Before starting Medical School, I worked in the area of Cognitive Remediation for a facility in Texas. I was trained in administering various Neurocognitive Assessment tools to patients and how to schedule an individualized treatment protocol with cognitive remediation equipment. I had a number of resource tools at my disposal and modern devices to help clients address various cognition deficits and/ or sequelae from head injuries. That was when I became acquainted with the A620, a novel instrument for EEG biofeedback as a diagnostic and therapeutic device.
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, mounted with a conductive gel. The A620 device was able to monitor a general EEG signal spectrum through a series of captured snapshots. Filters were built in this device which could be set for particular “target frequencies”, that indicated a desired brain activity could be achieved. Once a “target signal was achieved, an audio tone confirms your achieved brainwave state. The snapshots of waveforms generated by your mental effort was recorded by the computer through a “moment-by-moment” analysis. When the patient was able to sustain focus for a given period of time, a score a reward tone and score was presented on the monitor. My clients were able to teach themselves to concentrate more effectively through a series of game exercises without using their hands. Just by “thinking” correctly (staying in a focused mode), the client could earn points and therefore “learn to optimize focus”. It was rather brilliant. I had clients that were failing in particular school subjects, improved considerably in their subject mastery by enhancing their attention skills.
At the start of each training session, probes were mounted to the client’s head, The initial graphic provided a broad spectrum display as seen above. Then a target frequency (e.g. Beta, concentration) would be isolated as the patient’s goal for reward points. We often tried to isolate for the beta wave frequency, (the indication for concentration activity), to help the client improve their focus and attention skills. As the patient spent more time focusing, the more audio reward tones would be generated and the higher the score.
What waveform show up when we pray?
One Friday evening after seeing my last client, I was preparing to close up the office. I began thinking about how brain activity changes under different conditions. I began to consider how prayer would be represented in brainwave patterns, knowing it would have to be quite different from other routine activities. My curiosity finally got the best of me. I decided to take this unique opportunity and find out for myself. I pulled up a chair and hooked myself up to the device while calibrating the machine for a broad-spectrum view. In order to isolate the brain activity for prayer, I determined that I would need to design 3 distinctly different activities to make the comparison.
1) 20 minutes of reading
2) 20 minutes of Math problems
3) 20 minutes of Prayer
I recognize that using myself as the only test subject would not be the correct way to run an experimental design. I would sacrifice statistically significant confidence and limit the validity by using myself as a 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 on the data I recorded from my experiment. 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) This demonstrated both concentration and distraction in the reading exercise. The Math phase seemed almost the same, except for alpha waveforms produced across the spectrum (math was 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 would likely be elevated. But what I found were 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 the office knowing I had some research to do on this discovery.
Meditating is like re-chewing
So, beta waves are generated under concentration conditions. Theta waves occur in meditative states or when experiencing a hypnotic trance. Could it be that prayer induces some form of hypnotic trance? I searched for some answers in the scriptures and found a verse that could explain this activity. “On thy law do I meditate (psalms)”. I explored the Hebrew meaning of this word “meditate”. It was a word related to cattle; the groans or low “moo” sounds the cow makes, like chanting to oneself. It was also related to the activity of a cow bringing up consumed foods, re-chewing its cud. I found this idea 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 after the weekend, I shared with one of the office therapist about my experiment. He shared something with me that I had not heard of before. He told me that it was discovered in psychology research that patients who were in a state of theta often broke into tears and began to share past hurts and traumas they have experienced in life. He shared that a patient who was in a meditative state (theta) was often more vulnerable to their pain. Somehow the theta range helped patients to drop their defenses, which to allow for repressed memories to surface into conscience. As a matter of effective practice, some therapists actually were seeking some ways to help their patients get into a more meditative mindset in order to shorten the duration of required therapy sessions, as it seemed to help break through their defenses more effectively.
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.