“The Awakened Brain”: What Can Science Contribute To Spirituality?

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    In her new book, Dr. Lisa Miller shares a fascinating guide to accessing an “innate spirituality” and giving a deeper meaning to our lives based on different scientific discoveries, as well as the spiritual “awakening” of the author.

    There are those who claim that things like meditation, a walk in nature or reading a sacred text are some of the many ways to awaken a deep perception capacity, different from everyday life. In The Waking Brain, Dr. Lisa Miller teaches readers to connect, from that state of consciousness, with an “invisible” dimension of the world for all those who find it difficult to find their place of belonging.

    Interweaving the author’s investigations with her profound journey of awakening, this book edited by Sirio is a journey through the conversations between science and spirituality, driven by academic discoveries that have revolutionized the way we understand how human beings are configured. It is also a fascinating guide to access an “innate spirituality” and give a deeper meaning to our lives.

    In an interview, the author commented: “I have studied in detail how by listening to God or any superior being you believe in, when we connect with that force, we are healthier, happier, we recover from difficult moments faster and we have healthier relationships. The reason why I think this book is very important is because the world is coming out of a very dark time where there was a lot of uncertainty, and this is a tool with which people can awaken their spiritual brain to connect with their life.”

    Nothing could be done: Narration by Dr. Miller

    A long, deep howl broke the early-morning silence in the psych unit, followed by a scream. I hurried out of the small, crowded office where we interns filled out medical histories, ready to attend to whoever complained like that. Before she could locate where the scream was coming from, a nurse ran around the corner, a tray in her hands full of vials and sterile syringes, and disappeared into one of the rooms. A moment later everything was silent again. Fluorescent lights reflected off the brownish walls and gray linoleum floors.

    It was the fall of 1994. I had recently completed my doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, and for my clinical psychology internship I had chosen the inpatient unit of a psychiatric center in Manhattan, which was included in the network of most avant-garde university hospitals in the study of mental health and the application of psychotherapeutic treatments. Since the clinical approach and quality of care would have been similar at any other large urban hospital in the United States, I will call this ward simply Unit 6.

    The patients in Unit 6 (I have changed all their names and identifying details) were of the most diverse ethnic groups and ages, many of them poor, many with very hard lives and recurrent diagnoses, many also with drug addiction problems. Sometimes the police brought them against their will to the emergency room to prevent a suicide or homicide.

    It was not the hospital that anyone would choose as a priority –those with good insurance tended to go to other centers– but it was not the height of fatality to end up there either; nothing to do with being “sent up north,” as many doctors and patients euphemistically referred to at a mental institution in upstate New York. However, every patient I met had been admitted and re-admitted over and over again; they had files three or four inches thick.

    I was one of four interns on the floor, where we each cared for two inpatients and eight others on an outpatient basis. The day began every day at eight o’clock with a team meeting, in which psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and assistants would gather around a table to listen to everything that had happened since the night before: what the patients had eaten, if they had cleaned themselves, how they had slept or if there had been a disruptive episode.

    “Mr. Jones had a bad smell this morning” or “Mrs. Margaret refused to eat dinner,” reported an assistant, for example. There is no doubt that basic hygiene and grooming habits can be related to aspects of mental health, but it always seemed strange to me that in a ward dedicated to the healing of internal conflicts we spend so much time talking about the physical body.

    “The Awakened Brain” proposes a scientific appoach to spirituality, at the same time that it uses religious concepts to explain science

    Most of the patients wore hospital gowns, rather than street clothes, as if they were there awaiting surgery or being treated for a physical illness that required them to stay in bed. I had already had the same feeling the first time I stepped foot in a psychiatric ward in the mid-1970s, when I was about eight years old. My dear grandmother Eleanor, who had spent years traveling to and from Iowa to the University of Chicago to study psychology, took me to visit her close friend who was in the hospital. They had grown up together and had remained friends all their lives. Although she was not related to me, she was always Aunt Celia for me.

    Upon arriving at the hospital, I was confused to find that she did not appear to be ill. She was not wearing any visible bandages, she was not attached to any machine, she had a beaming smile and a keen sense of humor. And yet, like all the other patients on the floor, who wore pain etched on their faces or stared into space, she was confined to a narrow bed in a small room.

    I was struck by the suffering I perceived in many of the patients and how isolated Aunt Celia and the others seemed to be. Years later, I learned that my grandmother Eleanor was well known for her active intervention in introducing psychotherapy into state hospitals, where the methods given to patients were injections, straitjackets, or therapy. electroconvulsive, and that he had advocated for patients like Aunt Celia to be transferred to nursing homes, where they could receive continuous medical attention and enjoy more human warmth and support.

    (End of partial book narration)

    Who is Lisa Miller?

    ♦ She is the author of the best-selling book The Spiritual Child and a professor in the clinical psychology program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

    ♦ She is the founder and director of the Mind Body Spirituality Institute, the first graduate program taught at an Ivy League university.

    ♦ Her innovative research has resulted in more than a hundred empirical articles that have been published in such prominent journals as Cerebral Cortex and The American Journal of Psychiatry, among others.

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