January 8, 2024

Loved, Held, Guided, and Never Alone: The Science of Spirituality with Dr. Lisa Miller

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Dr. Lisa Miller

Dr. Lisa Miller is bestselling author of The Spiritual Child and The Awakened Brain, and researcher and professor in clinical psychology at the Teachers College of Columbia University.

Episode Summary

Dr. Lisa Miller discusses the glorious complexity of the human spiritual brain, which reveals our innate capacity for transcendence. Drawing on research in psychology and neuroscience, Lisa helps people with practical, tangible, and evidence-backed interventions that lead to their thriving and spiritual health. She explains why spirituality is so transformative and challenges us to reimagine religion, faith, and spirituality as an experience of love from beyond us.

“Loved, held, guided, and never alone. We are wired to be able to perceive that. And when we do, everything in our world is reordered. And in fact, of all the dimensions of lived spiritual life, that which most strengthens the awakened brain is love of neighbor—to one another. We are able to draw closer to God.” — Lisa Miller (Columbia University, author of The Awakened Brain)

What does science have to say about spirituality?

Dr. Lisa Miller, clinical psychologist and researcher, has made the case through years of research collaborations that spirituality is a birthright to the human species. In her best selling book, The Awakened Brain, she notes the glorious complexity of the human spiritual brain, revealing an innate capacity for transcendence. But she’s not content to stop at these psychological capacities. She wants to help people with practical, tangible, evidence backed interventions that lead to their thriving and spiritual health. Lisa not only gives words, but explains scientifically why spirituality is so transformative. She challenges us to reimagine religion, faith, and spirituality as an experience of love from beyond us.

Her research suggests that spirituality has less to do with the dos and don’ts of religion, and rather offers a richer experience of how to encounter the love of God. Even if you don’t believe in God, spirituality provides access to powerful transcendent emotions such as awe and joy that help our resilience and are necessary for thriving. These emotions broaden and build our capacities and help us develop narratives around love and goodness.

In this conversation with Lisa Miller, we discuss:

  • The neuroscience of spirituality
  • Guided meditative practices to fortify spiritual health and a sense of love, purpose, and possibility
  • How paying attention to our inner mental and spiritual life builds awareness and resilience
  • Research findings from the science of spirituality that we’re wired for transcendence
  • How transcendent love fortifies our brain in ways that buffer against depression and anxiety
  • How human connection and spiritual guides are vital for a healthy life and even a thriving democracy
  • And we explore all of these experientially, working through the ideas with practical exercises to increase our awareness

Show Notes

  • "Loved, held, guided, and never alone. We are wired to be able to perceive that. And when we do, everything in our world is reordered. And in fact, of all the dimensions of live spiritual life, that which most strengthens the awakened brain is love of neighbor to one another. We are able to draw closer to God.”
  • What does science have to say about spirituality?
  • About Lisa Miller and The Awakened Brain
  • An experience of love from beyond us
  • With & For’s approach to practical resources and exercises
  • The power of asking a council of advocates in your mind: “Do you love me?”
  • Meditative practice: The Hosting Table
  • “We can ask what's on our heart. The capacity to be in a deep transcendent relationship is our birthright.”
  • “God is working in us and through us.”
  • Dr. Gary Weaver on trauma and spiritual or moral injury
  • Urgency and hope, curiosity and openness
  • Neuro-docking station: “There’s one spiritual brain and we all have it.”
  • The research that led to The Awakened Brain
  • “Every single one of us is born with natural spirituality. There's an innate Human capacity and every single, just as we have two eyes, two ears and a nose, we are born with a neuro-docking station, the capacity through which to experience a transcendent, living relationship.”
  • Longitudinal research on twins
  • “This capacity to perceive and feel and know a transcendent relationship is one-third innate. We are all born with the wiring hardwired, but two-thirds environmentally formed.”
  • Ken Kendler: What is the awakened brain?
  • Neurological correlates while people told sacred stories of transcendent relationship. “The same neural correlates ran in every single person.”
  • “Loved, held, guided, and never alone.”
  • Supporting religious people across faith traditions
  • Lisa Miller’s personal struggle with infertility and the desire to have a child
  • Meditative practice: The Trail Angel Exercise
  • “Less cogitative, and more exciting”
  • “Are we actually discoverers of our journey where we don't get what we want, we get something so much better?”
  • “Where in your road of life is God? Where is your higher power? What is the deep nature of life?”
  • The difficult balance between achievement and awakening—action and contemplation
  • Head, heart, and hand
  • “We are knowers in many forms.”
  • “We can use all forms of knowing together, and when we do, we can literally track on an MRI. That we have built highways, if you will, myelinated tracks between regions of the brain, multiple organic forms of knowing, different inborn epistemologies, and we have a far more rich engagement with life because we are engaging through all of our channels of knowing.”
  • Knowledge, spirituality, and our connection to the world
  • Neuroplasticity and adaptation to the lived environment
  • Resilience, depression, and hope
  • As of September 2022—48 percent of Gen Z “reported moderate levels of a disease of despair. The rate of death by suicide rivals the rate of death by auto accident. All three of my Gen Z kids have talked someone back from suicide.”
  • “There is radical desanctification of life in the youth culture that is transmitted through the phone. So the phone is not the problem. It's not the phone. It, because the phone could have been a source for great spiritual connection. And in some cases is. But very often the phone is a place where a culture is transmitted that is effectively a public square minus a spiritual core. It is radically transactional, what can you do for me? It is radically material, what do you look like, what do you have, what are you going to vacation? It is It's basically a big golden calf delivered over the phone.”
  • Spirituality and the spiritual muscle of the awakened brain is neuroprotective against depression
  • “Beyond-the-self love”
  • “It is relational spirituality beyond the self love and whether I am feeling that deep loved, I'm loved, felt guided by God or I show up as to be loving, holding and guiding of my family or my neighbor in need. I'm using the same neuro docking station and in fact, of all the dimensions of live spiritual life, that which most strengthens. The awakened brain is love of neighbor to one another. We are able to draw closer to God, which strengthened the awakened brain.”
  • Having a strong spirituality: 250 percent more likely to have gotten there through profound struggle and depression within the past 10 years.
  • Long-term clinical study vs fMRI studies and giving of alpha-energy
  • “Is love real? Is God real?”
  • “We have the equipment, but we have to use it. We have to develop it.”
  • The hard work of meaning-making
  • How to help children move towards transcendent love
  • Authentic inner spiritual awareness
  • Religion vs spirituality
  • Religion and faith tradition is 100% environmentally transmitted
  • Spirituality is 1/3 innate, 2/3 environmentally transmitted
  • Lisa’s early childhood experience of her Jewish faith and the love her mother
  • Spirituality and democracy
  • How spiritual pluralism and spiritual diversity can impact public life
  • “We hold these truths to be sacred…”
  • Finding common ground through shared spiritual dignity
  • “Democracy is a verb.”
  • “Our soul's code, our natural telos in relationship to fellow human beings and fellow living beings … in relationship to others, we go together. And we go together whether or not we're Republicans or Democrats. And we go together whether or not we agree or disagree. We are souls on earth going together on a journey.”
  • Invoking generosity on all sides
  • What is thriving to Lisa Miller?
  • “Living in alignment with God’s will.”
  • Pam King’s takeaways from her conversation with Lisa Miller:
  • Our brains are amazing.
  • Our spiritual capacity is like a muscle we can exercise with daily practices of attention, meditation, imagination and prayer.
  • And we hold the spiritual capacity for transcendence. In common with each other, it's knit into our relational essence as human beings.
  • We can find a renewed sense of agency and power and resilience when we open up to what's inside: our feelings, our senses, our perceptions, and our core experience of God.
  • Healthy spirituality allows us to know and experience that we are loved, held, guided, and never alone.

About Dr. Pam King

Dr. Pam King is Executive Director the Thrive Center and is Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science at Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy. Follow her @drpamking.

About With & For

  • Host: Pam King
  • Senior Director and Producer: Jill Westbrook
  • Operations Manager: Lauren Kim
  • Social Media Graphic Designer: Wren Juergensen
  • Consulting Producer: Evan Rosa
Special thanks to the team at Fuller Studio and the Fuller School of Psychology & Marriage and Family Therapy.

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