Spirituality raises up different expectations in people’s mind from lofty clouds with angels flying around to monks meditating in monasteries. We’re not talking about anything like that. Health Spirituality is very practical which effects how we do things here and now. Health Spirituality helps our mind to make better decisions and to carry out these decisions.
Let me give a brief explanation of how the mind works and connect that with spirituality. For several years the brain has been divided into higher and lower parts. For convenience, we will call these parts low brain and high brain thinking. The Low Brain has two functions. The first is the automatic functioning such as breathing, heartbeat and some emotional reactions. The Low Brain also involves semi-autonomic functioning which includes habitual tasks such as tying a shoe. These functions are largely unconscious but can be changed by the High Brain. The High Brain involves conscious decisions and reasoning such as arithmetic and problem solving.
As Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman states in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, we believe that the High Brain is primarily responsible for our decision making lives but the Low Brain has more influence. The High Brain, which Kahneman calls System 2 thinking, follows the law of least effort when making decisions by choosing the first option that comes to consciousness. What comes to consciousness is often determined by the Low Brain.
The Low Brain is constantly scanning the environment creating associations in the memory. Kahneman offers the example of two words side by side.
Banana >>>>>> Vomit
As you read the words, you start to experience some unpleasant memories and feelings including disgust or pain. You may have physical reactions such as increased heart rate. By reading the above words, the Low Brain prepares you recognize and respond to not only vomit but such experiences such as disgust, sick and nausea as well as to banana, yellow and fruit. These associations created immediately and unconsciously and prime the thinking of the High Brain. After reading the above two words you are more likely to make decisions to avoid eating bananas or other fruit.
While the High Brain can override impulses from the Low Brain the law of least effort shows that the high brain can be lazy. Think thoughts requires effort and attention which taxes the mind and body. When tired the High Brain will resort to habitual decisions rather than create new thoughts.
As an example Kahneman cites a study of Israel probation judges who must decide the fate prisoners quickly, sometimes in as little as 6 minutes. The easier decision is to deny parole as approving the parole involves investigation and deliberation. The study showed that the parole was granted most frequently after lunch and meal breaks, when the judges were well fed and rested. There were no paroles granted when more than two hours passed since the last meal or break.
He cites similar studies to explain over eating, smoking and other health decisions.
When the High Brain sees a purpose or a greater meaning in a decision the law of least effort does not apply. When the High Brain is calmer and not distracted by worry or stress the law of least effort does not dominate. Spiritual practices help to establish such meaning and to decrease stress thereby allowing the High Brain to fully utilize its reasoning capacity.
This is of course ancient knowledge. Some 3000 years ago, the writer of Isaiah said in chapter 11, “
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge