I attend a men’s Bible study and the question of trying to make human sense of God’s Will came up. When reading any wisdom literature there are portions that seem to “go against common sense”. And yet, we are “called” to believe anyway. Clearly, many have died “in the name of a religion or spiritual tradition” but most feel this to be an abusive use of spirituality, given to excuse very human weaknesses. Is there a biological advantage to having a daily faith practice? Does it, during our lifetime, make sense biologically?
I believe the short answer is yes… but let’s explore it a bit!
Surviving and Thriving!
Our brain is wired to not only survive but to thrive. Our brain is constantly looking for ways to protect and improve our many relationships. The brain senses our relationships through three main neurological circuits. These three circuits are responsible for our existential relationship with ourselves, with others and a third circuit incorporates our relationship with everything else. These circuits work continuously, real-time. We depend on them to make our moment-to-moment decisions. They lift up from the abyss of our preverbal subconscious mind each thought we think and each word we speak.
As you go about your day thinking and making decisions, these three circuits are developing algorithms, making “rules”, that you will live by. The longer you keep and live by these rules, the more ingrained they will become since “practice makes permanent”. When young, your mind chooses rules based on experiences in your environment. Money, power, glory, strength, intelligence, social position and a wide variety of other environmental attributes are frequently major influencers of early personal and social decision-making.
Clearly these attributes may offer advantages to both protect and improve your relationships. Each are strengths you can wield to create and maximize your life potential. Each can be experienced as value for these three brain circuits e.g. for you, for others and for the greater good. When taken in total, a decision tree can be established based on how each of these strengths can be used in different relationships under different circumstances.
The problem with this sort of view is that it provides little guidance when we face sickness, old age and death. Ultimate motivations based on strengths offers little help when dealing with even normal life stresses. If your ultimate value is based on the strengths you bring to the world, how should you feel when you don’t measure up? How do you deal with something or someone who “wins” and thus limits your strengths? Are you then forever less than you were before? Do you mean less to the world, to others… to yourself? When you win, should you then feel better than others? If you did feel better than others, how do you think this would go over?
Benefits of a Daily Faith Practice
These three biological circuits create your ultimate sense of self. Living with “you live, pay taxes and then you die”, leaves you simply one day closer to valuelessness and death. Life struggles would be seen as inefficient thus limiting true potential. I believe this type of belief system simply doesn’t satisfy the basic functions required of these three intrinsic brain circuits. This may be the thought behind the aphorism, “You don’t find many atheists in fox holes”. It simply doesn’t work. I’m not saying that you should choose what to believe based solely on a temporary need. I am suggesting that a sustained, daily faith practice has a very desirable net positive effects on your life.
Basing your algorithms for decisions that protect and maximal your relationships requires something that exists outside of any set of human strengths or life conditions. No matter how your life changes, an algorithm based on the intrinsic value of each human life will hold. It also allows for stability and healthy growth of your sense of self, others and world perspective representing these three circuits. No matter the age, race, sex or social position people can have and maintain their innate value. Holding something of this earth as your ultimate goal doesn’t serve this purpose and so isn’t satisfying to the way we are wired.
Spiritual values represent ideas that exist apart from our simple human reality, yet provide wisdom (efficient algorithms) while guiding the use of your strengths. Moreover, a life based on chasing strengths and personal advantage puts you on the brain’s hedonic treadmill and no success will ever be enough to provide lasting happiness. Daily spiritual practices can create personal resilience and enduring happiness in the face and because of life’s travails.
Daily Living Habits that Keep Dreams Alive
I shared a podcast with a very talented young writer and life strategist, James McCrea. Please listen in if you are questioning the value of faith. He doesn’t push faith but goes into some depth about the the difference between the “Ego” and the “highest mind” that may be helpful. This is particularly true when you are struggling to live out your dreams. He also offers many daily living habits that can help keep your dreams alive. Here are a few:
- Don’t walk so fast. Nothing is as urgent as you think.
- Forgive rude people. They are only protecting themselves.
- Dedicate yourself to what you love and ignore everything else.
- Be the eye of the storm. Project light and refuse to absorb darkness.
- Respect the customs of the city even if you don’t understand them. You are a guest in a home that has been here much longer than you.
- Remain curious. Always explore. Control the small things.
- Make your bed every morning, meditate every night, eat healthy, and spend time with people who make you better.
- Make kindness a habit. What you do for others comes back.
- Choose your own narrative. Remember that both happiness and stress are stories you tell yourself.
- Always breathe deeply.
It will always be your choice to either live by a personal faith or to live “by the seat of your pants”. You are wired to make such a choice. I certainly don’t claim to be “enlightened”. I do believe accepted spiritual guidance is very helpful when combined with a daily faith practice.