June 30th Sunday Service Message: No Longer Woo-Woo: The Brain & Spirituality

Train your brain for health and spiritual awareness with Rev. Susanna Goulder.

Great sages and spiritual masters throughout history have taught us that humans are equal parts of mind, body, and spirit.  No one can deny the fact that a healthy, vibrant body helps us to think more clearly, focus more sharply and generally to enjoy life more fully. 

In her talk “No Longer Woo-Woo: The Brain and Spirituality,” guest speaker and longtime friend of Unity Spiritual Center Rev. Susanna Goulder approaches the equation from the other direction and explains how having a healthy brain, or mind, helps us to have a healthier body and raises our spiritual awareness.

Modern medical science, by its very nature, is skeptical of anecdotal claims of healing that occur without some tangible means of treatment or intervention.  It is also skeptical of the benefits of so-called “woo-woo” techniques for health outcomes such as prayer, meditation, visualization or generally keeping a positive outlook on life.  Although skeptical, cynicism has not completely overtaken the academy.

Rev. Susanna tells us of an on-going longitudinal study begun in 1986 with funding by the National Institute on Aging, which focuses on a group of 678 American Roman Catholic sisters who are members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  Studying a relatively homogeneous group (no drug use, little or no alcohol, similar housing and reproductive histories, etc.) minimizes the extraneous variables that may confound other similar research. 

Researchers accessed the convent archive to review documents amassed throughout the lives of the nuns in the study.  Among the documents reviewed were autobiographical essays that had been written by the nuns upon joining the sisterhood.  Upon review, it was found that an essay's lack of linguistic density (e.g., complexity, vivacity, fluency) functioned as a significant predictor of its author's risk for developing Alzheimer's disease in old age.  The approximate mean age of the nuns at the time of writing was merely 22 years.  Roughly 80% of nuns whose writing was measured as lacking in linguistic density went on to develop Alzheimer's disease in old age; meanwhile, of those whose writing was not lacking, only 10% later developed the disease.1

Overall, findings of the Nun Study suggest "that traits in early, mid, and late life have strong relationships with the risk of Alzheimer's disease, as well as the mental and cognitive disabilities of old age."2

This is good news for humanity. 

It demonstrates, at least in this one study, that it is just as the Book of Proverbs tells us “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” in this case, she (Proverbs 23:7).  Rev. Susanna gave some additional evidence from her own life.  In 1994, she was walking down the street and collapsed unconscious on the sidewalk.  Taken immediately to the hospital by some Good Samaritans it was soon discovered that she had a brain tumor.  The tumor was removed and she made a full recovery.  Susanna is convinced that along with the skill of the surgeons and medical treatments the application of her own spiritual practices was very much instrumental in her healing.

In the last half century or so, medical diagnostic technology has improved to where brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), computer tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) have allowed scientists, researchers and medical professionals to get actual pictures of what is happening in the brain both in real time (fMRI) and as a snapshot of the physical structures of the brain that can be analyzed. 

Such analyses have shown that the use of the so-called “woo-woo” techniques of meditation and visualization can affect the actual physical structures of the brain and increase the secretion of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  These neurotransmitters are responsible for our feelings of concentration, balanced mood, alertness, clarity of mind, satisfaction, and relaxation.

Those who have embraced techniques such as prayer and meditation and have found them to be effective in their own lives have not needed verification from science to convince them of their efficacy.  It is very good to know, however, that there is evidence that shows that what millions of people throughout the ages have known all along is actually a real effect.


So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  Mark 11:24

There are many ways to pray.  For some people, there is no difference between what is thought of as prayer and meditation.  Unity does not teach that we pray to change the mind of God, but rather we pray to change our own minds.  Among many different techniques available to everyone, Rev. Susanna offers the following spiritual practice to help bring peace and a sense of well-being to us each and every day.

Spiritual Practice:

This week, begin to train your brain for healing, wholeness, and happiness with this exercise:

1.  Set the alarm on your phone computer or kitchen stove every four hours.

2.  When the alarm rings, actively seek something for which you are grateful or a happy memory from the past.  Savor the feeling this experience or memory brings.  Pay attention, especially to the rewarding nature of the experience.

3.  Now, bring these good feelings into your heart letting them spread like a ripple throughout the cells of your body and into your emotions like warm rays of the sun.  Stay in this rewarding experience for 18 seconds or more.

4.  Repeat this exercise 4-5 times a day with the help of your alarm or as often as you desire.  This exercise is also beneficial when you’re experiencing a dip in thoughts or emotions.

As Rev. Susanna pointed out, to do this exercise four times per day will take only about one minute out of your day.  Who doesn’t have one minute per day to take the time to increase their sense of well-being?  Try this for one week and be honest with yourself about the results.  I’m in, are you?

For more information about Rev. Susanna’s other techniques for personal transformation, contact her at Susanna@SusannaGoulderSpeaker.com.

Greg Skuderin

1 Riley KP, Snowdon DA, Desrosiers MF, Markesbery WR: Early life linguistic ability, late life cognitive function, and neuropathology: Findings from the Nun Study Neurobiology of Aging 26(3):341347, 2005.

2 The University of Minnesota's Nun Study FAQ page Archived 2010-05-12 at the Wayback Machine, December 18, 2009.