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Family Matters - A Spiritual Brain?

April 28, 2015

Is there such a thing as a “Spiritual Brain”? According to several prominent neuroscientists, the answer is a definitive, YES! (cf. Andrew Newberg, M.D., How God Changes Your Brain and Mario Beauregard, PhD, The Spiritual Brain). So, how does this happen and what does it mean? Are some people just born with “spiritual brains” and the others are just out of luck? It would seem that it is not quite that simple. In fact, it is much more likely that the frequency and intensity of your “spiritual practices” has more to do with how you might develop your “spiritual brain”.

Newberg (at Penn Medical School) and Beauregard used brain imaging to determine if “subjects” who had practiced centering prayer or meditated more than 10,000 hours would have different brains than the average person. They used Franciscan Nuns, Carmelite Nuns, and Tibetan Monks in the studies. They found that they all exhibited three significant brain differences than most other people. The area of the brain associated with joy (high activity) and depression (low activity) was very active (i.e. less depression). They also found that the area of the brain that controls emotions was much more highly developed.

So, what does this mean for those of us pilgrims on a “spiritual” journey? Follow-up studies showed that these results could be replicated in non-meditators (or those who haven’t prayed regularly) by engaging in a contemplative practice for as little as 30 minutes a day, for as little as 8-12 weeks. Many Christians find the time after Easter creates a lull in their spiritual discipline. They’ve come through lent and some would relax their spiritual practice. Do you want to be happier (less depressed and anxious) and more attuned in your spiritual life? It is amazing to learn becoming a “disciplined” disciple might just build you a more “spiritual brain”. If you want more in-depth information on Christian Meditation and Prayer or on developing a more “Spiritual Brain”, feel free to connect with one of the pastoral counselors here at The Center for Pastoral Counseling by contacting the church office! Makes you wonder, what kind of “Spiritual Brain” did Jesus have? During this period of “Ascension” and “Pentecost”, what better practice to prepare for the daily coming of the Holy Spirit into your life than prayer and meditation?

D. Keith Coleman, D.Min. LMHC, and
American Association of Pastoral Counselors-Fellow

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