There's little or no evidence of God or the supernatural. But there's increasing evidence that meditating and being mindful of the here and now can have positive effects.
So my feeling is, why not start (and, likely, end) our spiritual journey by focusing on what we know exists, physical reality. Which, of course, includes the physical brain.
The brain's activity results in what is called "mind." Mind then can influence the rest of physical reality, including the body integrated with the brain, along with the brain itself.
Nothing mystical here. Nothing airy-fairy. Nothing beyond the bounds of common sense.
It's only if we make a wild jump into believing that the mind, or soul, is something non-physical, yet somehow is able to influence physical stuff, that incredulity is justified. Matter affecting other matter: entirely believable.
My Tai Chi instructor has spoken about how Tibetan Buddhists are able to almost totally undress in very cold temperatures, wrap a wet sheet around themselves (which seemingly should quickly freeze), and then dry the sheet by raising their body temperature.
Science Daily reports, "Mind Over Matter? Core Body Temperature Controlled by the Brain."
A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Maria Kozhevnikov from the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences showed, for the first time, that it is possible for core body temperature to be controlled by the brain. The scientists found that core body temperature increases can be achieved using certain meditation techniques (g-tummo) which could help in boosting immunity to fight infectious diseases or immunodeficiency.
...The researchers collected data during the unique ceremony in Tibet, where nuns were able to raise their core body temperature and dry up wet sheets wrapped around their bodies in the cold Himalayan weather (-25 degree Celsius) while meditating. Using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings and temperature measures, the team observed increases in core body temperature up to 38.3 degree Celsius. A second study was conducted with Western participants who used a breathing technique of the g-tummo meditative practice and they were also able to increase their core body temperature, within limits.
I think my wife needs some g-tummo training. I'll be sitting around, watching TV in a t-shirt, while Laurel is wrapped in a blanket saying "It's freezing in here. Did you turn the heat down?"
I'd like to believe that my seemingly warmer core temperature is a result of more than 40 years of daily meditation. However, more likely it's a matter of genetics, body type, and basic physiology.
Coincidentally, assuming anything is a coincidence, this morning I was reading in my new favorite book (check out my Amazon review by clicking that link) "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi," about how intention is a central aspect of Tai Chi practice.
This fits with what the Science Daily story says about the Tibetan meditators.
The two aspects of g-tummo meditation that lead to temperature increases are "vase breath" and concentrative visualisation. "Vase breath" is a specific breathing technique which causes thermogenesis, which is a process of heat production. The other technique, concentrative visualisation, involves focusing on a mental imagery of flames along the spinal cord in order to prevent heat losses. Both techniques work in conjunction leading to elevated temperatures up to the moderate fever zone.
Again, I don't see visualization, intention, or mental imagery as reflecting any sort of other-worldly powers. One aspect of our material being is influencing another aspect. Peter Wayne, the author of the Tai Chi book, writes:
In sharp contrast to conventional biomedicine where the active ingredient (for example, ibuprofen) is believed to do nearly all the work, in Tai Chi, intention and belief are considered highly active and specific ingredients.
In fact, Tai Chi classics emphasize that all embodied movement begins with belief, thought, or intention. The mind (yi, intention) leads the Qi, and the Qi moves the body.
...Our research supports the Tai Chi principle that what you think and believe affects your physiology and how you feel. As asthma patients believe they are breathing in ragweed (but actually, it is just saline mist), the majority have an asthma attack, and if they believe they are breathing in a rescue medication (again saline mist), they quickly recover.
So instead of praying to God, we can pray to ourselves. Much better chance of having the desired effect. The mind/brain is a marvelous being. Most marvelous of all, it is us!