The focus of our medical research and most of our budget, is on the physical and spiritual healing effects of theistic prayer, especially contemplation.
Every theistic faith has the same two ancient forms of prayer, meditation and contemplation, which enables our research to be interfaith.
MEDITATION is engagement of the imagination either with or without verbalization, which includes adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication (ACTS).
CONTEMPLATION is silent, focused prayer on a sacred word or image as a symbol of our desire to be with God. Some faiths use the word “meditation” for both forms, even though etymologically, the Latin origin meditatio means “to think,” hence just the first form. We are especially interested in research on contemplation. Christian based Centering Prayer and interfaith theistic based, Oneness Prayer, are methods for opening ourselves to contemplation.
There are two promising categories of sound medical research that don’t often dialogue their results with each other, theistic and non-theistic:
THEISTIC: There is a vast amount of valid research showing the healing effects of having a theistic faith, regular liturgical attendance and frequent prayer, most often meditation. These results apply regardless of the faith or denomination.
NON-THEISTIC: There is a great amount of reputable research showing the healing effects of focusing on a mantra, which is analogous to contemplation, but without a belief in a higher power.
Our interest is research on the infrequently studied theistic contemplation. We seek to fill this perceived niched void because we expect theistic contemplation will compound the overall healing impact, by combining the beneficial effects of both research categories. By doing so, we will also broaden the clinically proven healing applications, since about 87% of the population is theistic.
Our research is focusing on a new area of research and has already shown promising results, which have been presented at major international secular and religious conferences. The following are a few examples of our current and future research studies:
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
PALLIATIVE AND HOSPICE CARE
DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISEASES
POST-STROKE DEPRESSION AND FATIGUE
The following current examples of our research efforts give us encouragement and impetus to expand our studies in both number and scope:
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER: Patients suffering from PTSD have reported experiencing the healing effects of practicing contemplative prayer. We conjecture the method of gently letting go of thoughts leaves room in the conscious brain for the unconscious brain to unload to the conscious brain the hidden causes of PTSD. The practitioner is trained to let go of the troubling thought. We taught Centering Prayer to the chaplains at the Houston VA hospital, the second largest in the U.S., which has several floors of PTSD patients. In collaboration with the head chaplain, we formulated a research proposal to teach Centering Prayer to volunteer patients and for the VA’s psychiatrists to evaluate if there were healing benefits. The VA psychiatrists and head chaplain were ready to proceed pending the availability of funding. The research protocol can be made available upon request.
PALLIATIVE AND HOSPICE CARE: Our completed research showed promising results for improving palliative and hospice care and is currently under peer-review for publication. This preliminary brain scan research justifies increasing statistical significance with more subjects and including neurophysiological studies such as continuous EEG and anatomical assessments. The following is a link to a brief abstract of the study and conclusions.
With age, fear of dying can be detrimental to spirituality and heath, and NDE is reported to decrease this fear. We theorized a similar spiritual experience could also be beneficial. We compared neural correlates of two altered states of consciousness: near-death experience (NDE) and mystical experience, which we called spiritual contemplative experience (SCE). NDE and SCE have similar attributes: cognitive timelessness, affective peace, transcendent oneness, and paranormal out-of-body experience. We used the Greyson Scale evaluation of these attributes for choosing NDE and SCE subjects. While the subjects were remembering their NDE and SCE, we recorded brain scans using the latest quantitative electroencephalography tomography (QEEGt) technology. There was a clear correlation of brain activation in delta, alpha and gamma bands and calculated frontal lobe activation for both NDE and SCE subjects, with a statistically greater activation for SCE subjects. The conclusion was due to the observed similarities, further study is justified since early teaching of centering prayer or oneness prayer could lessen the fear of dying for hospice and palliative care patients.
In 1999, Andrew Newberg, M.D. studied a group of Franciscan nuns who had been practicing Centering Prayer. It was the first brain scan of Christian contemplative practitioners. He discovered that there were significant neurological changes that differed from normal human brain functions. The frontal lobes, known to be the seat of moral judgment and spirituality, had increased activity; the limbic activity decreased; and the combination generated a peaceful and serene state of consciousness.
Since that early work, there has been considerable research on the subject, much of which has been on non-theistic Tibetan Buddhist monks, yet comparatively little on theistic Christian practitioners. As valuable as that research has been, it misses the opportunity available from the findings of research on the power of faith, which over 90% of the U.S. population has. Though most researchers are Christian, they have difficulties getting enough practitioners, since the focus has been mostly on a small number of Tibetan monks; whereas, there is a much broader base of theistic interfaith practitioners with over 100,000 Christian contemplatives alone. Research incurs a high cost of transporting equipment and researchers to the practitioners, rather than capitalizing on these local practitioners. There seems to be a greater emphasis on theoretical neuroscience, as opposed to clinical applications. The research is fragmented worldwide, rather than having a physical focal point, as could be the case in the Houston Texas Medical Center (TMC), which is the largest in the world, exceeding the next largest by four times.
Announcement: Study of Effects of Spirituality on the Brain
CN collaboration with ISH, BCM teams up with the Institute for Spirituality and Health
Houston – (March 26, 2013) – Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) have teamed up to study the effects of spirituality on the brain.
This new collaboration, signed by Dr. Dora Angelaki, chair of neuroscience at BCM, and Dr. John Graham, president of ISH, is a Master Research Services Agreement between the two institutions that includes the use of the Center for Advanced MR Imaging, one of the worlds’ largest, at BCM. Researchers through the ISH, located in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, will not only use the functional magnetic resonance imaging facilities (fMRI) at BCM but also collaborate with researchers within the department of neuroscience. The first such project is currently in the planning stages for later this year.
The goal of the ISH, at 57 years the oldest such interfaith organization in the United States, is to engage in scientific research to provide evidence-based information on the role spirituality plays in health and healing, as well as educate and equip healthcare professionals so they may incorporate spirituality in treatments of patients when needed.
This collaboration was also completed with the support of BCM’s Center for Advanced MRI (CAMRI) Director of Research, Krista Runge, and ISH Vice Chairman, Dr. Robert Hesse.