Neurotheology on the office floor

Updated: Sep 30 2006, 06:13am hrs
In an always-priapic universe where an executive is expected to perform 24/7, the whole goulash of neurotransmitters and hormones that make up our molecular entity are constantly yo-yoing in response to stress. Needless to say, that creates for a multitude of physiological responses ranging from galloping blood pressures, insulin resistance, sexual dysfunction and depression. And here too a small amount of stress translates into a power law equation; giving rise to many more diseases than one could normally associate with elevated anger or simply traffic.

Corporate stress is ubiquitous and manifests as not just morbidity and disease but as an inability to focus, inability to think through, innovate and as diffused decision-making. If you thrash around in bed wondering how to murder your boss or that competitor who has your order in his bag, reach out for the refuge of quiet sincere prayer. Some kind of palliative could emerge from regular prayer since prayer calms your mind, even emptying your mind of the noise, so that clear signals, new thoughts and solutions can emerge. Think of it as going to the gym for your brain, if nothing else.

Dr Candace Pert, who discovered opiate receptors in the body, says it is not just the mind that receives neurotransmitters for anger, sadness or pain. The whole body of cells is studded with receptors of many neurotransmitters making you feel pain or happiness with literally all your body. Unless each cell of your body is receiving these neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, you are not really happy. The body stores negative emotions like grief and suppresses this as toxic chemicals. Meditation or prayer helps in removing the negativity of the mind and thus translates to clearing the toxicity of the body.

Elie Wiesel the doughty survivor of the Holocaust says prayer is saying yes to the universe. It actually is saying yes to everything. When you pray you are actually opening yourself up to strength in the face of perhaps sheer helplessness.

Prayer is in the end a learned response. All of us have been learned a concept right from childhood that prayer does help. Simply switching on that node can therefore help assuage disturbed feelings. Meditation helps in quelling the disturbed mind by accessing the parietal region of the brain, the one that is responsible for the sharp distinction between the self and non-self.

Scans of people chanting mantras have shown activity in the right inferior parietal lobe, which is responsible for evaluating the emotional import of words. Stimulating the temporal lobes, which run along the side of the head are the brains visual association area helps triggering religious feelings. When the temporal lobes of the brain are stimulated a sense of divine presence if felt that is a cause for reassurance for many. All this can be simulated by regular meditation. All you have to do is sit yourself down and try to count your breath, even watch your breath or say a prayer for maybe ten minutes to half an hour.

So is the expert praying brain different or can you and me develop these special attributes of a prayed brain For a praying brain does develop different neural and cognitive strengths and reserves, as compared with novices or non-prayers.It is more or less indisputable that individuals who pray regularly and effectively enjoy health benefits using widely recognized measures such as allostatic load i.e. metabolic and chemical/molecular indicators of health.For us then even in the workplace, meditation helps us wake up from the slumber of automaticity and unconsciousness. You thereby access the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities.

Letting go is one of the hardest things to do. Prayer does this. At the same time, every morning you could clear out your baggage with prayer, get energized, sweep out negativity. Prayer is an indicator that everything is possible and meaningful, the daily struggle, and the insurmountable problem. The language of chanting and inner silence form the dialectic of prayer. For many of us prayer can be a catharsis in a different locus, away from the normal workaday people. Prayer is the answer for our need to be validated and understood. Both a centrifugal and centripetal and yet the dialectic is certain undeniable change in the polarity of the mind.

But you need to train the mind to meditation, be it saying a word over and over. Of course it cannot be a negative or excitatory word, but just a simple chant, or even a bhajan from your ipod. Do not choose a meaningless word: it must have positive or healing connotation for you. But instead of passive listening, chanting seems to help exponentially.

As writer Anne Lamont put it best, the mind is like a puppy. You can choose to either kick the puppy every time it poops or gently drag it near the paper. The kicked puppy is likely to respond by sneaking to the corner next time nature calls so you simply drag your mind near the paper. Training the mind could be the best gift you could give yourself over a lifetime.