The Awakened Brain: The Neurobiology of Spiritual Experience

Dr. Keith takes a close look at the physiology of spiritual experience. What parts of the brain are being activated when we are having one of these powerful state experiences, and what does this tell us about the critical intersection between growth (both biological and psychological development) and awakening?

As these sorts of integral conversations typically do, the discussion then expands to include a number of other topics, including:

  • Why the drive for spiritual connection becomes so pronounced during late adolescence
  • How technology offers unique challenges and opportunities for cultivating an “awakened brain”
  • The potential role that psychedelic experiences can play in our awakening, both in terms of the phenomenological experience itself, as well as the subtle impacts it has on our brain chemistry when doing something like “microdosing”.
  • A brief summary of the eight zones of Integral metatheory
  • What kinds of resources we suggest for people who are new to the Integral approach
  • How to better prepare our children for the pressures of puberty and adolescence

A Note from Dr. Keith:

I’ve just finished Lisa Miller’s book, The Awakened Brain, and find her data to be fascinating and useful. She’s identified four brain areas which are activated simultaneously when people are having a moment of felt spiritual connectedness. Dr. Miller has practices which elicit this response, and, amazingly, she has worked with the U.S. Army to teach her material to two million soldiers in their “Spiritual Readiness Initiative.” Her work indicates that the biological drive to feel spiritually connected is twice as strong in late adolescence, and is much more robust when shared with others. This strongly suggests a neurological critical period for spiritual awakening and development (which I’ve suspected for decades).

Her findings are relevant to development and trauma in that some forms of trauma — particularly childhood developmental trauma — literally shut down people’s brains in several of the areas she has studied. Traumatized brains often need healing via neurofeedback and other less experimentally validated treatments to be functional enough to even reach for self-reflection and spiritual connectedness without becoming overwhelmed.

Cumulatively, Lisa Miller’s data strongly indicates that cultivating an awakened brain practice — and especially directing the positive energy into caring for others — protects from depression, anxiety, and suicidality, and opens us up to intuitive flashes from our Wise Self.