One of the emerging academic disciplines that many seekers are honing in on these days is the whole field of “neurotheology.” Basically what is going on here is the application of scientific method to the study of God. We know, for example, what the brain looks like when it is focused on anger. Brain scans also reveal what the brain looks like on forgiveness. The question is then, what does the brain look like on God? Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Waldman have co-authored a book entitled “How God Changes Your Brain.” In the first chapter they write, “We are currently studying Sikhs, Sufis, yoga practitioners, and advanced meditators to map the neurochemical changes caused by spiritual and religious practices. Our research has led us to the following conclusions:
1. Each part of the brain constructs a different perception of God.
2. Every human brain assembles its perceptions of God in uniquely different ways, thus giving God different qualities of meaning and value.
3. Fundamentalism, in and of itself, can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
4. Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
5. Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs, enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health.
6. Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
7. Intense, long-term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our mood, give rise to our conscious notions of self, and shape our sensory perception on the world.
8. Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.
9. Contemplative practices strengthen a specific neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others.
Our contemporary neuroscientists are telling us what the mystics have been telling us for millennia:
Sit . . .
Stay . . .
Looks like when you come right down to it that the best thing you could do . . . is absolutely nothing. So . . . next time you’re wondering about your spiritual practice and whether or not all that prayer and meditation is really workin’ for ya . . . You can take it from the saints of antiquity or the scientists of modernity . . . you bet it is.
Meditation Twice a Day Keeps the Outside World at Bay
Preparing For Relaxation; Preparing For Meditation; Daily Practice
Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response is Transcendental Meditation minus the ritual
Paving neural pathways to achieve meditation and access elusive inner states