In Krista Tippett‘s most recent interview for On Being, she unpacks “meditation as a spiritual technology” together with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, HealthCare and Society at UMass.

(Yes, he is the son of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States).

Highlights include discussion of:

  • meditation as a spiritual technology that can be a key to sane living in this world without having to abandon our worldly path
  • the distinction between thinking versus true attention and awareness
  • mindful parenting:  “living with children as a powerful spiritual practice” on which Jon & his wife wrote a book
  • Jon’s mindfulness facilitation at Google’s HQ in 2007
  • relationship between time and awareness
  • relationships, immune system, body & brain changes resulting from mindfulness
  • how (presumably non-spiritual) technology can be addictive
  • how stress dampens empathy
  • mindful leadership & Obama

The segment closes with this poem:

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others’ welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Is the U.S. becoming more secular, at least so far as organized religion is concerned?

This recent study by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (also using data from General Social Surveys) would say that it is.  Or, more accurately, perhaps, Millennial-age people seem to have less of a strong affiliation with a particular religious group.

Though this is an interesting study to be sure, there are at least 2 sets of variables that I feel the research should have been isolated to a more precise degree:

  • Stage of Life trends vs. Generational trends: In surveying young people about religion, it’s always hard to differentiate religious identification levels that are tied to a particular life stage (ie-people between the ages of 18-29 are less likely to be affiliated with a mosque, synagogue, church or other faith community, even if they are likely to self-identify as religious later in life) from affiliation levels that are tied to genuine generational differences, shaped by the particular zeitgeist of a formative period and persistent throughout the lifetime of an individual who is part of the Millennial cohort.
  • Religious vs. Spiritual Self-Identification: this proverbial distinction is quite obvious, but measuring degrees of spirituality in the Millennial group could prove instructive.  How many find meaning in supernatural experiences of some sort?

The general reaction to this research has been to seize on the secularizing trend among Millennials and to ask whether the U.S. is on an accelerating path to secularization.  This is an important question to ask.

However, we don’t have a true picture of the degree of secularization until we’ve looked at the big picture–how many find sacred experiences in nature?  How many might say they experience God, or the transcendent or Nirvana outside of a traditional religious context?

To get a more robust picture of Faith in the Future (at least a more robust picture of it as it finds expression in the slice of the world called the United States) we must look to nuanced questions.

In the next decade, will neuroscience give us more of a glimpse into our spiritual brains?

In the Feb. 11, 2010 issue of Neuron, Italian researchers report on their experiments surrounding the personality trait of “self-transcendence” which is meant to be a measure of spiritual orientation.

Through analyzing self-transcendence scores of brain tumor patients both before & after their tumors were removed, they made another step towards drawing the link between brain activity and spirituality in a measurable way.

Highlights

Here are the highlights of their work–full article downloadable here:

  • Self-transcendence is a stable personality trait measuring predisposition to spirituality
  • Brain damage induces specific and fast modulations of self-transcendence
  • Self-transcendence increases after damage to lt and rt inferior parietal cortex

Summary

  • The predisposition of human beings toward spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors is measured by a supposedly stable personality trait called self-transcendence. Although a few neuroimaging studies suggest that neural activation of a large fronto-parieto-temporal network may underpin a variety of spiritual experiences, information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking.
  • Combining pre- and post-neurosurgery personality assessment with advanced brain-lesion mapping techniques, we found that selective damage to left and right inferior posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase of self-transcendence.
  • Therefore, modifications of neural activity in temporoparietal areas may induce unusually fast modulations of a stable personality trait related to transcendental self-referential awareness.
  • These results hint at the active, crucial role of left and right parietal systems in determining self-transcendence and cast new light on the neurobiological bases of altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors in neurological and mental disorders.

For those interested in learning more, here is an accessible summary in Science Daily.  Thanks to Mark Schar for pointing me towards this fascinating research!