient ancestors knew and explored on the banks of the Nile and Ganges untold millennia ago.
Edward Bruce Bynum Ph.D., ABP, is a licensed psychologist and the founder and former director of the Behavioral Medicine & Anxieties Disorders Clinic at UMass Amherst. He is the author of three books of poetry and six psychology books including Dark Light Consciousness: Melanin, Serpent Power and the Luminous Matrix of Reality (www.InnerTraditions.com). Dr. Bynum is a 30-year practitioner of Kundalini Yoga.
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