The study of the brain has always been fascinating to me, since I was in college getting my psychology degree and my favorite course was physiological psychology. Our experience of life is totally dependant on what is happening in our brains, so it makes perfect sense to want to understand the workings of the brain. There is so much research happening right now that is discovering new things about this magnificent part of our body.
I have been quite inspired by Andrew Newberg’s research from the book “How God Changes Our Brain”. In his book he talks about how our society in America has four essential concepts of God. One is authoritarian, a God who is angry and willing to punish unfaithful people. Another God is distant, and is not involved with us, more like a cosmic force. Another God is critical, this God does not intervene in the world but casts judgment in the afterlife. And the fourth God is benevolent, a God that is loving, forgiving, gentle and active in our lives.
It was fascinating to see that 72 percent of Americans believe in either an authoritarian, distant, or critical God, and only 23 percent see God as loving. A lot of people ‘fear’ God, and feel that if they don’t live rightly they will be punished. And this is supposed to motivate us to do good.
Another fascinating discovery is that if you believe in the punishing God, the oldest, most primitive structures of the brain are active, most especially the limbic areas, which generate fear and anger. However, when you perceive God as a benevolent force, as loving and compassionate, it activates a tiny area in the front of your brain called the anterior cingulate. This wonderful part of the brain sits between the limbic and pre-frontal structures and when stimulated, it suppresses the impulse to get angry or frightened.
Andrew Newberg suggests that the anterior cingulate is the true “heart” of your neurological soul, and when this part of the brain is activated, you will feel greater tolerance and acceptance towards others who hold different believe. The God of the limbic system is a frightening God, but the God of the anterior cingulate is loving.
Thus, it seems to me we should do everything we can to cultivate the circuitry of this anterior cingulate. It seems to me whatever awakens and lights up this part of our brain, is what we need to deal with the bigotry, hatred, great anger and intolerance in our world.
Things that stimulate this part of our brain: meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, centering prayer, self-reflection on inner demons, breath awareness, deep yawning, visualization and guided imagery, sending kindness and forgiveness to others, enjoyable creative endeavors, and time in nature.
The mental health of our society is dependent on the mental health of the brains that make up our society. May we tend the precious garden of our minds like a very sacred patch of cosmic real estate. Understand your brain. Information is power, and we have the power to create peace on earth by being at peace ourselves.