Brain Based Spirituality

I took a class in college, and again in Grad school that talked about brain based learning.  Now my witty father would say, “Isn’t all learning brain based?” Yes all learning involves the brain! But the idea of brain based learning is that you take what has been learned in the field of neurology and you keep those things in mind as you teach, so that you can help students have maximum retention. Now I want to state for the record that I am not a neurologist, or even an expert in brain based learning. But I find the field fascinating!

 Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Revised 2nd Edition
says, “One of the most amazing discoveries in brain research might be that human beings have the capacity and the choice to be able to change our own brains.  Because humans have so much uncommitted brain tissue at birth, our brains have an extraordinary opportunity to become customized by our life experiences.  Put another way when you are born the human brain has a great deal of uncommitted “real estate.” Throughout life, your brain is losing connections at the same time it is creating new connections.  What’s truly amazing is that this constant reorganization of the brain is always purposeful—driven not by a mysterious signal but by real-life use and disuse.”

That must be why algebra is totally gone for me. My brain has definitely let go of those connections!

Jensen goes on to say, “The competition concept is simple: whatever is first, whatever activities are more frequent, and whatever actions are more coherent will “win” the competition for network wiring and signal the brain to give space and resources to that set of behaviors.  Weak, rarely active synapses are eliminated.  Everything the child doesn’t do sends a message to the brain, “You may not need these connections; it’s okay to pull back on resources in this area.  Something more important is going on elsewhere.”

When I learned that piece of information I started thinking about my own boys. Knowing that humans have the capacity to change their own brains, and that whatever is most frequent will win space, I started wondering what was winning space in their lives. Right now Jake and the Neverland Pirates would be a big one for both of my children, but they also love stories and music and sports. All of those things are great, even Jake, and worthy of mental real estate. Yet I began to realize that, as a parent, I had an opportunity to buy up some of that uncommitted real estate with topics I think will be important in their lives. I want values, and the messages of our faith community to be imbedded in their minds. I want the spiritual world to have meaning for them.

The greater the number of links and associations that our brain creates, the more neural territories involved and the more firmly the information is woven neurologically.

Think of the power of that! That’s what I want for my children. I want the spiritual side of life to be so connected in my boys’ minds that it is literally woven into their brains. I want those thoughts to be the first thing that pops into their minds when they are making behavior and life choices. And because we know that humans have the ability to map out their own brain, we can buy up some “real estate” for God.

I believe that is exactly what a regular family devotion provides. Time together to open the door to communication with your children, share your beliefs with them and allow them to share theirs with you. To build those associations and connections to the story of God. That dialog is such a gift, and I’m guessing your experience will be much like mine.  I started this journey because I wanted more for my children, but what I have found is that my own spiritual life has been deeply blessed by the process.

So tell me, how does your family build those connections? What are you doing that’s working? What areas would you like to do better? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear all about your experience!


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3 thoughts on “Brain Based Spirituality

  1. I don’t have children, but I do have teenagers 🙂 They aren’t really mine- I didn’t give birth to them or adopt them, they are my youth group. Each Sunday in our Sunday school class, even if we don’t have time to get to anything else we ask three questions:
    1. What was a good thing that happened to you this week? Or, the best thing that happened to you this week?
    2. What was a bad thing that happened to you this week?
    3. Where did you see God this week?

    By practicing this each week (it is actually an ancient prayer practice based on the the Prayer of Examen- but they don’t have to know that!), we learn to appreciate the good things in our lives that come from God. We see the patterns in the bad that can help us make changes, and we care for one another in the process. We realize that God isn’t outside everything else in our lives, but is an intricate part of all that we are.

    • Thanks so much Sunny! I’m so glad to hear a youth minister’s perspective. We practice Prayer of Examen in our home as well! Look for more info on how to do this in the weeks to come!

  2. Pingback: Multiple Intelligences |

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