How can we benefit from spiritual practices [SCIENCE]

First I would like to point out that everybody believes in something. And often those beliefs are not so fully rational as another person might want it to be. We cannot fully separate our feelings from the reason, this just is not how our brain and body works. We are wired to react to emotions and to decide what are we going to do or say based on them. Even so called ‘hard logic’ that would make you choose to push the button and make the train kill one person instead of five is not exactly cold rationalism. It is called ‘cold empathy’. If you did not recognize the suffering of five families if they lost their loved one, you would not care to differ one death over five deaths. A person with dominant ‘hot empathy’ perhaps would choose not to hit the button to not feel personally responsible for death of the person on the railway. Despite that they could have saved five people. Empathy works in various ways and so does whole psyche, but all our choices, and everything about us that is not apathy and inaction, stems from our emotional state. Rational people are never as rational as they hope to be. And there is nothing wrong in that, the reason is not lesser because of its warmth.

There are many questions in life that still remain unanswered, and the possible answers cause as much suffering as they cause bliss. We should accept that people construct certain realities in which they live in for the sake of remaining sane. Spiritual beliefs are caused by varied reasons. For some it may be the fear of death, for others it could be the need of a path to follow for the personal growth. Some choose to put their bet on scientific methods and mathematical reason, which brings the sense of order, of clarity, of finding the most accurate answers possibly. Religions mainly give people a moral compass, ease their fear of death, and also provide a way to unite in groups. Putting belief in science has more similarities to spiritual beliefs than some care to admit. The only wrong way of practicing spirituality or pursuing science is to deliberately harm others. Everything should be open to question, but within reason and on emotional neutral ground. Think of it as two castles of personal beliefs. Invading one’s castle is always aggressive and will always result in defense at all cost. It’s best to send emissaries to establish where and when the dispute will happen, and meet outside of each castle, on the neutral ground. Both representatives will be guarded by the armed units, just in case things go wrong. But eventually, as the threats vanish and both parties prove themselves to be harmless, the castles may become open for visitors. Some castles though will forever remain closed. And that should be respected. You will not gain a thing by trying to invade that one.

Mostly we hear that none of the spiritual techniques used by either New Age spiritualists, Wiccan witches, or other modern spiritual practitioners are a scam aimed at making money on gullible people. Ignoring completely their need of such practices, as a way to relax (relaxation overally is treated so lightly, which is ridiculous considering with what pressure and anxiety we all live in), get insight of their own beings, or a glimpse of the future. Most people on this planet however hold religious beliefs that don’t differ that much from them, yet they tend to ridicule each other. Spiritualists do fall under many scams, but religious people fall victims of exploitation by organized religion, that promotes aggression against any other belief systems, to make sure people don’t leave for another group, and to gain power. We ended having religious people hating on spiritual people. And ‘rationals’ hating on everybody disagreeing with their worldview. And closing themselves from growth as well. Only learning information is just a way for growth, but not for enlightment. A self-proclaimed ‘rational’ who would be entirely apathetic, non-defensive, and fully open about learning scientific information that is contrary to their previous knowledge/beliefs – I’ve personally never met.

The judgment of personal beliefs is unnecessary and counter productive. We all are on the same boat. Of course there is one twist in all this – if a belief is harming others and denying facts too obvious to not be accepted. We may dispute about existence of soul, but if you drop a brick on someone’s face it certainly will follow the known track, hit them, and cause pain. There are facts we cannot deny. Evidence Based Science is the best way to determine those facts, but there is no reason why it should not go in hand with spiritual beliefs. The only thing necessary is the openness. Growth is never static, if your idea of self-development is to just bend reality to fit your narrative, instead of learning to accept the new things you are learning, then you will not really gain anything from it. You will not progress. I am bending towards even stating that if you don’t learn about philosophy and spirituality, and focus only on science, you also will not gain as much as you possibly could. We have plenty of examples of sceintific geniuses who were stunted when it comes to emotional maturity, and overall functionality. Both in society and in their own minds.

I want to stress it really hard – that letting go of your ego, desire to be seen ‘rational’, and ‘above the superstitious folk’, will make you much more open in that intellectual, rational way you aspire for. I cannot count how many times I have been approached by people who basically thought ‘oh, she loves science, she doesn’t believe in those bullshits people believe in, she will certainly understand me’. And by understanding they really meant validation. Validation that they are in this ‘intellectual club’ of people who ‘don’t subscribe to the sheeple’. Be careful what you wish for, because somebody who truly understands you will know your dark side, will see the insecurity, cruelty, fear, and all the bitterness behind the facade. They will not see what you hope them to see in yourself. They will not feed your ego with your superficial qualities that you use as a mask. Seek understanding when you are ready for it. I can only promise that this is worth it. The path is rough at first, but every small success will feel like the biggest victory in the world, because you will no longer fear yourself. Doubts will turn to acceptance. And with acceptance comes certain positive apathy towards being wrong and other unecessary blockages on your learning path.

As for the learning, you do not need to belong to any spiritual paths or religious groups to study and practise some parts of them. You need not to identify yourself with anything. You don’t have to ‘take it all or leave’. You don’t have to practice chakras to enjoy crystals. Hell, you don’t have to be a religious person to go medidate in a church. And if for somebody this is an offence to their beliefs – ask yourself how much of your beliefs actually make you grow, and how much they just feeds your ego, and satisfy your need for exclusive identification. Don’t stop others from exploring new ideas, belief systems, or just taking parts of some practices, just because you want it all for yourself and be holier than thou. Don’t be the asshole.

To encourage the ‘scientific’ community to try it for themselves, I’d like to point out one amusing fact about human mind. The true power of suggestion. The placebo effect, used to be considered something that only happens to those who are convinced that they are taking real medication, is now recognized as working even as an open-label placebo. As far as I know there is not yet formed a reason why exactly this happens. I linked some few readings below the post, and the conclusions are uncertain, and many more studies need to be conducted. But we do know so far that knowing something isn’t supposed to work is not something that can stop us from feeling better after receiving an obviously fake treatment. Now I do not intend to insult people who hold beliefs that certain things work, such as accupuncture, or healing crystals, I merely want to point out that people who are on the other side of the wall should not invalidate personal experiences of those people, and may even benefit from trying it out by themselves.

Other proposed psychological mechanisms

Other psychological explanations for response to OLP might include anxiety reduction, cognitive reappraisal, social learning, and selective attention, all of which have some empirical support [496768]. Patients may also feel empowered by our discussion of “self-healing processes” and our explanation that placebo may activate an endogenous internal pharmacy.

Neurobiology

The neurobiological mechanisms of placebo effects have begun to be well described for placebo administered under double-blind or deceptive conditions [23]. As mentioned earlier, neurotransmitters are activated and specific, quantifiable, and relevant areas of the brain are engaged during traditional, blinded placebo administration. We assume that similar mechanisms are involved with OLP, but obviously do not know for certain. To our knowledge, the only basic scientific study of OLP examined healthy participants who were administered OLP for pain while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study followed a commonly used conditioning paradigm to elicit placebo effects and found that OLP administration engaged similar brain regions as DPB, except without prefrontal activation, suggesting that placebo analgesia may bypass areas of conscious expectation [2445]. Further research needs to be done in this area.

Quoted from link number 3 in the sources below the post. The only thing we need to remember is that this works only on limited things – it does not cure illness, it merely helps with subjective symptoms, such as pain or anxiety. It does not heal, but it makes you feel better, in both cases when people take both placebo and open-label placebo. Therefore there is no reason why should we close ourselves off from certain practices that hold a spiritual value, we should learn about them, and can benefit from trying it out. So long as you remain healthily skeptic when you’re promised an easy fix for an illness. Use it for stress relief. Stress gives plenty of symptoms that in numbers may feel insufferable. Irritable bowel, headache, stomach pain, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, dizziness, low mood. And in our rapid lives it may be very difficult to just stop stressing out. We all have jobs, issues, and ends to meet. Hence when it comes to fighting stress, all tricks are allowed. And when you manage to get yourself relaxed, this is when you can get to the zone. Let your thoughts and emotions flow through you, this is your most mentally productive state, when you can open yourself to the new, and close hurtful chapters behind you. When your body is still, your mind races, and reaches far further. You can receive your greatest ideas, and work through your emotions from a healthy distance.

One of the things that I found very useful is aromatherapy, a scented relaxation method. Using essential oils, incense, tea, dried flowers, and scented-candles while I am practicing yoga or meditating, Pavlovs me into being relaxed every time I light my candles or incenses, or smell the oils. I would like to recommend picking certain scents that you like the most (I prefer lavender, but also recently started using opium combined with cedar wood), and keep the little bottles of essentail oils with you. When you use them in stressful situations you will feel your muscles relax, your breath slow down and get deeper, and your mind get clear. I keep a glass container of dried lavender flowers next to my computer, and I love to open it and feeling my working space filling with this amazing scent.

I would also like to mention my newest purchase – a water bottle with amethyst crystal inside. It made me chuckle as most of my friends went ‘Falka, NO‘, as it is a very expensive and scammy purchase. But I found the bottle to be extremely beautiful. You can find plenty of resellers (they are heavily advertized on Instagram), you can buy original bottles on eBay, I chose to find a reseller with the best aesthetics (they have varied logos, I liked the crystal butterfly the most), and shipping from Poland.

Behold, my beautiful bottle (and lavender):

They are advertized to be healing crystals, you are supposed to put it in the sunlight for 30 minutes, and then fill the bottle with water, wait another 20 minutes, and there is your crystal juice ready. You can pick one of few crystals based on their properties. Since I believe in none of this I just picked the one that was most aesthetically pleasing for me, and I am very happy with my purchase. Drinking this water did not cure any of my health issues, but I do feel somehow good because of it. I find it very calming to look at plants, crystals, rocks, so it is relaxing for me without all the magic properties. I lost my last water bottle few months ago, and since I moved in to the new apartment and never buy plastic water bottles, I was relying on my annoyingly slow water filter, and somehow it made me drink not as much water as I need. I also left home often without any beverages with me, and since I very rarely agreed to buy a beverage outside, you know the deal. So that’s another way this adorable item made me feel better – nothing like a good hydration.

See also:

  1. Harvard Health Publishing – A placebo can work even when you know it’s a placebo
  2. Why do open-label placebos work? A randomized controlled trial of an open-label placebo induction with and without extended information about the placebo effect in allergic rhinitis
  3. Open-label versus double-blind placebo treatment in irritable bowel syndrome: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial
  4. Open-Label Placebo Treatment of Women With Premenstrual Syndrome (OLPPMS_1)
  5. Open-label placebo treatment in chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.
  6. Altered placebo and drug labeling changes the outcome of episodic migraine attacks.
  7. Open-label use of placebos in the treatment of ADHD: a pilot study.

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