It was before starting Medical School. I was working in the area of Cognitive Remediation for a facility in Texas. I trained on administering various Neurocognitive Assessment tools and the use of cognitive remediation equipment. I used a number of available tasks and devices to help clients address various cognition deficits and/ or sequelae from head injuries. That was when I learned about the A620, a novel instrument for EEG biofeedback for analysis and therapy.
A620 EEG BIOFEEDBACK
In order to move on to my discussion, let us just say that this device made it possible for clients to improve in their mental aptitude and skills by reflecting on their own brain activity, prompted by audio cues generated by the device which was connected to a pc computer. I would hook up the client to the computer program by two leads, a ground wire on the ear and probe wire on a particular area at the top of the head by a conductive gel. This allows the device to monitor a general EEG signal spectrum. The operator then sets up the device to filter for a particular frequency,. The device then provides an audio sound or feeds the computer a “moment-by-moment” reward score for an “attention” game or “reward” graphic. Now clients could play a simple computer game without using their hands. Just by “thinking” correctly, the client could earn points and therefore “learn to optimize focus”. It was rather brilliant. I had clients that were failing in subjects at their school that was able to begin making the high grade as clients improved their attention skills.
After setting up the machine, and mounting the probes to the client’s head, one can bring up a spectrum display as seen above. It is through the initial set-up that one can choose a target frequency (e.g. Beta, concentration) for reward points. When the device is set to filter beta, the brainwaves for concentration, as the client concentrates, the computer beeps and gives reward points; the higher the score, the greater the percentage of time spent concentrating.
What waveform show up when we pray?
One Friday evening after seeing my last client, I was about to close up the office. Then I began to think about how brain activity changes under different conditions. I began to think about prayer and how it was much different from other routine daily activities. My, curiosity had me in a corner. The more I wondered, the more curious I became. I decided to take this unique opportunity and find out for myself. After hooking myself up to the device and after calibrating the machine for a broad-spectrum view, I determined that I would have 3 goal activity conditions.
1) 20 minutes of reading
2) 20 minutes of Math problems
3) 20 minutes of Prayer
This was not the correct way to run an experimental design and the validity would be lacking since I was the only control. Nevertheless, if I had just a chance to just “peek in the box” of what happens when we pray, how could I just pass this chance up? Well, after a disruption-free hour, and completing each phase I ran the analysis. The reading phase revealed what I expected. There was some artifact but the strongest activity was around the beta level, mixed with Alpha (typical for ADHD). The Math phase seemed almost the same, but with much more alpha across the spectrum (always a hard subject for me to focus on). But as for the Prayer phase, what I discovered was far more than I expected. I had thought that prayer was mostly about concentrating, and therefore the beta wave was going to be the highest activity mixed with alpha waves. But No. What I found was two distinct patterns occurring at the same time, with minimal artifact. They were cleaner than the waveforms observed in the other conditions. But equally astonishing was the fact that these separate waves (Theta and Beta), were triple the amplitude of the other conditions! I felt a chill up my spine. What could this mean? I cleaned up the setting and left for home. I had some research to do.
Meditating is like re-chewing
So, beta waves are generated under concentration conditions. Theta waves occur in meditative states or when experiencing one hypnotic trance. Was I inducing some form of trance when I prayed? I went to the scriptures and found a verse. “On thy law do I meditate (psalms)”. I explored the Hebrew meaning of this word “meditate”. It was a word to related to cattle, ; the groans or low “moo” sounds the cow makes, like chanting to oneself;, and also related to the activity of a cow bringing up consumed foods, re-chewing its cud. That was fascinating! Bringing up something again, recalling, and remembering while concentrating.
Prayer is Unique
The release of Hurts and Relationships
When I returned to the office, I shared with one therapist about my experiment. He shared something with me that I was unaware. He told me that patients who were in a state of theta often broke into tears and relate the pains and traumas they have experienced years prior. He shared that theta allows for repressed memories to surface into our conscious mind. It was so well founded, that some therapists were trying to get their patients in a state of theta in order to shorten the duration of therapy, as it seemed to help break through their defenses.
Then it came to my mind something I had read in the bible.
“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift..”(Matt 5:23,24)
Instrumentally, prayer is not only recalling the “experience of God”, but it likely permits bitterness, hurts and pains to surface into our conscious mind. If such burdens are then addressed, it would surely bring more peace. It is almost as if prayer invites a sort of a mobile psychotherapist into the mental office, ready to provide counsel. There is a verse for that as well.
Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But the man of understanding will draw it out (Prov 20:5)”
Designed to Pray
Now I still had one more matter, which required attention. Granted, two perfect wave signatures from theta and beta is incredible, but why would these waveforms occur at three times the amplitude? Aligned with the scientific approach, one has to admit the possibility that I was “practiced at prayer”. Yes, I learned to pray at an early age and grew up in a conservative, Christian home. But if I may speculate, I believe that this was not the full explanation. I believe the reason why prayer spiked in this magnitude of power is that “we are designed to pray”. Just like comparing a paper towel tube to a brass trumpet for producing music. Both items can produce sounds, but only the trumpet is designed for the music I intended to produce with the clean, pleasing song desired. If we are designed to pray, then we are tuned for it; we were made for it. After all, Jesus himself, the second Adam and model of our humanity considered prayer as a vital part of living. So, it is an activity for us not to neglect.
“In this manner therefore pray..(Matt 6:9)”.
Prayer is a personal activity, and I believe there are particular neurological pathways involved. As we are spiritual beings housed in imperfect physiology, I believe the soft and hard wiring can overlap in some pathological conditions. But as a vehicle or channel of Gods revelation, we have a choice to either align with our God through our imperfections in discovering more about him or stand on the sidelines and disregard our spiritual self and avoid the experience of even knowing God. However, as the fish cannot describe the watery environment separately from where it resides, one cannot describe the activity of God without first having faith that God does exist and is involved in our earnest discovery of Him.
I hope you have found this study useful and helpful in your spiritual journey.