Neurobiologist Dr. Dan Siegel is astounded that neither scientists, including psychiatrists, nor philosophers nor academicians have come up with a good working definition of mind; nor, can they describe what thinking is.
Mind is clearly not the same as a brain firing electrical impulses through neurons, according to Siegel. No one even knows how much brain and mind overlap. He has come to believe that subjective experience is real, consciousness is real, but the challenge that arises for those in his field is: how can a scientist address what is real when it can’t necessarily be measured in the laboratory?
And, therein resides the biggest challenge also for those who are currently researching the role prayer and spirituality play in health. As studies increasingly show that someone can experience improved health by expressing spiritual qualities such as forgiveness and compassion and recipients of these qualities can also be healed or reduce susceptibility to illness, our current laboratory based research has come up wanting. What is the connection between each of us with the Divine and with each other? How does it heal?
I’ve found that the key is understanding we are all connected through a higher being that some call Allah, Yahweh or God, and which I like to think of as divine Mind. My compassion, forgiveness and empathy for others has greater power to heal when it is an expression of the connection we all have with the Divine.
According to Siegel, science has made great strides in measuring the brain, but love cannot be found as one of its functions. Nor can our greater connection to others be measured. He uses the term “mindful” to describe the many subjective elements of consciousness – such as love, compassion, fear – that can’t necessarily be seen in brain study or scientific data.
Though elusive for brain scientists, subjective experience cannot be ignored. Nor can mind, which possibly is the source of consciousness and perhaps the vehicle by which we’re all connected.
The Bible has long offered this guidance for healthier living: “…be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;…” It seems to me that this is the kind of consciousness and connection that heals.
One day science will fully authenticate healthier and longer lives when these qualities and connections are lived. But it may not be through measuring brain activity.