Lisa Miller, Ph.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of The Spiritual Child and her new book, The Awakened Brain. Dr. Miller is a professor in the Clinical Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the Founder and Director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, the first Ivy League graduate program and research institute in spirituality and psychology, and has held over a decade of joint appointments in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical School.
Her innovative research has been published in more than one hundred peer-reviewed articles in leading journals, including Cerebral Cortex, The American Journal of Psychiatry, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Dr. Miller is Editor of the Oxford University Press Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality, Founding Co-Editor-in-Chief of the APA journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice, an elected Fellow of The American Psychological Association (APA), and the two-time President of the APA Society for Psychology and Spirituality.
A graduate of Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her doctorate under the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, she has served as Principal Investigator on multiple grant-funded research studies. Dr. Miller speaks and consults around The Awakened Brain and The Spiritual Child for the US Military, businesses (including tech, finance, HR, and sales), personal development, faith-based organizations, schools and universities, and mental health and wellness initiatives.
Please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Lisa Miller.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 176
Dr. Lisa Miller 0:00
For many people on a spiritual path that when they were growing up whatever faith tradition, they may have been from the messenger relayed the meaning in a way that really rubbed them the wrong way.
Alex Ferrari 0:27
I'd like to welcome to the show, Lisa Miller, how you doin? Lisa?
Dr. Lisa Miller 0:30
Alex, I'm so excited to be here. I'm so grateful to you for the depth and the continuity of the conversation you're creating right in the middle of our society. It's just what we need.
Alex Ferrari 0:41
I appreciate that very much. It's very kind of you to say, and I'm very, I'm very excited to talk to you about the work you're doing. You're doing. You know, we're hitting the same question from different angles here. And you're hitting it from the scientific meet spirituality, which is one of my favorite places to come at this question from, and I'm hitting it from what I'm doing here. And we're all I think, trying to do the same thing, trying to lift the awareness and the awakening of the species as a general statement, but we're doing it in our own way. So I'm very grateful for what you're doing with your work.
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:09
Well, I think, you know, right now, we have a doughnut size hole in the middle of our culture, which is a spiritual hole. And there's so many people feeling called into this space. And if we can do that, in a way consistent with our inborn capacities, and you are a wonderful orator, you have an expansive awareness. Right in the middle, you're hosting these conversations, that's exactly what we need to do, to really live in our public square. So that spirituality is back in the middle of our daily lives, you know, classrooms, boardrooms, podcasts, it has to be right in the middle. And it has to be okay to speak from the spiritual heart, if we're going to get anywhere in these next very precious formative years.
Alex Ferrari 1:50
Yes, we are going through a difficult time right now as they're very much growing pains without question. So I have to ask, and I love asking people that come from the scientific background or in the science world? How did the spiritual side of you? How does the spiritual person get into the science? Or how does the science science person gets into spirituality? How did those two meet in your world?
Dr. Lisa Miller 2:16
So Alex I was, as a child, a very spiritual child, and I'm very grateful that my mother also is a profoundly spiritual person. So it was never smashed out of me. You know, every child is born with an innate capacity, this is who we are. And we know that through the lens of science, we know that as a fact, whether it's MRI studies, or twin studies, or long term health and wellness studies, we are spiritual beings, but we've let that lay fallow, and so many young kids, I mean, school is completely silent, on the forms of knowing that are essential to spiritual life, like intuition, like, mystical awareness, like, you know, that deep gut sense, if you say in school, you know, how do you do that on a test that came to me through my intuition, and minus four, right, but that is a valid form of human knowing that's a hard wired capacity, we all have it as a human form of knowing. So, you know, I think we've had a really lopsided culture, particularly, you know, in the 20th century, and we've all been coming out of this out of this ice age, this total Ice Age of Spiritual transcendent awareness of spiritual transcendent conversation, and the ones who've been starved the most are kids. And what we're seeing right now in the epidemic, the pandemic, of the diseases of despair, suicide, depression, and addiction in young adults, Gen Z, half of Gen Z, has a disease of despair as of now, the fall of 2022. So this is all the direct consequence of having silenced the spiritual voice and left their deep spiritual cord atrophy. We have done them wrong, but now we're turning the tide and we're going to do them right.
Alex Ferrari 4:03
Dr. Lisa Miller 4:06
Yes, my brother, brother in this mission. Purpose.
Alex Ferrari 4:10
I appreciate that. Well, let me ask you then, because I think, you know, even the term God has been demonized because it's, that's it's such a loaded word now because of the religious connotations to it. So, you know, people are more comfortable with the universe, a higher power source power, you're giving, it's all the same thing, but they're giving a different answer, because I hear when people say the word God, it automatically triggers them into thinking of religion. And then when they ask you a question, in your opinion, what is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Dr. Lisa Miller 4:44
So I can even give you something better than my opinion. Alex, I can give you a scientific fact on this blog, but I can do this peer reviewed, it is absolutely 100% Fact. Religion. If we We look at through the lens of science and in particular a twin study, we can determine the extent to which any human capacity or trade is inborn versus environmentally formed. Religion is 100%, the gift of our environment, our parents and grandparents, we may choose it and then immerse ourselves in religion to learn about it. It is 100% environmentally transmitted. Spirituality is innate. Every single one of us when we look through the lens of a twin study has an innate capacity for transcendent awareness is hardwired and we see it again in the circuits through the FMRI, looking at how the spiritual or awakened brain is engaged. So spirituality is our birthright, just like physical or emotional or cognitive with two eyes, two ears, and it knows we are spiritual beings. And if anyone, I could meet you for half a second, and I'm asked, am I a spiritual being? unequivocally, yes, you are born, the spiritual being, though it's your choice, the extent to which you cultivate that the extent to which you build the muscle. But the other thing I can say, as a fact, is that when we do strengthen our natural capacity for transcendent awareness, we are healthier, far less likely to fall to the diseases of despair. We have better relational ethics, we don't screw each other over, we see each other as sisters and brothers. And, you know, right now, at this moment of transition, we are more able to make innovative guided decisions, versus, you know, what am I going to do? I haven't seen this playbook before, oh, no, we're off script. You know, there's a capacity in us when we're spiritually aware, to know that we're loved and held, and that we're guided. That is not a belief that it's not from my religion, or your religion, or the next guy's religion, that is a deep capacity for perception with which turned out. And the problem in society that we are fixing right now in the center fixing that downside as well, is that in the 20th century, you know, it is not until I have bottomed out, lost my job, my spouse is estranged, that I can finally stand in the public square and say, I'm gonna hand it over to my higher power, I'm only allowed to talk about my higher power when my life has really been threadbare. But actually, we were born on day one, to be able to hand it over to our higher power, it is called the neuro seat for a transcendent relationship. And whether in my faith tradition, I call that transcendent relationship, God, Allah, Hashem, or outside of a faith, tradition, spirit, the universe, the force and into your life. We are all born to be in that transcendent relationship, fine, call it whatever in your heart is your name. But without it, we have an illusion, we have we have blinded ourselves into really a dark fantasy, that we are alone, that we're flat fracture, that we're splintered that all there is to us is our bio bodysuit, and our readonly political T shirts. That is such a shallow, radically materialist view of who we are. We're souls on our merge children, if you want to call God, we are so much more.
Alex Ferrari 8:18
But that's the ego speaking most of that, all that all the things you just recited at the very end there, when we're just the meatsuit. And we're just our, you know, our shirts, and all this, this is all ego that we're alone, you know, from my own personal journey, you know, I'm a recovering Catholic. And I was raised Catholic, most of my, you know, most of my childhood all the way up through college. And only when I kind of rejected it, and walked away from all spirituality pretty much, always still had a little bit of a taste in the back of my head of God. But it was never really strong only recently when I started to go back down the road. And I would say within the last 567 years when I started meditating, going deeper in going in with, you know, an understanding that I can connect directly to God, directly to the higher source myself without a middleman, or middle person. My life started to change, I became happier, I became less angry. And all these things that I was, my god road rage when I was growing up was insane, because of this anger I had and it was because I denied the spiritual side of myself. So I want to ask you, in your studies, how do you how do you what is spirituality do to the brain under an MRI or FMRI? And if you could explain what an FMRI is to people who don't know what it is,
Dr. Lisa Miller 9:47
I could pick up so you're very generous story you just told Alex and it's a story that I hear from many people on a spiritual path that when they were growing up whatever faith tradition they may have been from the message Enger relayed the meaning in a way that really rubbed them the wrong way. And it could have been at the messenger didn't walk the walk, or it could have been that the messenger was a little foiled a great deal foiled. But part of their journey on the spiritual path is truly said, oh, you know what, that was just one for you, human one naturally foible human. They're not the sum totality of the spiritual path or even the faith tradition from which they live. There was just one person that torchbearer not the fire, not the George, as I think that that's the journey that a lot of people make. And I have a deep respect for people who stay with it, to find their own direct relationship to the flame to the brightness of the torch. And when we do what we find through our MRI studies, and in particular, the type of MRI study this the movie cameras, or the the watches, live action, the flow of blood, the use of our brain circuits, as we have an experience shows us that whether we are spiritual and not religious, I feel spiritual in nature, or Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, whatever our faith tradition may be, we all use the same circuits where there's one spiritual brand. And we can all awaken our universal spiritual brain that we may tell it in different ways. It can be formulated through different language and symbols, but it's there for all of us. And what it does is lead us to perceive, we know we feel we see that we are loved and held we can hand it over to our higher power, meaning we are indeed, in our most despairing moment and in glorious moments loved and how we perceive that because we have engaged the bonding network just as we were held as children in our parents arms, we know that we are loved and held, guided it we move from the I've got to have it narrow, top down dorsal to the bottom of ventral attention network which opens up the world. And perhaps you can relate to times breaking out of the narrow tunnel vision of bowling alley, I've I've got to have it, the character nothing that golden carrot versus the world just became illuminated, has more pixels, loved and held guided. And we shift from feeling really cut off and splintered as so much of the discourse is promoted, you know, I am alone in my COVID apartment. I am nothing more than the formula of six demographic variables, you know, Splinter alone, that's the parietal putting in and out part hard boundaries to realize the oh, we're actually whitecaps on one ocean intervene and take that Hans terms we are emanations of one son loved and help guided and never allow it. So when are awakened brain is engaged, we see this it's not a belief, and it's certainly not borrowed is an authentic direct orientation to life.
Alex Ferrari 13:04
So you're saying that regardless if you have a religious, if it's religious, if it's a spiritual, innate and spirituality, or a outside kind of spirituality, any of those things trigger the same neural pathways in the brain because it's what works for the individual, as opposed to that one size fits all.
Dr. Lisa Miller 13:24
Well, the telling of the story has different words, whether I heard or source or the great unity of life or God talk to me, or spirit is in and through air, wind and Crow. It's still the deep seated transcendent perception that we share. And Ken Wilber put very beautifully that some traditions say it's a dialogue and we build a dialogue, I talked to God and in my heart feel and answer. Some say there's a oneness of one creation that felt sense of unity, with all life. And some say, our rich indigenous traditions that there's sanctity, God want to Nietzsche in and through wind, sun, train a crowd, no matter how we wrap our mind around it cognitively, that's actually downstream of the deep catch the deep, deep catch of the transcendent presence, that is our birthright to be in connection with this transcendent presence. And, you know, life looks entirely different. If we feel that we, if we know if we see that we're guided, then we stop trying to control life as if we were air traffic control, bringing it in when we want it. You know, that helps about 10% of the time, and it's a skill tactic strategy. But 90% of the time, life is dynamic. And we certainly saw that with COVID. Doesn't matter what my plans might be, or what institutions seem so stable. It just fell apart under my feet. There's something much deeper and right now this death of the illusion of control this crumbling of the edifice is that we really worship like the golden calf. They're not stable. They're not real. But what is, is this deep, loving, guiding presence who I call God, you can call everyone. But that is real. That is absolutely real. And when everything else that was made by humans, falls and burns, that's still there. So is that the lesson?
Alex Ferrari 15:23
It is an extremely powerful lesson. So what exactly is happening in the mind when you are connected to the spiritual source? Is there something different because I'm assuming you studied two minds, two different minds, one that was agnostic or an atheist, or maybe didn't have any of those beliefs, and one that did have a spiritual belief. And I'm assuming there's different variations from like a Tibetan monk who has been meditating for eight hours a day for 30 years, versus someone who is just really connected. I'm just curious what happened in the brain, what's happening in the brain.
Dr. Lisa Miller 15:54
And Alex, I think he raises his important point, what is the opposite of an awakened brain? What is the opposite of when we perceive that we're loved, held and guided and never alone? And it's not atheism? It's actually I call it Mighty Mouse. It's radical solipsism, where we think we are completely in control. notion of who we are. That is, you know, when my child, my oldest child turned three a number of years ago, and I made this big birthday party for most Thomas to train Thomas Billings and to Thomas cakes, because it was my first child and came and got a Thomas take home gift, of course, is the doorbell ringing, Ding Dong, I spent weeks on this, you know, hand scribed the invitations the whole bit. when the doorbell rings, I walk my oldest Isaiah to the door, and I said, Look, Isaiah, you planned a birthday party. I think that's what we think we have the view that somehow we've planned planned the birthday party, and radical selves is narrative that we're in the middle of the universe, and that, oh, I send it out. And I get it as my ego had wanted it. I mean, that's just Phelps ism at the level of energy. It's an illusion of radical control. And it's not atheism. It's, I call it you know, sobs ism. It's, it's really a very,
Alex Ferrari 17:16
Yeah, it's ego thinking that you have control everything. Isn't it funny, though, even. And since I've worked in the film industry, I've run into a couple of egos in my day. And it's so fascinating to see when you win. And I did too, you know, on my journey is when you feel like you control everything. And you have to control everything. When you only get angry when you do have, you're trying to control something you can't control. That's the core of anger in many ways. And when I finally let go, first of all, I was exhausted, it was just so nice to just let go. And just go, Okay, I don't have to do all the heavy lifting anymore. And then as you start going back into your life, and I'm sure this has happened to you as well, things that you plan never go as you planned, it always ends up in a better state than you originally planned.
Dr. Lisa Miller 18:05
And that's the key word Alex. Better!
Alex Ferrari 18:08
It always ends up better. Because, like I've said before, if you would have gotten everything you wanted, or planned for, you would have can you imagine as a teenager, if you got everything you wanted, you didn't know what the heck you wanted, let alone what it would do to you in the long term. And these are
Dr. Lisa Miller 18:24
I knew what I wanted. When I was 13. I looked at the women around me, I thought someday, someday. I mean, I never thought about being a professor at Columbia, I never thought of being a psychologist or scientist, someday, I will have a station wagon with a wood panel on the side and left hair and tree turns
Alex Ferrari 18:41
Obvious, obviously. Right!
Dr. Lisa Miller 18:43
So great, because when we want something, it's only based on the information from today, backwards is historically based, but live with information that we have yet to fully perceive as a high pixel hit, that is unfurled over time. So an awakened catch is opening a bright yellow door to a world that we don't know yet. And it is not what we want. It is better than when we live in a society right now.
Alex Ferrari 19:15
And it's but it's also it's also not what we only what we what is better for us, but it's also what we need. And sometimes that might not be exactly what we wanted. And it might not always be a positive or it could be positive or negative.
Dr. Lisa Miller 19:29
But it definitely can hurt.
Alex Ferrari 19:32
But looking but looking back as you know, as a seasoned you seasoned young man on this earth. I look back and you just go Oh, thank God I was fired from that job. Because that was a catalyst of this, this this and this. Thank God this happened or I would have met my wife thank God I didn't date that woman. Thank God I didn't go down this road and God I didn't get that job. Because at the moment all you I love that thing that you just said it's like all when you want On something is only based on what you want of information you currently have, in the past, not the information of a year from now, five years from now a month from now
Dr. Lisa Miller 20:09
But the universe God has all information. And so that red door he wanted so bad that is stuck and slammed. And that is an act of I would say Divine Presence. Because you have to make a U turn, you have to make a hairpin turn. And you find that yellow door.
Alex Ferrari 20:31
And I find that it's merciful, honestly, that the door the red doors is because of now we would just be bumping ourselves in my head of the destruction that we could do to ourselves. And we do so much already. Let alone if we actually had that ability to just whatever we want happen right away, because you just there's there's a bigger force around you. And I've just seen it to happen again. And again, and again. And again.
Dr. Lisa Miller 20:56
And it awakens us, you know, again, out of the solipsistic air traffic control Mighty Mouse frame, to wait a minute, and I can tell you out, Alex, in the MRI, this is what it sounds like, when we shift from the narrow achieving awareness, I've got a habit to an awakened awareness, it sounds like this. You know, I'm walking down the sidewalk, and I feel like such a loser. We've gone out for three years, I had a promise ring, I were gonna get married, I had drawn pictures of what our kids would look like. And we talked about where we'd live. And then the week of graduation, he called it off, I felt so ugly, I felt like such a loser. Then, you know, sitting in the childhood abused by my parents and grandparents, I felt this great love for my family. And I felt God's love. And I knew you know what I love again, or told outside of the faith tradition. You know, I really wanted that job and gotten through four rounds. You know, I was in the bad I did everything right. And research, the firm, I said everything they wanted to hear. And at the last minute, I didn't get it. And I thought I will never be in finance, like my dad or my mom, I will never go into business, I'm going to barely make a living, I'm such a loser, they must have thought I was so stupid, I did something wrong. But then I saw light in the leaves. And I realized, you know, I will be productive. I will be an entrepreneur, I will build something in the way that it was intended for me. And there's this total rearrangement of meaning. And it's a total 52 card pickup. And it's to a world that's brighter. It is loving it is held and it is guided. And it isn't what I wanted. But it is something more right for me. I mean, we don't know what it looks like yet, but we know it.
Alex Ferrari 22:52
If you would have told me eight years ago, that'd be podcasting. I first thought what was that what the hell is a podcast? Secondly, I wouldn't have believed you. This isn't saying that I'm here doing this interview with you speaking to people like yourself about these kind of topics. But how the universe guided me to this place. And this Moran during kind of way. Is is divine, honestly, just how I got to this place in in my life, not just for the show. But just in general. You look back and you start analyzing decisions that were made and opportunities that were presented to yourself. It's hard not to believe that there's something else guiding this process, because it doesn't make sense that these things happened in the first place. Like, why did I pick up this book that gave me an idea to have an online business, which then launched had me launch a podcast when nobody was really doing podcasts about filmmaking, which then led to this and this and this to the point where we're sitting here today, it's in the same journey,
Dr. Lisa Miller 23:54
You were prepared by life itself by how God and nothing is wasted, including the value of having as a child been raised Catholic, if, oh, I'm sure. What our data shows us is that whether or not an adult still claims to be Catholic, haven't been raised as a child and Catholicism gives a strong, if you will, we myelinated the tracks, we pave the highways to be able to perceive the transcendent relationship. And that is the Awakened brand from which all all deep understanding of our dialogue with life is found. So people are as Catholic do very, very well when they hold on to the transcendent relationship. And okay, you generously share it. Well. You're in film, you know how to produce something, you know how to engage something in beautiful voice. Nothing was wasted at all conspired into this moment.
Alex Ferrari 24:47
Oh, I mean, again, looking back and you start going back and you go, Okay, this all makes sense, but it's just so it seemed random at the moment, but it seems perfectly dis constructed along the way. It's like So everything I've gone to gone through, has prepared me for this moment. And what I'm doing right now. And if I wouldn't have been in the film industry and understand storytelling, understand production, understand graphic design, understand all these things, I wouldn't have been able to do this. And I wouldn't have been able to do that. And it's, you know, it's fascinating. It is a fascinating journey. And I think everyone should, you know, even if they're not in a place they want to be sit down for a second and look back at where they've been, and see how those turns have happened for themselves. And you'll see, you'll start to appreciate what's going on.
Dr. Lisa Miller 25:36
Yeah, as in the awakened brand, I share a practice about just this topic. And that synchronicity, events far too and probabilistic to have happened by chance, can really help us engage this deeper dialogue with God or spirit. Do you want to do the practice now? Sure, sure. Right, well, super, I'm gonna invite you to close your eyes, take five breaths, go into your inner space. And invite you to locate a time where you wanted something really badly. And you did everything right. You researched it? You got it down, you strategize, to lay it out tactically, and it was yours, that red door was yours. It could have been a job promotion, it could have been put on a job, it could have been an admission to a school, someone's saying yes, he or she is yours. And when you reach for the red door, it was stuck. And you couldn't believe it. Because you've done everything right 99% In the back. And at first you were stung, maybe angry, then kick the door, maybe in time depressed. But only because that rent door was jammed. Did you turn you may have turned 25 40 180 degrees. And over there was a wide open, yellow door. It was a bright, open yellow door. And on the other side was a landscape. It has everything to do with who you are and where you are today. And what I want to ask is when you look at that shut red door, the hairpin turn, that led to the wide open yellow door that has everything to do with who you are. Was there someone at that hairpin turn? I mean, did they tell you a story that they did you run into someone that you hadn't seen in eight years? Did your best friend tell you a story that she or he had never heard before? Was there some things someone showed you or showed up and said that pointed you to that yellow door? Was there a trail Angel. And as you sit way back and you look at that stuck red door, the hairpin turn the trailing Angel, and the wide open yellow door? How really are the most important parts of our lives found? Are we makers of our path? Or are we discoverers of our journey, and sitting way that kindly, has like really built in where in your road of life is your higher power, who I call God, you may call spirit, the force is gone in the stuck red door and the open yellow door who got on the trail angel is God and your ability to be in dialogue with the road of life. So people who say I don't know if I'm spiritual often will have had deep hairpin turns in their lives and realize that they actually have been engaged in an awakened way, with the force through life, who I call God.
Alex Ferrari 28:46
But we all we all have every every single human being has, and even from the aborigine in the middle of the Outback who've never seen a Human civilization has it in their way. And so do we, you know, it's, it's, it's there, whether you accept it or not, it's there, whether you acknowledge it or not, when you acknowledge it, and you start to understand it and start to dive into it, it becomes a lot easier. And when things start, I think things start to speed up, at least it has for me, the doors start those those yellow doors start opening up more and more, and you're in you start seeing less red doors, and more yellow doors, and you start going through Door to Door Door Door Door, and then you start, things start to flourish much faster. Because it's kind of like going upstream. You're walking upstream, it's tight, it's exhausting, but the stream is going to keep going regardless of how much you fight against it. Eventually you're gonna tire out you're gonna fall and then where's the stream going to take you? It was gonna take you anyway,
Dr. Lisa Miller 29:46
With the river
Alex Ferrari 29:48
Dr. Lisa Miller 29:50
You know, I think that most people I agree with you have had these experiences. But to honor it, elevate it and say, Hey, I'm going to prioritize eyes looking for yellow doors, I'm going to take synchronicity as a big tap on the shoulder, what is God telling me now? I'm going to use my meditation and my prayer to say what is being shown to me now. And I think as a society there, what is being shown to us, I think we kind of we were worshiping our institutions who are worshipping our bucks and our fame. And, you know, maybe there's something really powerful that we can all be in on in this creation of a much more open system view of who we are, we're in dialogue and a journey.
Alex Ferrari 30:32
Now, coming from a scientific standpoint, I'm imagining when you came out with these studies, how did your colleagues and quote unquote, mainstream, you know, neuroscience accept these these findings? Because, again, you're kind of pushing against the norm and pushing things a little bit outside the box that they're comfortable with?. What how will you accept that? How are these ideas accepted?
Dr. Lisa Miller 30:55
So as you there's a distinction here, between the real germ of the science, and I would say that over the past 20 plus years of my journey as a clinical scientist, the peer review process, that is what holds science Sure, has been exquisitely functional. So my lab and in time, fellow Labs had published articles that were pretty paradigm changing. And every bit of work, ours and fellow labs went through the peer review process through which science maintains the quality of all published articles, every scientific piece is reviewed by two or three scientists blind to the author's two or three times. So when we came out, for instance, in the late 90s, showing that a teen with a strong spiritual core is it 80%, decreased relative risk for addiction, using DSM criteria, drugs, alcohol, it fourth is less likely to take our lives completed suicide when we have a strong spirituality that shared that every team goes through a depression it is a developmental depression, through witches existentially found their spiritual awakening, these types of findings were so clear that when these articles went through peer review, they were put in leading journals, journals, like American Journal of Psychiatry Journal, the American Academy of terminals, so the scientific peer review process worked, and the Good Housekeeping Seal of science on the inherent integrity of the pieces worked, what was kerfuffles for people was that there was this sort of 20th century view that somehow spiritual life was, quote, unscientific. And some people would say, I'm a scientist, and I only take true that which can be shown by science, and other people in the 20th century 10 profoundly spiritual, and I don't care if science can show it or not, I know it in my heart to be true. Well, what we had started to do in the late 90s, past 20 years in the 2000s, is take the lens of science and sciences, only a lens and turn it to the question of the impact of spirituality in the human life, the origin of spirituality in the human life, the absolutely tidal wave, Game Changing findings. Were jaw dropping. And science had not seen, for instance, an 80% protective effect, a team who says, I turned to my higher power for guidance versus I don't know what you're talking about, as an entirely different adolescence. So if you know as parents, if there's one I've through adolescence, there's one thing I want for them, it's a strong, awakened brain. It's what every parent should want, I don't care where they go to college, I do care that they can be in dialogue with the universe with God, as we've been talking to him, I bet is all I care.
Alex Ferrari 34:02
It's fascinating. And also in your in some of your work, you talk about the effect of spirituality on mental health patients, which is we have a just had a pandemic, in mental health issues in the States, but also around the world. And if spirituality can help that, I'd love to hear your findings in that space.
Dr. Lisa Miller 34:28
We have a post industrial global culture, that isn't a pandemic of the diseases of despair, and it is true across every decade of life, but it is so acute in who we call Gen Z, that it is threatening to their well being. It is a national security crisis when one in five people can even be considered for the military. It I've spoken to employers in this work, it is very hard to train people because it hurts so much to simply fail. I'm failing. So, this is the work and Gen Z has so much, if you will, inner talent, Gen Z is exquisitely perceptive Gen Z is profoundly ethical, they chase after ethics. Gen Z is so capable and works together. But what is missing, that we didn't get them and I hope so much that in this next few years will be found, and I think it will by Gen Z themselves is that every single young adult through time has gone through developmental depression, a suffering, what is the point of all what is true? What is real? And through this real questioning, you know, wait a minute, what if nothing is real? What if the universe has no meaning? What if you know all the things that mom dad has to decrease your mom, Rabbi, You all taught me what if they're not true? That's a really empty, existentially painful, hollow place to be. But we all go through this and come out to our own form of awakening. But Gen Z is doing this right now, when there's a 52 card pick up around them, because all of society, all of us grownups are also in a collective developmental depression. Society is in the developmental depression through which we will get our next deeper spiritual awakening, but is concomitant for Gen Z with when they're doing this very personal work. And it is rough.
Alex Ferrari 36:29
It is, is it because of that generation, because I'm a Gen Xer. And, you know, we, I'm a bridge between the old and the new, that's the way our generation I feel, as you know, Gen X generation is is like, it understands pre internet understands post internet, we were the internet generation of the technology and all that stuff. You know, we were beaten, and spanked, and Life was tough. And we there was losers and winners in life. You know, not everyone got a, you know, a participation trophy, and all that kind of stuff. So we tend to take life a little bit differently than the generations behind us. Do you feel that that's, you know, I think our generation, we were like, oh, man, we were so beaten up mentally, emotionally, psychologically, by our environment, our parents and things like that, because they didn't know any better. That's how they were, they were raised, that we wanted to really coddle our, our kids in a way that now it is becoming a problem for them to even just deal with basic things like failure, like, you know, not winning or not a perceive of it, you know, getting what you want in life. And that life is I deserve this, this entitlement that they have, where, you know, my wife, and I look at each other, like, life will teach them, life is gonna figure that out for them along the way. But what's your what's your opinion of that?
Dr. Lisa Miller 37:54
So I was an early gen x one of the first. And I think that whether or not any particular family who happened to be religious in the air and water of our culture, there was a deep spirituality that included a sense of one country under God, I really think we were raised that way it was held in the pledge, it was held in our culture. So money is honored, there's a higher power, and we knew that it was wrong to take your life. And we knew that it was wrong in an ultimate moral sense, in the fabric of how real reality itself is constructed. It was wrong to take your life and it was wrong to take someone else's life. That is not the case. When we take away who I call God, the highest power, we are not beholden to anything our life is our so my little daughter runs up to me, Mommy, Mommy, look here. And sure enough on her phone, I can't take it anymore. It hurts this hurt for two months. I'm ending it I'm taking my life, and what to fight what follows. You go girl, it's your life, no one can tell you what to do. Okay, that is a culture, devoid of one country under God. That is a culture devoid of a deep, deep sense that each of us are sacred, and that we didn't make ourselves and our parents didn't make us and we were made by source by spirit by universe. And it is not ours to take. That's that's a point of view that is not in the current culture. And it goes hand in hand with the school shootings, a child a sacred child, and from that I don't happen to be Christian but through the lens of every child is a sacred little precious child, their baby, their sacred baby, you know, this, this idea that a child would be killed and that there'd be somehow some sort of aesthetic, dark culture around that. This is from a entire generation who are sensitive who are smart, who are capable If 99% would never dream of harming themselves or anyone else, but 1% What, and it wasn't the case 20 years ago. Why? Because we were raised with a deep capacity to myelinated the tracks, pave the highways, and hold on to our innate awakened awareness and know each other as emanations of God of source. We knew each other sacred. That's what's missing. It's not the helicopter parents is the helicopter parents didn't teach their kids to be in connection to God, or the higher power or whatever you want to call the transcendent, sacred source of life.
Alex Ferrari 40:39
I've said this before, as well as that, I feel that when you're closer to that power, you are happier, more content more, you feel safer, you feel that you're guided, the farther you are from it, you become more angry, more bitter, more vindictive, you know, more materialistic, all these things as you're farther away from source energy. And when we're born, we're all born connected to we're like fresh off the boat of source. And in those first seven years, as Dr. Bruce Lipton's talks about is, we are programmed, we're download downloading our environment and like you said perfectly, right is a religions are, are a environmental download into our systems because you know, you're not born, you don't come out going, gee, where's my first commandment First Communion, like, that's not a thing. You're taught that by your parents, as it was taught to them, it's traditional. So it's, I think that it's closer you get to a verse, a version, whatever that version might be, to source energy to God to the inner connective of that you are bigger than just yourself, life becomes happier, you become just more connected to everybody around you correct.
Dr. Lisa Miller 41:59
And everybody else is much more likeable. Because the very same Neurosci through which we are in relationship to our higher power, is the same Neurosci through which we feel love, towards one another love of neighbor. So when we awaken, and we use our awakened brain, everybody else looks a lot better because we see them more clearly.
Alex Ferrari 42:21
Well, let me ask you, so let's get into the heart science a little bit in regards to what happens in the in the brain, because I'm fascinated, I'm a neuroscience geek. So I love studying neuroscience and, and what happens in the brain. To my understanding, you know, we're we're wired with certain things that come in, like, as you're being downloaded throughout your life, there are certain habits that get wired into certain ideas that get wired in, and they become almost like a hard wiring along the way. And then it's as you get older, it becomes much more difficult to break that wiring, you know, to change the wiring. That's why it's hard to stop smoking or to you know, if you don't like the gym, to go to the gym, in these kinds of things, because you're hardwired a certain way. But you can rewire HIS Manual. With spirituality. Is there a place in the brain that there's a hard wiring that you just like, makes the I'm talking out of I don't know about neuroscience, so explained that to me,
Dr. Lisa Miller 43:19
Everyone is born with an innate spiritual brain, which we can awaken between. And there are growth spurts built in just as we shoot up and grow physically with 18 through 25. We grow spiritually. There's synaptogenesis, we grow spiritually. And we see this through longitudinal twin studies through an increase in the heritable contribution, which means from the inside out, there's a biological clock. So when I look at Gen Z, I think how wonderful because even though right now there's a struggle, half of Gen Z is struggling. They are in a growth spurt that allows that Gen Z is better at being able to drill down and ask these questions. Gen Z is better at being able to receive at the level of the heart, the high pixel pickup of a wow, that was a blast of love of last transcendence. Gen Z is in a growth spurt, because 18 through 25 is a time of high impact from the environment. Because we are so impressionable. The good news for Gen Z is that they're coming of age at a time. It has always been the young that led the civil rights movement, that red led the Arab Spring, you know, they're coming at age at a time where they can have an incredible impact on the spiritual formation in our society, right as they are forming spiritually. And when an extraordinary journey, what an extraordinary journey who wouldn't want to do that? It's hard and at times it's excess. You know, when our spiritual capacity boots up, it feels augmented capacity, like a half empty glass of spirituality but that it acts And then there's so much love and illumination that will go into that container. If we stay with it, so, Gen Z is having the ultimate experience if they say yes to it, is it Yes. And allow the developmental depression? What is life showing me now? What is my higher power asking me to see? What is the point of life? Hey, when I meditate when I pray, what comes synchronistically who just walked into my life when I on the outside so called when I asked the question on the so called inside of my mind. So they are discovers and scientists and spiritual seekers right at the point where we're having a total reshuffling of 52 card pickup. As a society, it's fantastic.
Alex Ferrari 45:48
So let me ask you this. What happens in our mind when we meditate versus prayer? Did you ever do studies like that?
Dr. Lisa Miller 45:56
Yeah, it's interesting. They're not the identical process. And I think that one of the things that we see in prayer is that there is a risk. Well, it depends how we meditate, right, because the term is used broadly. But very often, some forms of meditation ask that we allow thoughts to pass like a cloud. And that is a good practice to quiet our mind and to increase our attention. But it only brings us to the threshold of what we might then cross over into spiritual awareness, which is a receptive process, through which we receive an inspiration through which we suddenly simply know something to be true. And that's why the receptive consciousness practices. And you know, if you think of art for the past several 100 years, some of the best art was done, in and around at the time, religion, spiritual life, because there was a sense that it was through inspiration through the touch that we perceive and receive inspiration. When I started at Columbia, teaching spirituality and psychology. There had never been a class like that before it was 20 years ago, well worth 99. And at the time, we spoke about synchronicity, and we spoke about the deep guidance where the proof is in the pudding, everyone in the room, felt it to be true, that we hadn't published this, these 100 peer review articles and fellow apps hadn't done their work either. And everyone kept looking at the door, like somehow, the thought police were going to come busting in and we'd all be in trouble for having a foundationally spiritual view of reality. And now there's buckets of science that mirror that which we've known all along. And, you know, I don't think spiritual life needs proof, but I think it is very moving. When we see it in spiritual life, in our inner wisdom mirrored in empiricism, it's two lenses onto one reality
Alex Ferrari 48:03
It's so fascinating, because I've been, you know, anytime I have a quantum physicist on I, you know, that has a spiritual understanding of like, oh, no, they're the same quantum physics, and spirituality are now starting to come in closer now. Your work in neuroscience and spirituality Don't come closer. It just keeps reinforcing the idea that that science is catching up, to spirituality to, to things that we've been talking about in the Vedic texts, for, you know, for 5000 years, or 6000 years, it's fast enough, these concepts have been around for a long, long time. But science is starting to figure it out. And we're starting to I think science is starting to finally catch up to like, No, we can actually now prove some of this stuff. And your work is invaluable in the in the neuroscience space, where then you now can say that a spiritually inclination in your mind leads to this, this, this, this and this in your life, and we can prove it, and equivalently like it's there.
Dr. Lisa Miller 49:03
Well, I think when we can mirror deep inner experience, in the language, the through the lens of science, right, we can see multiple forms, who can use multiple forms of human knowing on to one deep phenomenon, right. And so what really then happens in our culture, is that we become validated in knowing in multiple ways at the table, the inner table of human knowing for all of us is the empiricist and the logician and so to the intuitive and the mystic, and the skeptic and all forms of human inquiry and perception and perception can work together. And when we do, engage multiple forms of knowing mystical awareness comes and then we discern over time, over the future, how that information unfolds, or we ask a nagging logical questions, you get an intuitive answer. When we engage multiple forms of knowing that way, we literally myelinated the tracks between regions of the brain, we pave the highways, and we have a better brand, we have a more innovative, more creative brain. And yes makes you better at your job and more outwardly successful, but more importantly, you engage them in life in a highly innovative and creative way. That comes from engaging all of our human capacities for perception and knowing. When science joins alongside spiritual awareness of the mystical or to the forum, we start to have a conversation that strengthens multiple forms of human knowing working together.
Alex Ferrari 50:44
And imagine that when you started that class and 99 versus, you know, people you talk to today, these concepts are much more accepted in society than they were even 23 years ago.
Dr. Lisa Miller 50:58
Oh, Ali, for sorry, 99. I said, Who here knows what synchronicity is? And maybe a third of the students who raised their hand, right. Whereas now everybody comes in speaking of synchronicity, and they want to be spiritually oriented. Teachers, coaches, healers, activists, you know, they're already on their path to spirituality, Mind Body Institute at Columbia, welcomes 50 students a year. They're all on a spiritual path. They come speaking of synchronicity, and they come from all over the world. They come from India and China and the Middle East, and Puget Sound in Maine and Colorado, they come from all over. And they're all connecting at what I call the universal innate spiritual core, through their different languages and traditions. It's beautiful. So they're spiritually multilingual.
Alex Ferrari 51:45
That's, it's amazing. I think the generation coming up behind us, I think they were just when they came in, they, they feel they feel programmed from the factory, to accept certain things a little bit differently than we were even the concepts of meditation and yoga and synchronicity and karma and these ideas, spiritual ideas, even simulation theory, and the illusion and all this kind of stuff. They seem to be more accepting of it and actually looking for this information. Versus for us, that was like, you know, we were sporadic. And we'd like it was a few of us that were like, you know, we gotta go find this stuff. And now it's like, everybody is this generation is really much more accepting. Understand, like, my kids, my kids look
Dr. Lisa Miller 52:32
They're bored by outdated.
Alex Ferrari 52:37
Right! Like, even my kids, they just don't even understand racism, like they don't get it. They like what it did. It just doesn't compute to them. It was so fascinating.
Dr. Lisa Miller 52:49
It's such a blessing. It's beautiful. That's true, man. You look at my children, it wouldn't what on earth? Like, you know, it seems archaic.
Alex Ferrari 52:56
It's, it's It's barbaric. They just, if you look at them, and like, what, like you don't, you're supposed to help people like, like, and it's like,
Dr. Lisa Miller 53:05
So our children were raised in a world where we're one they really were, I mean, my children have. Like, you're saying, you know, they have only been in a world where they date people of all races where their friends are of all races, they have never been in a tribal world. And so racism makes no sense to them. Why on earth are we in it?
Alex Ferrari 53:27
This makes no sense. It's It's fascinating to see. And I can only imagine, in the coming years, what's coming, because there is a great awakening happening there is, you know, I do even though we are going through some insane times right now, I feel that there is an awakening, more people are waking up, I could just see it by my own numbers of the show. There's a lot of people searching, a lot of people want to know this information. And now it's out there in a way that you don't have to go to, you know, a college class in Colombia, which is I would have loved to go by the way. But you can you can listen to shows like this, there's 1000s of books like yours out there that can open their minds and teach them in ways that even 20 years ago was just not except accessible.
Dr. Lisa Miller 54:10
Well in the awakened brain, I interviewed people who talk about their spiritual awakening and how in that process of finding really a deep connection to spirit to the force and and through us and starting to love and know each other's like rays from the sun, right? I'll sacred beans. They found their life's path. And then tire life whether they then became a devoted environmentalist or not. One of the people I interview is Tim Shriver, who spent decades supporting Special Olympics giving every person dignity and freedom. That spiritual awakening is oftentimes the microcosm for the rest of our lives. It is the high pixel hit through which over time unfurls our sacred Journey. So there's really nothing more important we can do than spend time exactly as you say, seeking, deep with our heart, knowing of our heart and knowing of our head, knowing of our soul working together, what is our spiritual path is that is, that's not just a better life, that is actually the only buoyant life in our era.
Alex Ferrari 55:23
Now, also, with your work, you've discovered a connection between spirituality and depression and addiction, which I found really interesting because there's so much addiction, especially in the West. And depression is another pandemic that we're dealing with. What are your What are your findings with spirituality, and addiction and depression.
Dr. Lisa Miller 55:46
So we know that two thirds of people in recovery from addiction, get there, through a spiritual awakening, and of those two thirds about half chip away at it and do hard work to get there. prayer and meditation and readings and, and about half of a spontaneous spiritual awakening. But if we know that two thirds of people recover through spiritual awakening, can't we get ahead of this? And it turns out that when you look at nationally representative samples in the United States, it is true that right at the window risk lifetime course of addiction often starts in adolescence, and in particular, late adolescence. So right at the trailhead, where we either have a lifetime of addiction or lifetime free of addiction, there is a 80% protective benefit of a strong spirituality. So a 19 year old who says, I turn to my higher power for guidance, when I'm having a really difficult time when someone's just broken my heart and he dumped me and I don't know what to do, I ask my higher power, am I worth worthy, we bring me more money, I turned to God for guidance, that deep transcendent relationship if it's there, instead of 11 beers. That moment that 1920 is a setup for the rest of our lives. It is developmental foothold is really the foundation for the rest of our lives. So if you want to predict against addiction, and I don't care what your genes are, we've shown this in children and opiate addicts. The best thing we can do for young adults is strengthened their deep transcendent capacity to be in relationship to, to spirit to life itself, and to know one another and AAA holds these two deep components in recovery, handing it over to the higher power and showing up for one another. So that we are all loved and held and guided relational spirituality. It's the same neuro seat that lets us love each other that lets us love our higher power and AAA strengthens that seat. So can't we get ahead of that. And we do that on the Columbia and Barnard campus we do awakened awareness. Yes, it's prevention against addiction and depression, but more foundational and doing awakened awareness on the college campus at Barnard at Columbia, it strengthens the natural capacity for awakened awareness for knowing that these young adults are heading into the window of risk.
Alex Ferrari 58:19
Now, I have to ask you, this is one of my fascinations in science right now is psychedelics that are being used in spirituality. And what is happening, because I've seen so many studies now of psychedelics being used in treatment of addiction, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and what it's doing there. I know that's not directly with what you do. But I'd love to hear your thoughts on I'm assuming you've, you've read about it or even had some experience.
Dr. Lisa Miller 58:47
Yeah, and yes, and half my students are exploring, and what I would say is, it's a trailhead, it's an opening, but it's not the end in and of itself, tend to be integrated with deep meditation and prayer, if you have a sense of a higher power is said to be integrated with service and right action and spiritual values. The juice A to coolala is said to be integrated, right? And what we see in our studies and one of my students, Tomas Fryman just did his dissertation on this is that when there is use of a psychedelic when there is also integration with prayer and meditation and right action and service, then we do really well but if there's not integration, then there can actually be over time. In auspicious outcome where everybody else is so unenlightened the ego can take control where you know, I used to love you but your lot is transcendent is man and ditching okay. If you're on a spiritual path and you've reached understanding that your partner doesn't have, you go back and you get them and help them along. That's not spiritual to dump that people who love you. So, you know, I think integration is important. everything that's important is that it is the transcendent relationship and an awakening. That is endogenous meaning that happens spontaneously or through prayer and spiritual practice. That awakening is in deeply felt relationship to God or the universe, whereas jumpstarting it is not always felt and cultivated as a relationship and it is the transcendent relationship to life itself, God and God's presence in you, my brother, my sister, so it is the relationship the higher power is not an awakening, it is a relationship. Very important point that comes over time in years, and whether it's dialogue or unit awareness, I can share with you a practice that I do at Columbia and Barnard with our awakened awareness program do you want to try it
Alex Ferrari 1:00:50
I absolutely love to.
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:00:52
This is I always think my teacher, this is a practice that was taught to me by the late Dr. Gary Weaver, I invite you to close your eyes, take five breaths, clear out your inner space. I invite you to set before you a table, in your inner chamber, this is your table. And to your table, you may invite anyone living or deceased, who truly has your best interest in mind. Anyone living or deceased, who truly has your best interest in mind. And with them all sitting there, ask them if they love you.
And now you may invite your Higher Self, the part of you that is so much more than what you have or don't have, what you've done or not done your true, eternal higher self. And ask you if you love you. And now finally, you may invite your higher power, however, you know, whatever you call your higher power. And ask them if they love me. And now with all of those people sitting there right now, what do they need to tell you now? What do you need to know? What do they need to share?
This is your birthright. No one can ever take this away from you. This is your natural awakened awareness. Your awakened brain
Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
That was beautiful. Thank you so much for that. Tell us about your book tell us about the awaken the awakened brain.
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:02:55
So the awakened brain is a summation of the science that shows we are naturally spiritual beings and what science says will change in our lives when we realize our native spirituality. In summation, what we've just shared is the hub of the wheel of the formation of the whole person. The Awakened brain is equally a set of practices that whether you are religious or not religious, can help you strengthen and awaken your own birthright. And finally, the third thing is the waking grant share stories of people who've walked the road, through darkness through the dark night of the soul, what we see as developmental depression, into awakening. And all of these pieces of the awakened brain, the journey, the practices that help us on our journey, and the science that mirrors our spiritual path and says, Not only is this real, it is essential to thriving in our world. And it is the one point approach with which we are hardwired all of us for this time now.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:01
I'm going to ask you a few questions. Ask them I guess. What is your definition of living a good life?
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:04:09
Hearing and answering the call
Alex Ferrari 1:04:15
What is your definition of God?
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:04:18
The great force of life in us through us and among us that is loving, generative and guiding
Alex Ferrari 1:04:28
And what is the ultimate purpose of life?
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:04:31
Alex Ferrari 1:04:33
And where can people find out more about you your work your book and everything you're doing?
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:04:38
Well, thank you the awakened brain and the ways that it's been shared with the US Army with higher education with businesses with people who are wonderful like you Alex. On Instagram. It's Dr. so Dr.LisaMiller. There's a lot of different ways in which the awakened brain has been brought in to our highly trained formation a moment now in society. And when we strengthen our awakened brain, we look at MRIs and we see a big, strong brain. We all can do that. This is everybody's.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:11
And do you have any final words for our audience?
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:05:15
Yeah, I love you and I want your life to go well. And there's a science that says there's a roadmap and it's built in your DNA, it's built on your soul. And I want you to have an amazing life the biggest most exciting sacred life possible.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:30
You are an angel, my dear, thank you so much for not only coming on the show, but for the work that you're doing. tirelessly, trying to awaken all of us and having a better life. So I appreciate you very, very much my dear, thank you so much.
Dr. Lisa Miller 1:05:43
Alex, you're a gem. You are creating the discussion right now. In the middle of society that is our way forward. Bless you.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:54
I've been able to partner with Mindvalley to present you guys FREE Masterclass is between 60 and 90 minutes, covering Mind Body Soul Relationships, and Conscious Entrepreneurship, taught by spiritual masters Yogi's spiritual thought leaders and best selling authors. Just head over to nextlevelsoul.com/free
Links and Resources
- Dr. Lisa Miller – Official Site
- Book: The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life
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