The Neuroscience of Prayer

frazzled_brainAgnostic? Sketical?


“Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are a constant act of praise.” – Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM

OK, so I confess: maybe I don’t know squat about neuroscience, but I do know a little about the changes to my brain through silence, gratitude practice, and yes, sometimes prayer.

I’m from Boston, or rather Massachusetts and we’re called “MassHoles” by some of the other New England states. Why? Because we believe that challenge is respect (or we’re just assholes).

Point being I moved to SF over 2 decades ago and had to unlearn my “Why the hell is this stranger talking to me?” ways. In addition I had to change how I reacted to these BART Friends: little conversations in daily Bay Area life – I no longer react with anger and fear … what happened? I rewired my brain (and became a hell of lot more pleasant and charming).

Over the past 5 years I’ve been practicing gratitude (making daily lists) and like author and neuroscientist Rick Hanson tells us in Buddha’s Brain (The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom) you change your brain when you pay specific attention to specific things. Ever notice how you start seeing red sports cars when you’re talking about them? (OK so that’s lame but you get my point).

“What fires, wires.” What we pay attention to we build up in our brain. Practicing meditation for over a few decades I’ve noticed that my mind is a tad less unruly.

Don’t believe me? Good. Don’t believe what I tell you, believe what you experience (The Buddha). Try this (via Rick Hanson): When you see something beautiful (the sky, a puppy, flowers – for me) focus on it for 30 seconds. Hold your attention. Then see how your brain feels. Do that for a day and tell me what it was like!

Go forth and make happy!

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