When I first came into recovery I constantly heard the refrain about “getting out of self” – in fact steps 10-12 help one do so. Step 12, by helping others in recovery and step 11 which encourages prayer and mediation.
Can we get out of “self” by prayer and mediation? I will be dedicating a number of blogs to mediation so will just briefly consider prayer here.
In one study Franciscan nuns had their brains imaged via SPECT which looked at blood-flow in their brains while they were engaged in a type of mystic union called ‘centring prayer’ which involves opening themselves to being in the presence of God (and not in “self”).
In centring prayer the nuns had a “loss of usual forms of space”. During prayer there was demonstrated increase in blood flow in the PFC inferior parietal and inferior frontal lobes and a decreased flow in the superior parietal lobe, which is related to feelings of “self”.
The findings of these and other studies of prayer bear some similarity to studies in meditators such as on Tibetan Buddhist meditators (1).
The meditative and spiritual experiences are partly mediated through deactivation of the superior parietal lobe which normally helps to generate the normal sense of “self” (2)
If addiction has hijacked various components of self regulation such as those implicated in regulation of affect, memory, reward/motivation and attention then meditation and prayer may train one’s mind on an area of the brain beyond this self regulation network to an area beyond one’s own self limited or associated experience of time and space. For individuals with addiction mediation and centring prayer may actually in therapeutic sense allow respite from the emotional distress which apparently can accompany various aspects of self regulation in this group.
In short, meditation and prayer may facilitate a “break from self” a therapeutic solace and a profound sense of connection with something beyond self whatever that ineffable beyond self is?
1. Newberg, A. B., & Iversen, J. (2003). The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. Medical hypotheses, 61(2), 282-291.
2. d’Aquili, E. G., & Newberg, A. B. (2000). The neuropsychology of aesthetic, spiritual, and mystical states. Zygon®, 35(1), 39-51.
From Hijacking the Brain