A Cherokee tale describes the struggle between the two wolves of our nature. One is filled with anger, envy, war, greed, self-pity, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, selfishness and arrogance. The other is friendly, joyful and characterized by peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, justice, fairness, empathy, generosity, true, compassion, gratitude, and deep vision.
So which one is going to win? The answer, according to the Cherokees: the one we feed.
Author and medical school professor Andrew Newberg, who wrote How God Changes Your Brai n, says the Cherokee story of timeless wisdom is just one way of talking about how spiritual practice can shape our lives.
According to Newberg, who spoke as part of this summer’s symposium on “State of Mind” at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York, spiritual practices like meditation or centering prayer or chanting, even speaking in tongues, can have a profound effect on our brain functions.
Meditation, for instance, produces more activity in the frontal lobe, where language and focus are at work, while lowering activity in the parietal lobe, which generates our so-called sense of self. Interestingly, speaking in tongues can have the opposite effect. People who meditate for long periods of time have also been shown to have thicker brains than those who don’t practice meditation.
In studies, scientists have actually demonstrated that introducing activities like meditation and mantras into the daily lives of those with no previous spiritual practice help improve memory. These improvements, over time, were substantial, as much as a 10-15% increase in memory. Meanwhile, signs of depression and anxiety also decreased in these same studies. In other words, spiritual practices do change our brain for the better and change the way we see the world.
Andrew Newberg maintains a website at http://www.andrewnewberg.com. His full lecture can also be downloaded for a fee at http://www.greatlecturelibrary.com. This is the fifth in a series of short reports from this summer’s focus on “State of Mind” at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y. Speakers included noted neuroscientists, health professionals and experts in the mind-body-spirit connection. Look for more updates in the coming days.