Aug 17, 2010

Spirituality and brain science

One of my seniors in faith is perplexed at my constant exploration of other forms of spirituality besides the one I am committed to – Nichiren Buddhism. “Why do you want to get yourself all confused?” this dear 65-year-old asks me. “This is a fine path, just stay on it and give it your total dedication.”

I have been in this faith for 6 years now, and I love it here. The focus, determination, support and protection that I have gained from this practice is immeasurable. Oddly, though, the deeper I go in faith, the more curious I get about other spiritual paths. How do they work? What is their philosophy? The thirst is never quenched, and I keep trying out different modalities.

So in the past few years, I’ve tried out NLP, Hypnotherapy, Art of Living, Past-life Regression, Vipassana, EFT, Louise Hay affirmations, ThetaHealing, yoga, pranayam, Pranic Healing and a whole lot of other stuff I keep picking up on the way.

They all make sense, and they all work, I believe. But I always do return home to Buddhism and my daily chant of nam myoho renge kyo.

Then I got my hands on a book called ‘How God Changes Your Brain’ by Dr Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman. And I’ve reached a part in it which completely explains and vindicates my thirst for newer techniques of meditation and prayer. According to the authors, different meditations stimulate different parts of the brain. Even the communal activity that my practice involves is a benefit. They say, “Social interaction strengthens the angular cingulate’s ability to respond to others with less stress… Attend social events that include different cultures and ethnicities, and visit different churches. Experiment with unfamiliar forms of meditation and prayer, and share your experiences with others who are on a spiritual path.

They’re not saying this with a purely altruistic motive; they’re talking neuroscience. Spirituality is good for the brain and helps you live longer, happier and healthier.

These are some more points from the book:

Your thoughts clearly affect the neurological functioning of your body.

• Optimism is essential for maintaining a healthy brain.

• Positive thoughts neurologically suppress negative thoughts.

• When you change the way you think, you begin to change your outward circumstances.

• Consciousness, reality, your mind, and your spiritual beliefs are profoundly interconnected and inseparable from the functioning of your brain.

So I am on the right path! Join me?


Praveen R. Bhat said...

That's the perspective of neuroscience about meditation or other spiritual 'activity'. A similar thing holds true about those who say that if you follow Yoga or whatever, you get success in life, things become easier for you, etc. I'm quite convinced that all of those benefits for worldly living or mental health are merely side effects of a greater result that has gone largely unnoticed.

And that unnoticed result is that its brought us closer to Truth. It is quite obvious why neuroscience misses it. :)

Aekta said...

Hi Praveen!
This book is written from a scientific, not a spiritual perspective, so I guess their readers are people who aren't really searching for the Truth but for some de-stressing or perhaps intellectual pursuit. But the writers do say that when meditation and prayer techniques were constructed, it was not for reducing stress but for attaining a higher level of consciousness.

It's ironic that now people are getting interested in spirituality only for stress relief! Haha, whatever the motivation is, it's all good.