Have you ever suffered from depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions? Perhaps you or someone you know is going through it right now.
If so, you're not alone.
In my 30s, I was treated with medication and therapy for significant bouts of clinical depression and anxiety.
Later, during perimenopause, I avoided meds but worked with a therapist on two separate occasions for a total of four years. Research shows that a history of depression makes you more likely to experience it as you approach menopause.
Unfortunately, mental health conditions are prevalent in my family of origin, so I understand what it's like. People with depression or anxiety often experience other problems as well, such as eating disorders or substance abuse.
Life can be hard when you or a loved one are in emotional pain.
Standard approaches to healing don't always work, so some people end up taking too many meds and getting overanalyzed.
The usual therapies expect us to dig into our pain, understand it, and then construct new beliefs and more positive thoughts.
While this can be helpful, it's often not enough. So I want to share another possibility from Lisa Miller, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author and professor of psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
What if depression is a natural part of how some of us grow as humans and shows up during certain life stages and transitions?
What if it's a calling to engage with higher consciousness?
What if we all have an innate biological capacity for spirituality — a direct relationship with a higher power — that can protect us against adverse stressful events, depression, and addiction?
This is precisely where decades of scientific research, clinical work, and personal experience have led Dr. Miller. As she explains in her book, The Awakened Brain:
The same piece of our genetic wiring carries both the risk of depression and the capacity to be spiritually aware. Depression and spirituality are really opposite sides of the same coin. The condition we pathologize and diagnose as depression is sometimes spiritual hunger — a normal and genetically derived part of human development that is unhealthy to muffle or deny.
— Lisa Miller, Ph.D. —
Miller's research has found that all humans have this in-built capacity for spirituality and are naturally drawn towards it. When so awakened, our brains become more resilient and robust, making our lives more meaningful and content.
What Is Life Showing You?
The human brain is wired to perceive a higher consciousness and decipher the meaning it unveils.
According to Miller, there are two types of attention. Top-down attention is when we have a pre-existing idea and scan our environment for information that fits our goal. This keeps us focused but also limits our perception.
Bottom-up attention is more open and less selective. It allows you to see things you may not have been looking for.
Spirituality triggers the brain's ventral attention network, enabling us to transcend conscious control and perceive beyond the surface.
True healing is not merely about revisiting traumas and getting trapped in a cycle of rumination; instead, it involves tuning into and aligning with life's more expansive meaning.
You can cultivate your spiritual capacity by making more space for inner listening. Practice meditation, notice and process the synchronicities in your life, or spend time in nature.
Spiritual experiences temporarily disable your achieving mind and activate your awakened mind.
Miller's research shows two modes of awareness that see the world, and our place in it, very differently.
During stressful events, the brain's frontal lobe is stimulated. This is the part responsible for motivation and reward.
Stress engages the achieving mind, emphasizing control and organization. It asks, “How can I get and keep what I want?”
On the other hand, spiritual experiences activate different brain regions: the frontotemporal network, linked to love; the parietal lobe, generating feelings of connection and unity; and the ventral attention network, where we perceive the world as actively communicating with us.
This is what Miller calls the awakened mind.
The awakened brain shows us our connection with others, nature, and greater unity.
Have you ever picked up your phone to call or text a friend at the same instant that she's calling or texting you?
Miller's researchers have found this type of brain-to-brain synchronization in several studies measuring brain wave activity.
Looking at scans of hand-holding couples, interbrain resonance is mainly noted in high-amplitude alpha waves. These are the same wavelengths generated by meditating monks and people who have recovered from depression through spirituality.
In fact, the alpha wavelength is found everywhere, including in nature. It's the primary frequency of the earth's electromagnetic field which surrounds us.
You could call it the oneness of life. And this profound interconnectedness is likely why being in nature has a healing effect.
According to Miller's research, the relational nature of spirituality is closely linked to cortical thickening in the brain, providing a defense against depression.
Divine love and human love are connected. The awakened brain can see its connection to all life and its source.
You Can Choose to Awaken Your Brain
Many years ago, when I finally understood that I could have a direct relationship with higher consciousness, I started carving out more time for spiritual practice.
Journaling, sacred solitude, meditation, reading spiritual texts, and being immersed in wild nature — these practices heal and comfort me and make me feel held in what I now call Holy Love.
The new science of spirituality proves that we are all born with the gift of awakened awareness. And when we live with an awakened brain, with achieving and awakened modes in balance, we use the fullness of who we are and how we're wired to perceive life.
I couldn't be more grateful for this ability and agree with Dr. Miller: "Our individual health and flourishing depend on our choice to awaken. So do the health and flourishing of our schools, workplaces, governments — and the planet."
Read: The Awakened Brain | Amazon
Watch: Neuroscience of Natural Spirituality | A beautiful 9-minute video on YouTube
Listen: The Surprising Science of Spirituality | Good Life Project Podcast
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