We are the narrators of our own stories; every moment provides a new sentence in our personal narratives. Do we record an event as traumatic or as a an opportunity for new growth and wisdom? Whether it be an unsatisfactory grade or a criticism from a friend, maybe someone else got the job, whatever the case; various events occur that may appear negative on the surface because it wasn’t in line with our predictions and hopes for ourselves. But who is to say what is good or bad? We are. Even neurologically we have the power to manipulate our brain responses and encode a situation as ultimately positive or negative. Depending on which neural circuits reign over our brain, we subjectively experience the world as an unwelcoming-cold place, or a safe home, or anything in between.
Although we may be biologically predisposed towards depression or anxiety, scientific research has begun to discover that spiritual practice can give us conscious control over our biological processes. Let’s say, that an individual suffers depressive mood and feelings of loneliness, this may be due to decreased activity in brain regions such as the anterior cingulate, but through a consistent daily practice of meditation and/or prayer, this person can restructure their neural webs of communication and even affect the structural densities of brain regions. Researchers are not conclusive about what increased density of the cortex represents or reflects; but some theories postulate neurogenesis in theses areas, meaning new neurons to heighten and speed-up interneuronal communication.
For the person struggling with depressive mood and other symptoms of depression, acquiring access to these processes will give them the power over their mental health. By exerting influence over these processes we do not only gain power over how our stories are told, but also how our brains build that narrative. To think that we have the intrinsic capacity to dictate our experience of reality on the mental and physical levels is exciting, for it defies hard-core biological determinism. In typical individuals, who are not avid meditators, research shows how the brain begins in decline in performance and physically atrophy with age, as neurons fall like leaves from their dendritic branches and cells shrivel; by the age of 80 the brain dwindles by 10-15%. Yet, spiritual practice had been shown to counteract this autumnal process.
Our reality may be framed by natural laws, but that does not mean we are powerless; rather, we must use the tools we have to shape and create our reality, by using our biological beings to aid us in co-creating Heaven within and Heaven on Earth. We have the ability to affect how our brain processes events in life. By interacting consciously with our brains through spiritual practice, we gain greater control over the meaning-making and polarization of an event; how we choose to process and encode an experience will determine its “negative” or “positive” effect.
If we begin to seek the positive in each event and every transition of life, positive outcomes start to flow from seemingly unsavory moments. Almost always, there is an important lesson available for the plucking in a certain “set-back,” or in any situation: pleasurable or painful. If an earthly obstacle allows us to reach greater spiritual awareness and develop into our authentic selves more fully; in the end, it is a win not a loss. And seeking win-win situations for all breeds cooperation and mutual benefits.