August 20, 2017 Marcom & April Herren
“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak” In this exciting episode, Marcom and April discuss the value of meditation. A great conversation on the Neuroscience and Spiritual effects of meditation.
“QUIET THE MIND AND THE SOUL WILL SPEAK”
Meditation, a practice usually associated with and thought to originate from Eastern religious practices, has never been on our radar before last year. However, over the past six to eight months, we’ve had an interesting and effective journey exploring this practice. We believe meditative practices can create a strong foundation for living a more peaceful and awakened life.
Meditation makes visible changes to our brains neurologically in ways that can be scientifically measured. So we aren’t just talking woo-woo here. And if science isn’t for you, how about just feeling better?! We sure want to feel good! Meditation can begin a journey to better handling the struggles and stresses in life. Like our discussion in episode #4 of Awakened Life Podcast…Meditation is Medication! It makes our lives less anxious, less depressed, and more responsive. We are not masters in meditation. We have merely developed opinions through our experiences with it that are true to our lives. And, science backs this up. We want to share our discoveries about how meditation can help physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Meditation isn’t new. It’s been around for centuries, including certain sects of Christianity where it has been referred to as Contemplative Prayer. However, meditation isn’t one specific practice. It encompasses many different modes of engagement. One of these is Lectio Divina, a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading and prayer in which scripture is not just text, but communion with Jesus. Meditation is, in fact, mentioned approximately twenty times in the Bible and although prayer is standard in Christian practice, meditation isn’t often part of our spiritual upbringings. We believe that it should be, because meditation shifts the mind from the ego, surface awareness, to the interior, spiritual awareness that helps us live in God’s presence. Although ego isn’t always bad, it can become out of control and toxic. Ego establishes a self-focused viewpoint on the world: I want. I think. I need. I feel. I remember. I like. I. I. I. Again, ego isn’t wrong, but it’s I focused.
We can become more spiritually centered when we shift from I to us.
Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher and theologian, proposed the I / Thou principle. The I-self believes that I am at the center of existence; it’s me against the world. The thou-self believes me with and me within the world. It believes in us together, within a larger consciousness. Subtle shifts within the self make a big difference in how we view the world and relate to others in it. Meditation is a conduit, a passageway, into a more interior, holistic place of being. Meditation allows us to live into a deeper self and surrounding, unhindered by external garbage.
Meditation is taking the garbage out.
What makes meditation so effective? First, it can help us foster our union with God and awaken us to His presence within and around us. Psalms 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Meditation helps us to internalize our experience with God and to learn to see (and taste) Him in all, awakened to His presence. So often we forget about the within aspect of God’s presence. We are reminded of when Jesus would say things like, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We must allow God’s deeper message to penetrate the internal. We want to see as God sees, hear as God hears, feel as God feels. This union with Him is perhaps the greatest goal we can have and meditation is a conduit toward unity with not only our deepest self, but with God.
Now, to the science! Multiple scientific studies done on meditators and prayers proved that positive changes occur within the brain as a result of these practices. Functional MRIs and other imaging techniques showed visible differences in the brain. Areas of the brain that deal with emotional regulation and response control are actually enhanced by meditation. Scientists noticed that the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the portion of the brain that deals with empathy and compassion, the Hippocampus, part of the Limbic System that contains emotional memory, and the Right Orbital Frontal Cortex, the head of emotional impulse control, were enhanced in experienced meditators. These parts of the brain might make our lives more peaceful and centered when strengthened and expanded through meditative practices. Even after as little as six months to one year, meditation causes the brain to function differently and affects how we interact with the world. It can also help keep areas of the brain that are hyper-sensitive to emotional distress in check. Meditation reduces the Amygdala, which controls the fight-or-flight response, in size, dampens the Sympathetic Nervous System, and lowers the constant release of Adrenaline and Cortisol, which produces internal stress.
So the Cliff Notes version of this is…We will always have triggers and stressful situations in life. It’s how quickly we recover from these triggers that count. Science shows that meditation increases the thinking, empathy and compassion areas of our brain and decreases the fight, flight and freeze areas of our brain.
There are many ways to begin meditative practices. There are Apps available that can be helpful. We use the Calm App through ITunes. There are also many other ways to begin meditating. You can practice a mind-body-spirit exercise form, like Yoga or Pilates. Or even just spend some time in nature. One of our favorites is to sit outside and experience the beauty of nature, focusing on breathing and sometimes even incorporating in union with God, through breathing in while saying “Yah” and exhaling out, saying “weh” – Yahweh. We do this over and over again, breathing in and out the love of God. Discover for yourself the best combination of meditation and communion with God and practice it daily.
Check back next week for the next installment of Awakened Life.