Prayer and Mindfulness Lead to A Deeper Appreciation for Others
Posted on May 17, 2013
Over Shavuos at Emunah V’Omanut, a seminary in Jerusalem where I am a madricha this year, I gave a shiur about the benefits of meditation and prayer on the brain and how we can make prayer a personal and meaningful part of our everyday lives. There is an amazing book titled, “How God Changes Your Brain,” by Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman which discusses research they conducted on various individuals including religious people and atheists.
There are many other benefits to meditation and prayer such as a thickening of the cortex and enabling people cope with their emotions better than if they hadn’t meditated or prayed. One of the most interesting findings is that people who practice meditation have decreased activity in their parietal lobes during meditation. The parietal lobes allow a person to feel connected to space and time and having a decreased activity in the parietal lobe means that the person loses their sense of self and feels one with the universe and all things. While the level of activity is decreased during meditation, at other times their parietal lobe activities are high which indicates that they feel very connected with people when they are not meditating. The more a person meditates the closer they feel to their fellow human-being and to the beautiful unity that is G-d and His relationship with us in this world. With a love for our fellows we are more inclined to be involved in social justice and acts of kindness for those around us.
Andrew Neweberg M.D. says that, “An important element of many of the rituals and practices that people do as part of their religious traditions is the repetition of it. The more you come back to particular idea, the more you focus on it, the more you say a phrase or a prayer, those are the ideas and beliefs that become written into the neural connection of the brain. There’s a cute saying that ‘neurons that fire together wire together.'” He goes on to say that this idea goes for anything. The more you practice something the more your brain remembers it through its neural connections and is likely to come back to it because of the exposure you have towards it in the first place.
I have heard that the Shemoneh Esrei is the same text repeated three times a day because it is meant to be mantra-like. Phrases that we become familiar with and allow us to meditate daily. By connecting with G-d daily, and multiple times during the day, we allow ourselves to form a real solid relationship with him. In addition to the shemoneh esrei, personal prayer in ones own words is also extremely beneficial to fostering our relationship with Hashem as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and many others such as Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, the Yismach Moshe, and the Orchat Tzaddikim, are very strong believers in. Rebbe Nachman says that if you can’t decide where to begin, you can begin with that. If you feel you don’t know what to say or feel unworthy of talking to G-d or any number of reasons why talking to Him is difficult, open your conversation with Him right there! Tell Him your concerns about talking to Him. Talking to Him in any capacity is a good one. Building our relationship with Him is important on its own, but also allows us to become the most helpful and happy people we can be.
With a personal relationship with G-d where we involve Him in our everyday lives and make Him a part of everything we do, we can truly see His hand in every action and feel more connected to Him as more than just a King and Ruler but a Best Friend as well. The more we meditate, pray, and become mindful people, the more we feel love and feel the need to help others with this love we have for them as well. May we all become well-versed in our prayers and a partner with G-d to make this world a truly better place.