Building A Resilient Brain Through Spirituality

By Ashley Patek

Building A Resilient Brain Through Spirituality

Needed by everyone without time for your own needs. 

Witnessing your inner child while raising one. 

Healing past trauma. Depression. 

Living in uncertain times. Anxiety. 

Get my flow yet? It’s not easy being a parent, let alone living a human experience. 

So, so many of us are here, questioning if we are “too broken” and “not enough” while equal parts terrified that we will “ruin our children” while also desperately trying to do things differently than were done to us. 

Yup, I will repeat. It is NOT easy. 

Spirituality Is A Protective Factor Against Depression

For centuries, spirituality had two camps. Those who believed in its ancestral wisdom and those who put it on an iceberg, believing it was a woo-woo thing. But the lens of science is beginning to narrow this gap. 

The truth is, we are in a mental health crisis. 

We have stressed-out parents and stressed-out kids. 

One in ten children in the US have diagnosed anxiety or depression. The number one killer of adolescents in our society is currently suicide. Our teens are more likely to die by their own hand than they are from an automobile accident, and this is pushing down into middle school.

As for us adults? The numbers indicate that a staggering 50% of us are depressed.

It seems that now is the time to have these hard conversations, to bring to light those parts of us that have been in the shadows suffering alone. 

Because we are not alone. 

In her book, The Awakened Brain, Dr. Lisa Miller uses the lens of science to explore this. She says, “Our culture has shut down our innate capacity to feel the deep, loving connection that runs through all of life, and this affects our mental health.” 

We are all born with spiritual awareness, which remains strong in childhood. But something happens in puberty. There is a shift, a death of consciousness as we deauthorize their knowing of the heart, and prioritize knowing with the head. In this way, we lose our anchor, so to speak, which leaves us untethered and grasping for safety and security. 

According to Miller, we have a choice. We can hold ourselves in stress states, devolve deeper into stress, remove ourselves from the pain through things like substances, or we can use despair as an invitation for an awakening.

Science shows that we are hardwired to use suffering as a catalyst for growth, and, according to Miller’s work, spirituality is a protective factor against depression, and is a key component in building a resilient brain.

Spirituality includes two threads:

  1. What Miller calls transcendent awareness, which is our innate capacity to see into the deeper meaning of life - our ability to understand that we are loved, guided, and never alone, even in the midst of hard, dark experiences. 
  2. That we might share this knowing with others. 

When we choose to use our struggles to grow, we are armored against subsequent depression and also see the brighter side of life. Miller describes one study in which they put people through an MRI, people who were recovering from depression through deepened spiritual life, and the results showed that they had a thicker cortex, which means better processing power across regions of perception, reflection, and orientation. 

Once these individuals strengthened their awareness, the next time things got hard, they were 75% protected against the occurrence of depression, and that went up to 90% if they were otherwise at high-risk such as being genetically predisposed to depression or having past trauma.

In addition, the research shows that if we have a strong spiritual awareness, we are 80% less likely to become addicted based upon DSM criteria and 60% less likely to take our lives. 

This recovery requires tuning into the awakened brain and living each day with the understanding that there is something deeper that connects us all. Miller says, “We must look at one another and see the presence of a higher power, speak about it, and live it. This is how we reawaken our spiritual selves.”

8 Ways To Reawaken Your Spiritual Self

We live in an information-overload age and we are looking for clarity, direction, and solutions. Unfortunately, the same things meant to inspire us are leaving us more overwhelmed. We move further and further from our internal knowing - our spiritual awareness. Not only does this pull us away from our true selves but it separates us from our kids. 

It makes it pretty tricky to look within our own emotional and spiritual landscape, let alone regulate it in the face of our own triggers, and effectively share it with those around us, especially with our children. In fact, seventy percent of parents say they struggle to communicate meaningfully with their kids. This isn’t at fault of the parent, but rather a lack of skills, generational wounding and cultural conditioning. 

Sometimes, the pressure feels crippling. But here is where the relief comes in. Research also says the number one protective factor in helping children deal with stress, big emotions, trauma, and a reactive nervous system is the presence of a consistent, supportive, and loving adult. 

Note that nowhere did it say a perfect adult. We don’t have to be perfect to be effective.

So, how do we make this idea of “strengthening our spiritual selves” relatable to our everyday lives? We have a few ideas:

1. Do inner work. Take time to understand your happy triggers and your reactive triggers in seven steps using this worksheet

2. Practice altruism. Be a guide to someone struggling or to your children. Miller says, “We can re-cast who we are to each other as helpers and healers.” Can we show up for all people through the lens of having their best interest in mind as a soul on this earth, knowing that despite differences, we have a deeper relationship that connects us all?

3. Listen to your intuition. Very often, we ask a question, and our inner knowing responds with a sensation. What does that feeling feel like in your body? When that sensation comes up, listen to it and trust it. 

4. Become curious. Joe Dispenza, neuroscientist, researcher, and author says, “If we really knew the power we had to create our own reality, we would start each day consciously.” Life is always talking to us. Ask yourself, What is the world showing me right now? When we become the observer, we are no longer the program. We become the consciousness observing the program, and this means that you, and your life, are changing. 

5. Share your deep truths. As much as kids rebel and push us away, they soak up when we speak our deepest truth. In knowing how we feel and sharing it with another, we strengthen our resilient brain, and teach our children how to do the same. 

6. Restructure relationships. Move from transactional relationships such as I am your parent, listen/obey me or I am your teacher, perform for me to transformational relationships built by and through connection. Taking a Time-In is a great way to build relationships where everyone feels seen and heard. 

7. Walk in nature. Walk slowly in nature and use your five senses to experience your surroundings. True, deep connection runs all through life, and that includes the life outside our front door. 

8. Do visualizations. Miller shares one exercise. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths to clear your internal space. Then, imagine a table. This is your table to invite five people, living or deceased, who truly have your best interest at heart. With them all sitting there, ask if they love you. Intuitively hear what they say. Then, call in your eternal, highest self to the table, and ask you if you love you. What do you say? Lastly, call in your highest power and ask your highest power if they love you. With all of these people sitting here, what do they need to share? What do they need to let you know right now? When you are ready, come back to the present. Those called to the table are your highest counsel and they are always there. You are always held, guided, and deeply supported, even when you feel alone!

Life is buoyant and alive. We have in our brain a series of circuits that allow us to see the deep nature of life that is in fact a consciousness field in which we are loved, guided, and never alone. We just have to flip the switch and choose to turn it back on.

•  •  •

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