Last week I wrote about neuroplasticity and how our brains respond to our experiences. This is a strong argument for incorporating spiritual practices into our daily lives. The more we create space for quiet reflection in our schedules, the more opportunity we offer our brains to change and to enlarge our capacity to experience peace and contentment. But practices like centering prayer and contemplation are foreign to many in the U.S. In our busy, consumer culture, pausing isn’t the norm. I’m suggesting that it is wise to do so.
In practices like these, we allow our faith to change our brains. People who practice centering prayer report that it isn’t the moments of silence in prayer alone that draw them to continue, but that the practice also impacts the rest of their day and how they continue to encounter God’s Presence with them. Andrew Newberg, a brain researcher, conducted brain scans on a group of Franciscan nuns who regularly practice contemplative prayer and noted that these practices, “enhance the neural functioning of the brain in ways that improve physical and emotional health.” (see his book, How God Changes Your Brain from Ballantine).
In tumultuous times like ours, we often don’t notice how our brains are being changed and how anxiety increases slowly, but surely in our experience. This is the negative result of neuroplasticity. We are not helpless against this drift toward anxiety. We can help our brains build new neuropathways that are grounded in faith.
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