Do you consider yourself spiritual? Maybe you're a step ahead of that and think of yourself as actively religious. No matter where on the scale you fall, would you be able to describe the benefits you've felt thanks to your spirituality, your religion, or your faith? Would you say that it's helped you?
A researcher from Columbia University posits that, yes, spirituality does really help people, and in a tangible, scientifically measurable way, too. Using brain scans, her team has been able to see just what religion does to the mind.
To mend that gap and feel that connection again, you have to address the root of the issue. This quiz can help you identify sources of childhood trauma that still keep you held down today, allowing you to face them, grow past them, and thrive.
Their Guiding Light
Those who are more spiritually inclined, whether or not they follow a set religion or just feel they're more in tune with nature, the universe, and the energies around them, will often tell stories of how their faith helped them in some way.
These tales tend to discuss dark moments that were staved away or overcome through the use of their spirituality, through their belief in whatever higher power they recognize. Faith has helped many people through tough times, but is this purely anecdotal or is there scientific backing behind it?
Science And Spirituality, Together
Dr. Lisa Miller is a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, and she specializes in the study of what she calls "the science of spirituality, mental health, and thriving."
She does belief there's strong scientific backing for the way spirituality can affect our lives, namely how it can help us overcome times of stress and strife. In an interview with Deseret News, she said, "I use the lens of science to understand the ordinary impact of personal spiritual life on the rest of our lives. The extraordinary impacts of spirituality are game-changing."
Is Spirituality The Key?
"I'm very interested in how recovery and renewal from depression, despair or hard times is often found through spiritual life. And I'm very interested in how to help feed a more spiritually aware society. [...] I see understanding our true spiritual nature as the path toward deeper connection, deeper friendship and greater peace around the world."
She then goes on to explain how our brains, over time, have become more fixated on physical, tangible goals to keep us driven. We've forgone the more nebulous concept of one true 'purpose,' often linked to spirituality, with smaller goals we chase after over a lifetime.
She calls this goal-centric drive 'achieving awareness.' Meanwhile, that one true meaning of life, our calling, our purpose, whatever you want to call it, is 'awakened awareness.' Awakened awareness also has strong ties to intuition and receiving messages from your chosen spiritual center or deity.
Now, Dr. Miller does explain that we all need both sides here. You aren't meant to completely forgo achieving awareness and replace it all with awakened awareness, and you can't rely solely on achieving awareness for a fulfilling life. You need to strike a balance between the two.
Out Of The Dark
For the sake of her studies, though, Dr. Miller and her team looked at people who "recovered from depression through an awakening."
"We could see that people who suffered the most really derived profound support and even renewal when connecting to their higher power [...] They were more likely to perceive and reflect in a profoundly spiritual way."
They weren't just taking their word for it either, the team did conduct a number of scans to see the physical effects of spirituality on the brain.
"[...] this tendency to see life on spiritual bedrock was mirrored by a thickening of the cortex, offering some evidence that sustained spiritual life is neuroprotective against depression."
An awakened mind has some long-term emotional benefits as well, as it helps us draw more innate positivity into our lives.
"And in addition, when we looked at the awakened brain, what we saw is that universally, we are drawn into an experience in which we are loved and held, guided, and never alone."
Kindness Unto Others
It's also worth mentioning that not all forms of spirituality are equal. This doesn't mean some religions are better than others, just that there's one core belief that, if forgone, can be a detriment to one's mental health.
In a video for Big Think, Dr. Miller said, "[...] of all the forms of spiritual life, the one that most correlates with the thick, strong cortex, if you will, the fortification of the awakened brain, is altruism: love of neighbor. If you really feel stuck, if you feel trapped in despair or depression, stand up, walk out the door, and bring something of beauty, of love to your neighbor."
Returning To Your Path
She especially recommends engaging in altruism if you feel you've strayed from your spiritual connections and are looking to feel that bond again. "Step out of your comfort zone just enough to do something a little bit nice for someone.
And as you do, you'll see that long ago you paved the highways into your natural seat of transcendent awareness. There is a way back to God, your higher power, the Universe- and it was paved long ago. If you own it and take it back, you will have jump started your awakened brain."
A Message For All
Dr. Miller's message here is profound, touching, and deep. She doesn't ask that you immediately convert to the religion of the church nearest you, nor is she saying anyone is better or worse for expressing their spirituality in a given way. Her goal isn't to start fights with anyone. She just wants to share that spirituality has scientifically proven benefits.
She hopes to spread a message that can help someone heal, help someone grow, or simply help someone see a new perspective on spirituality they might not have considered before. Also, spiritual or not, her emphasis on always being kind to those around you is always good to listen to.
Even when we're in touch with our spiritual side, there are some issues we can't fight through alone. Struggles with self-confidence in particular are very hard to overcome by yourself. If you need the extra support to help gain your confidence back, there are tools that can help.