Past research has suggested that certain activities like gardening, cooking, philanthropy, yoga etc. are almost therapeutic in effect. These activities are said to “heal our soul.” For some people, its even judged rejuvenating. But, what about meditation? I’ve always been curious to know, how does praying, a spiritual meditation in essence, affect us?
Across many different cultures, meditation has been practised for centuries. Whether you are religious or not, whether you’ve had a spiritual experience or not; new research suggests that spiritual thoughts and prayers have an enormous effect on a person’s ability to heal (or stave off disease).
Last year, a distant relative (whom I respect a lot) was diagnosed with cancer. When I spoke to her at that time, I didn’t really know what to tell her, or how to even comfort her. But I was amazed by her resilience when she said to me, “my prayers to God will heal me.” I truely wondered, if prayer can have an effect on sculpting the brain?
“Neurotheologians” – researchers who are studying the brain science of spiritual experience — think so. They have found that the brains of those who pray or meditate, whether it’s Carmelite nuns or Buddhist monks, operate differently from normal brains. Dr. Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has found that those who meditate have increased activity in the frontal lobe — the part of the brain involved in concentration — and decreased activity in the parietal lobe, which gives people a sense of orientation in time and space.
Freud declared God to be a delusion, but I’m not an atheist. Hence, if praying can help you heal and reshape your brain, what does science say about the divine? Is an encounter with God merely a chemical reaction?
At Johns Hopkins University, research suggests that chemicals that act on the serotonin system trigger mystical experiences that are life-altering. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood and sleep. Now those neurologists — and others — are replicating studies from the 1960s in which patients with end-stage cancer were given LSD to see if they were convinced that life exists beyond death.
The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?