How Spirituality, Mindfulness, Psychedelics, & Religion Alter Your Brain & Performance w/ Neuroscience Researcher Mark Robert Waldman
Today, we are joined by author, neuroscientific researcher, therapist, and the world’s leading expert on spirituality and the brain, Mark Robert Waldman. Mark is faculty at Loyola Marymount University and author of 13 books, including Words Can Change Your Brain and How God Changes Your Brain, the latter of which was nominated as a “must read” by Oprah Winfrey. He’s also just published a new book on January 31st, called Neurowisdom.
Mark’s body of work is a formidable cornucopia of knowledge on the brain, and how we can influence it’s development and behavior with something as simple as thoughts and beliefs. But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another episode where I go off into energies and woo-woo… Mark is a very respected researcher in the field of neuroscience, having had his work published in peer-reviewed journals worldwide, and publications ranging from Time Magazine to Forbes and The New York Times.
In this episode, we talk about… god, neuroscience, psychedelics, spirituality, yawning, communications, guided meditations.
In this episode, we discuss:
- What is the fastest way to wake up your entire brain? (surprising and quite interesting)
- How did Mark Robert Waldman get into neuroscience?
- How do meditation, prayer, and God influence your brain? Is it positive or negative?
- What are the health and cognitive benefits of having a spiritual practice?
- How can you immediately “turn off” your ability to feel anxious?
- What is “practical neuroscience,” and how can it improve your life?
- What is spirituality? How do we define it?
- A real-time mindfulness exercise for focusing the mind and understanding spirituality
- Where does mindfulness and spirituality actual reside inside the brain?
- Is it worth developing a spiritual practice, even if you don't believe in “God,” for the health benefits?
- How did Mark Robert Waldman go from being an ordained minister to a researcher and university lecturer
- What did Mark learn from reviewing over 300 books on neuroscience?
- What does Mark say about psychedelics? Would he recommend them to his own children?
- What happened when Mark Robert Waldman “overdosed” on DMT, an extremely potent hallucinogen?
- How can you practically take advantage of the neuroscience, even if you don't believe in God?
- An interesting discussion of communication skills, and how they align your brain with other peoples'
- How can a simple meditation and contemplative practice improve sales, productivity, and performance?
- How much meditation do you actually need to do to see the benefits?
- 10 easy micro assignments for you to do over the next week
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Why God Won't Go Away by Andrew Newberg
- Books by Mark Robert Waldman & Andrew Newberg:
Favorite Quotes from Mark Robert Waldman:
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For that onto today's episode. You guys, today, we are joined by author, neuroscientific receipt, researcher, therapist, and the world's leading expert on spirituality and the brain, Mr. Mark Robert Waldman.
Mark is actually faculty at Loyola Marymount University. Whoa, I can't speak today. And he's author of 13 books including Words Can Change Your Brain and How God Changes Your Brain, the latter of which was actually nominated as a “must-read” by no other than Oprah Winfrey.
You guys, he's also just published a new book, came out January 31st called Neurowisdom. You guys, Mark's body of work is really just a formidable cornucopia of knowledge on the brain. He shares this super learning passion that I do. And just devours knowledge, which he'll tell you guys all about in this interview.
And he really talks to us about how we can influence the brain's development and behavior with something as simple as thoughts and beliefs and simple priming exercises. Completely fascinating. But don't worry guys, this isn't going to be another episode. Where I go off into energies and spiritual woowoo because Mark is actually a very respected researcher in the field of neuroscience.
And he's had his work published in peer-reviewed journals, worldwide and publications ranging from Time Magazine to Forbes in the New York Times. So although we are going to talk about the S&M words as he calls it, spirituality and meditation, we actually get very serious. And I think you're going to take away some really powerful neuroscientific knowledge today.
Uh, we talk about God, we talk about Neuroscience. We talk about psychedelics, spirituality. We talk about yawning and we even go into a little bit about communications, authentic communication, and guided meditations. Yes, you will do a couple of guided meditations. Please do not close your eyes and meditate if you are driving.
But otherwise, it would be really, really cool if you guys practice the stuff that we do in this episode, I think you're going to love it. So now, without any further ado, guys, let me present to you, Mr. Mark Robert Waldman.
Mr. Mark Robert Waldman. Welcome to the show, my friend. How are you doing today?
Mark Robert Waldman: I am doing great. Thank you so much for having me on.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. Lots of energy. I'm really excited. It's just about nine o'clock here. So I'm excited that you're going to bring a boost of energy. It'll hopefully wake me up and then maybe I'll go out and be social after.
Mark. Thank you so much for making the time. I'm really, really excited. You know, I geek out a lot on neuroscience. It's one of my passions and interests, and I'm very fortunate to have turned some form of neuroscience, which is memory and mnemonic training into my day job. So I'm really looking forward to it.
Mark Robert Waldman: So, you know, you mentioned, you'd say maybe this, uh, interview will wake you up a little bit. Would you like to know the fastest way to wake up your entire brain?
Jonathan Levi: I would, I have a guess, but I would like to know what it is.
Mark Robert Waldman: Go ahead and guess I know you've read my work.
Jonathan Levi: White light, I would say white light.
Mark Robert Waldman: Oh no, absolutely not. That probably falls right into the category of pseudoscience. As a matter of fact, some of them, you know, the whole spectrum light research that was going on, that we needed that when you lived in a Northern States is now turning out that it's messing up different parts of the circadian rhythms in your brain.
Jonathan Levi: Right? Exactly.
Mark Robert Waldman: No, it is yawning.
Jonathan Levi: Oh, interesting. That'll actually wake you up.
Mark Robert Waldman: Yeah. I mean, everybody thinks that a yawning is something that you do when you're tired, but that is why brain wants to yawn is because you are tired. That's why students in the early morning class are you because they stayed up all night and that's the brain's mechanism for becoming more alert, more focused.
That's why every single mammal and bird, what do they do when they wake up in the morning? They do basically three things. They yawn and they do a really slow yawn. You know, this, the kind of go, you know, birds will open up their beaks really wide hippopotamuses will show you their entire dental arrangements.
And, uh, what happens is that when we are tired or when we've been concentrating for too long, and we're starting to feel a little bit of work burnout, The brain starts to misfire in lots of ways. It becomes more active because you kind of need to have just two little tiny areas above your eyeballs for when you're focused on listening to a sentence that I'm saying, or writing something down, or performing a particular task.
So if you do a really slow, mindful yawn and do one with me right now.
Jonathan Levi: Oh yeah. I can't help it.
Mark Robert Waldman: A little yawning stimulates. You can even get your dogs and birds too young when you do it too because it actually creates a form of empathy between you and other mammals and birds. Now have a brain that's considered more mammalian than it was reptilian.
Jonathan Levi: Wow.
Mark Robert Waldman: So if you do about three or four of these yawns, you'll begin to feel more alert. You'll be more relaxed. And in that brief period of relaxation, that's what allows the neurochemicals involved in focusing and concentration to, uh, get reintegrated into your brain. So you can do better work for the next five or 10 minutes.
So we insist to all of our executive MBA students. And I use that in my neuro coaching. When I'm working with people with personal problems, you're going to start out doing a bunch of mindful yawning. In other words, you yawn and you actually focus on being aware of how each single yawn shifts your consciousness a little bit.
Shifts your awareness shifts your mood, and everyone becomes more and more and more relaxed, more focused, less stressed out. And sometimes the person will start to yawn for 20 or 30 minutes and they can't stop. And that's great because that's simply an example of how much stress that pain was carrying around.
They even create high yawning and low yawning red to experiment with, uh, drug tests because yawning is another thing to bring will do when you were being overly medicated. Interesting.
Jonathan Levi: I've yawned like six times since you've said that it really is contagious. I just can't stop.
Mark Robert Waldman: You feel more alert?
Jonathan Levi: To actually. I do actually feel more alert. Mark, I have to ask, how did you get into neuroscience? Cause you're clearly kind of a Renaissance man and you're interested in business and neuroscience and spirituality. So how did your career trajectory kind of go?
Mark Robert Waldman: Opportunism actually, I would say. I was working on the book. I was a developmental editor for about 10 years with Jeremy Tarcher, Tarcher Putnam.
And he had a requirement for me now for those most people don't know what the Tarcher imprint means in New York, but this was the company that first started to do books on new consciousness, uh, awareness, spirituality in the brain, the famous book on writing from the left side of your brain, creative writing. The women's manifesto books were all published by Jeremy Tarcher.
And Jeremy wanted me to do a specific book of putting out the most radical, controversial, religious, and spiritual perspectives that were out there. Like a Reverend Spong who over in New Jersey this is back in the 1990s. He was the first Episcopalian church to begin to ordain lesbian women as priests. So in putting together that anthology, I come across a book by Andy Newburg called why God won't go away.
And Andy was the first person to do brain scan studies of both nuns and Buddhists doing different forms of contempt with their prayer. And he discovered that the neural mechanisms. We're exactly the same. And these Buddhists who were focusing on pure consciousness and the nuns who were basically reflecting on passages from the Bible and wanting to feel closer and a deeper connection to Jesus.
So we began to see that contemplative, spiritual practice, no matter where they are today, taking place around the world, no matter what the theology is, has a particular neurological fingerprint, shall we say? And it stimulates the social awareness parts of the brain. It stimulates the empathy centers in the brain.
It actually creates more. It lowers stress. It helps a person literally live longer and it actually changes the genetic expression of many immune-enhancing genes throughout the body. So I read Andy's book and I wanted to take an excerpt from that book, but I couldn't do it. You see, normally I don't want to contact the author because I'm going to excerpt parts of their book and put it into an anthology that may have a very different perspective than what the author wanted.
Instead, I would just say, you know, set a few hundred dollars over to the publisher, but I couldn't do that with Andy's work. It was just one of the things that was like a sentence here and a sentence paragraph there. So I sent them an email and I said, Andy, I really like your work.
Nobody else has really published anything at that particular time. His research ended up on the cover of Newsweek back in 2000 and I wanted to take parts of the book, parts of his academic research paper, parts of some of the other things he had written elsewhere and weave it together into the original piece.
And he said, well, sure do that. And then I found out something amazing. I found out then Andy can't write, he had hired a ghostwriter to turn all of this very sophisticated, you know, neuro-scientific, I mean, if you, you know, you go to pub med and you open up a neuroscientific review, half the times, Andy can't even tell me what he meant in a paragraph that's he's written, you know, I think my favorite part of the brain that I love is called the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, because nobody can repeat that.
So I told Andy, I would be happy to be his, uh, editor and help him with his next book, but it turned out that the book that we created was the title was Born To Believe. I ended up doing half of the research for that particular book because I didn't know anything about neuroscience at all. I had created an academic literature review journal in the field of transpersonal psychology, but that's a totally different field.
I had to give myself a crash course in this. So I literally lived on pub med.gov for many months. Reading and reviewing probably 3000 abstracts and articles per week, and eventually, put everything together. But still, I didn't know if what I was saying. Made any sense? So Andy had to confirm everything. So I had to create, put in notes in for everything.
So for example, one of the things that I had said to Andy was one of our conversations. His research showed that when you engage in these contemplative relaxation processes, we know that when you get emotionally upset, for example, it shuts down your frontal lobe. So the re responsible for logical decision-making.
So you lose your balance, you get emotionally angry and upset and whatever else. And this shuts down your frontal lobe capacity to make a reasonable decision. Well, I said to Andy, guess what the same thing occurs, the more you think the more you focus with the front part of your brain, the more you have optimistic thoughts, for example, this shuts down the negative emotional centers in deeper parts of your brain.
He said, no, it doesn't do that. I said, well here, let me send you these 35 studies that say otherwise. And he looked at it and he said, Oh my God. You're right. So in that book, we published a very important piece of scientific discovery that had immediate practical relevance. The more you turn up the emotional centers in your brain, the more you turn off your ability to be observant, logical, rational, or reasonable and vice versa.
So it was like you could create a Seesaw and let's say you're feeling a whole bunch of anxiety. Well, count backwards. From a hundred by seven, that requires such a particular type of abstract cognitive activity. That it turns off your ability to feel anxious or angry or sad or depressed. And so we began to reverse engineer, many of these findings to create what I like to call practical neuroscience.
What can we discover about the human brain that we can actually change its structure and function in ways that improve our life? That's how Andy and I got together and we've done five books together so far, and we're about to create a new proposal. Hopefully, it'll go through on sex, God, and the brain.
Jonathan Levi: Oh, interesting.
Okay. So I want to backtrack almost to the beginning of what you said and take it piece by piece. I guess the first question is you talked about spirituality and belief in God or a higher power. Irrespective of which one it is as giving immune benefits as calming. I mean, is this to say that actually having some spiritual belief and I know this is going to be controversial, but having some spiritual belief actually makes you happier, healthier, more intelligent, more grounded, more emotionally stable?
I mean then a neuroscientific level?
Mark Robert Waldman: Before I answer that question. Let me ask you a question. How do you define spirituality?
Jonathan Levi: Hmm. Well, that's funny. I was going to ask you the same thing. I would say it's believing in something beyond what we see in our day-to-day reality. So believing, you know, whether you believe in, and by the way, I think science can be a form of spirituality, right?
If you're a theoretical physicist. There's almost a level of spirituality and the way that you pursue, literally looking at the face of God, right? Quantum the grand unified theory, if you will. But I believe it's believing in something that is far beyond what we see and that there's a certain mysticism or mystery to our existence on this planet.
Mark Robert Waldman: Now I'm going to teach you and everyone who is listening a particular strategy. I want you to say everything you just said. In 10 words or less because that's all the human brain can remember.
Jonathan Levi: Okay. So spirituality is believing in a higher power or greater force.
Mark Robert Waldman: Question in 10 words or less. And I'm counting those words on my fingers.
What is a higher power?
Jonathan Levi: Hmm. An unseen force that influences events.
Mark Robert Waldman: Is that inside of you or outside of you?
Jonathan Levi: Both.
Mark Robert Waldman: Now let's do another experiment. I'm going to show you how to access the intuitive centers in your brain, which is part of what we've identified as the spirituality circuits. Okay. So close your eyes for a moment and give me a yawn and a stretch.
Just listen to the sound of this bell. I don't know how clearly it will come through.
And drop yourself down into the deepest sense of relaxation that you can, and let's assume for the moment. That there is more than one inner voice in your head. And we know from neuroscience that there's a number of levels of inner speech. There's negative, critical voices that are actually chattering in your right prefrontal cortex.
And there were positive, optimistic voices chattering away in your left prefrontal cortex. But there's another voice that almost doesn't have words. And it's this observational awareness. And I want you to imagine that there's this deep inner voice, almost like an inner Sage and inner voice of wisdom.
And I want you to contemplate, I actually want you to meditate on this simple sentence. What is spirituality and pay attention to what your intuition says? And all of you listening can do this at home as well. Close your eyes. Relax. Go deeply inside of yourself and just ask that intuitional voice, it's like a whisper.
What is spirituality? What's the first thing that comes to your mind?
Jonathan Levi: I would say. So I've recently gone through a lot of really profound experiences of just realizing how much is unknown. By contrast to what I used to think. Everything was logical and scientific and evolution. So the first thing that comes to mind for me is unknown.
Mark Robert Waldman: So take a moment and I want you to savor that word unknown. It's like immerse yourself in the feeling sense of that word. Unknown. I'm actually teaching you a meditation practice called mindfulness. Can we do this with all of our executive MBA students as well, immerse yourself in that sense of an unknown.
And tell me the very next thing that pops into your mind. Intuitively.
Jonathan Levi: Acceptance.
Mark Robert Waldman: Now take a moment and immerse yourself in all of the physical and emotional senses of acceptance, feel your body, your mind, your whole inner universe with a sense of acceptance. And everyone else can do that too. You can all focus in on the word of acceptance, immerse yourself in it, live it, flow through you and tell me how it makes you feel?
Jonathan Levi: Easy.
Mark Robert Waldman: That is what we are calling a spiritual state of awareness. And because the word spirituality is such a buzzword in many communities and means something different in every culture. We now just use the word mindfulness. What happens if I deeply relax and allow myself to tap into these intuitive whispers.
And we now know where they come from. They come from an area that's situated about halfway between your conscious thinking and decision-making circuits and the emotional circuits in your brain. And from this point of self-observation, it's like you begin to watch all of the positive and negative thoughts.
You have all the positive and negative emotions and that's you sit there and you watch it. They're constantly changing. It's constantly flowing through you. And this turns out to be the underlying principle in all contemplative spiritual practices. You simply become aware. Of the different thoughts, feelings, and sensations relating to any topic you want to explore.
And so this becomes the fastest, easiest way to teach anybody how to get in touch with their own inner spirituality. And so what I would say if you do this experience and you write down three, four or five words, And even ask yourself this question, what is my deepest innermost value? What is my deepest innermost value?
What's the first word that pops into your mind?
Jonathan Levi: Love.
Mark Robert Waldman: And I'll ask you again for another deep inner value.
Jonathan Levi: Kindness.
Mark Robert Waldman: So now we have acceptance, love, kindness. If you do this in a room, filled with hundreds of people who are Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Jews and Atheists, they will all come up with a set of values that everyone will look up and say to each other.
Yeah, I can agree with that. That is a virtue. Those value is a definition of your own inner spirituality. So we guide people into through these inner values exercises in our executive MBA program in businesses and organizations to whole classrooms of freshmen at Universities, for example. And when you anchor yourself in any of those inner value words, you'll feel the stress drain away from you.
And for the next hour of work, you'll be more productive. That's tapping into your own spirituality without having to define it in any field logical way. And so you can take any contemplative meditation from any spiritual tradition, strip it of its theology. Put it into a different spiritual or religious tradition.
And we'll see in our brain scans the same neurological circuit. And it's one that touches into your values, your values as part of the ethical system of your brain. And ethics is the way in which you decide, what is the right and wrong way to act or behave in relation to the other people in the world.
That is our definition of spirituality, your deepest, innermost values that give your life meaning and purpose.
Jonathan Levi: So in a sense, no matter how agnostic a person is, it's essential you're saying from a neuroscientist perspective worthwhile to develop, even if it's simply a mindfulness practice, some level of spiritual belief system.
Mark Robert Waldman: Correct, but we just don't have to use the S&M words, spirituality, and meditation.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah, the SNM words.
Mark Robert Waldman: I, for example, had a mystical experience many years ago where I looked up and looked out the window and suddenly everything came alive. The trees, the asphalt driveway, the posts, the mess on the floor, and the all just seemed perfect.
And I went, Oh my God. That's what all those Hindus and Buddhists have been talking about. And it put me into such a state of inner peace that I've never, ever forgotten that moment. And it's guided my life for all of these many years. And the were the thing for me was I came to the realization that when I die, that's it.
There's no heaven. No hell, no God. And they went, Oh, I mean, I was an ordained minister at that particular time. What do I do now?
Jonathan Levi: Wow. I didn't catch that anywhere in your bio. Tell me about the journey from there to here?
Mark Robert Waldman: Which part?
Jonathan Levi: Being an ordained minister. And now, I mean, so we haven't gotten to it yet, but now teaching in a business school specifically around communication and neuroscience, that sounds like a really interesting quarter made or two-thirds life crisis.
Mark Robert Waldman: Yes. That was a transformational experience. I was part of a group as you know, in the, or as you may not know, because I am a 65. So I go all the way back when I graduated college, I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with basically a degree in Psychedelics because that's what everyone took.
I was going to ask, you know, on different weekends. So all of us, we were into exploring every form of alternative consciousness and how could you get there? And so I read an awful lot in that particular area, but I also went through a semi psychoanalytic and semi-spiritual organization, where we became licensed as ministers to do consulting with other individuals.
There were some pretty bad people in that organization. And when I have this particular mystical experience, I had begun to do some genuine good psychoanalytic supervisory work with a man named Bruno Bettelheim. And then. Since he was 82 and we knew he was going to die soon. I had my second mystical experience and it just came to me in the following way.
The thought came to me. Oh, here I'm practicing as a psychoanalyst and a ministerial counselor. And I don't know the first thing about psychology or religion or spirituality. So in our last book that I wrote with Andy Newberg called how enlightenment changes your brain, we explore these mini aha experiences and the big old wow experiences.
And I basically went. Like this, I went, Oh, wow. I've made this incredible discovery followed by, Oh shit. I don't know anything about what I'm doing. And that set me on an obsessive-compulsive reading binge, where I got up to reading 300 books a year and reviewing them in the transpersonal review. And I began to realize, wow.
There's over 500 schools of psychology, 50 different theoretical perspectives. How am I ever going to figure out which one's right for me? How am I going to solve my own messed-up personality? Cause I was just a highly anxious individual. And that was where I had the idea. Well, I guess I'm just going to have to trust my intuition.
And that was the first time I moved from being helpless and dependent upon other people telling me what was wrong with me and how the fix me to starting to trust my own intuition. Why neuroscience became so important to me is that starting in 2008, which was quite recently, and these experiences you understand, happened to me in 1989, we now know that.
Intuition is a specific neural circuit that you can arbitrarily tap into to solve problems more rapidly. That's what the brain science shows. So I find that brain science, even though it's highly speculative at this time still offers us a few. Key facts about the nature of human awareness, human consciousness.
And what I've always wanted to do is say, well, let's use that. Let's teach a person. How can you get into that intuitive state? How can you right. Empower yourself to find an answer. You listen to all that information and we do, and what I'm doing, neuro coaching, for example, the same thing I asked the client to, into the bell, to yawn, to stretch, to relax, to go into this deep state of mindfulness.
And awareness. And I ask them to say, here's how they're thinking about their problem. What does your intuition say? And the intuition comes through like a different voice. And some people consider that voice, the voice of God, other people just consider it like an inner teacher or a Sage. And from a neuroscientific perspective, it's a factual experiential.
Way in which the brain processes information and solves problems and its own creative way. And it's just outside of the language centers of the brain. Wow.
Jonathan Levi: I'm curious to ask because we've talked a lot about psychedelics on the show and their potential for, I don't want to use now the S or the M-word, but for mindfulness and for presence and for all these incredibly powerful things after the two experiences that you had. You know, having a degree in psychedelics as you so wonderful, and also doing the neuroscientific work, what's your opinion. And, you know, say if you had kids today who were considering experimenting, what would you say to them about psychedelics.
Mark Robert Waldman: I would say it's the most incredible journey to take and the most dangerous journey to take.
I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but if you are going to do it by all means, do it with somebody who is very experienced because you're very vulnerable. When we look at brain scans, studies of people on the psychedelic. We come back to that original statement I made in the beginning of this interview when you are asleep and when you are dreaming, your brain is far more active than when you wake up and you're focused on doing task A, task B, and task C. When you take a psychedelic, it opens up all those parts of the brain that are normally inactive when you're awake. So you're in your dream state and your awake state and in your meditative state. And you can enter areas that are just purely psychotic. Here's the problem with psychedelics.
If you do have an underlying personality disorder, it can make it blossom completely. And you don't come back. I kind of made it. Uh, practice. I thought I wanted to try out a different psychedelic once every five years because it usually takes me about a year to process a single event. But I did OD shall we say on DMT, a number of years ago, I had been given one form that was very pleasant and euphoric, and you know, it's a psychedelic experience.
It only lasts for five to 15 +minutes+. I didn't know, there was a different kind. And so I went to a shaman and he gave me this other type, which is kind of more like a, a psychedelic version of speed. And I decided to be brave. And, you know, you felt the bags with the smoke, and whereas I'd maybe, you know, had maybe taken in maybe a quarter of a bag at other times in my life, I inhaled three of these bags.
Jonathan Levi: Oh God.
Mark Robert Waldman: It was an amazing experience. I traveled back through history. I became every day animal and I was roaring and yelling and growling and kind of like going, Whoa, like a wild cowboy Bronco. And I was surrounded by many of my friends who were there for support. And I said, well, I want to be a great neuroscientist.
I want to make a great neuroscientific discovery. What will that be? And absolutely nothing came to me. And then I asked, well, is there really a God? You know, because again, remember that first experience turned me from being an agnostic into an atheist. I'm going well. Okay. Is that really true? I mean, there's no way for science to prove or disprove the existence of God.
And I ask, is there a God. And again, in this full-blown psychedelic experience, the answer was Nope. God is whatever you need to create it for. If you create a negative version of God, it's very neurologically destructive. If you maintain a totally optimistic view of God, all of our research shows that's very neurologically and psychologically enhancing.
And the coolest thing is, is that we've done interviews of thousands of people. And it turns out that nearly everyone has a totally different definition of God. You can walk into a fundamentalist church and ask the two ministers, give me a definition of a God. And by the time they answer, they'll look at each other and go, “You crazy? That's not in the Bible”.
Jonathan Levi: Well, so let me ask this because my goal with the show and our logo in the show is skills and strategies to overcome the impossible, but we can't in good faith tell the audience, Hey, it would really benefit you start believing in God. So if you don't already. So how can someone practically take advantage of what the research shows is it as simple as meditating doing these meditative activities and believing that they connect you to kind of other forces in the universe? Is that enough, I guess?
Mark Robert Waldman: Here's what we write about. Here's what we teach, whether I, you know, because I am oftentimes invited to many different denominations to teach these a wide range of spiritual practices.
And I like to introduce people do spiritual practices from all the world's religions. One, if you go into a deep, relaxed state, you can ask your intuition to tap into your entire belief system about God, the universe, the nature of everything. And if you listen to your intuition, and pay attention to all the different thoughts and feelings that move through it.
Your luminescence be deepening that spirituality circuit in your brain. If God has great meaning and purpose to you by all means, have a conversation with God. If you're an agnostic and you don't know whether that's an outside force coming through you or an inside force being generated by your neurons.
It doesn't really matter. The brain could care less about most facts. The brain basically wants to achieve its goal. And so if you're on a spiritual path, ask yourself, why are you on that path? And most people say, I want more peace. I want to feel more connected to myself and others. I want to have a sense that my nature continues forever, for example, but if like me, you have an experience.
Suddenly there's no heaven, no hell, no God. And I asked myself, okay, what is the value of being an atheist? What came to me in that intuitive state was I had to live each moment of my life as fully as possible. I can't put off until an afterlife. So for me, If there was a God, I'd probably have more questions and not sure which way to turn, but for those people who have a deep sense that God is real, then by all means have a dialogue with God in that deeply relaxed, intuitive state, and nine times out of 10, the information that you get will enhance your life.
And if you don't have a spiritual belief, just focus again on what are your deepest and your most values. What's the deepest value I have for relationships or communication. Then if you immerse yourself in that value word, you will stimulate the same spirituality circuit and you'll live your life by your highest deepest values.
And that's what all world's religions teach us.
Jonathan Levi: Incredible. I want to also talk to you Mark about communication because I understand, you as I said, at the beginning of the interview, teaches at Loyola Marymount Business School. Yeah, I think it's so fascinating that we have a neuroscientific researcher actually inside classrooms, not only teaching the mindfulness stuff but connecting all of it to how we communicate.
So talk to me a little bit about to call it the title of your book, How Words Can Change Your Brain.
Mark Robert Waldman: In that book. And this also grew out of our meditation research that I was doing with the transpersonal psychology organization back in the 1990s, because a lot of psychologists and therapists also had spiritual practices.
And the question was this if you sat down and you went into a deep state of meditation while you're facing another person and simply let that intuitive spiritual part of you, speak a few sentences and let the other person deeply listen to that and respond. We found that in about 10 minutes, a profound state of intimacy emerged.
When you talk to people using this compassionate communication strategy. So we had originally created this to help couples in conflict. So two people come into your office, you have them relax, you have them focus on their deepest inner values. You share those values. You have them speak to each other from those values.
And this eliminates the psychological ability to go into defensiveness then with the brain scan research that came up, we began to find out to see exactly how this interrupts the neurological circuits of distrust fear, anxiety. So we were using psychology in neuroscience to say here's a very quick way to enter a state of relaxed awareness, another word for mindfulness.
And if you stay in that state, you can help a couple through a divorce while they remain true to their deepest values, which often include kindness and compassion, and peacefulness, for example. So it ended up that I started to teach all of these programs to divorce mediation groups and what we found if we brought these same communication strategies.
Okay, deeply relaxed. Maintain a soft eye contact with a person, recall a deep pleasant memory that causes a half-smile on your face. The neuroscience shows that when you see somebody with that half-smile, you'll neurologically trust them. Even if they're a sociopath, so sociopath's know how to, you know, manipulate that you watch Bernie Madoff and he had that soft, sweet smile all the way to prison.
And so we teach our executive MBA students how to communicate in this way to take a few minutes before going into an important meeting, for example, Focus in on what's my deepest innermost value for this meeting. Make sure I'm mentally relaxed. Do a few yawns, do a few stretches, focus on a deep inner value, focus on a pleasant memory.
So I get that beautiful smile on my face. Walk a little more slower in that room. And we demonstrate to all of our students with each other that they can now, if they stay in the state solve any business or personal problem. In about five or 10 minutes when it usually it takes two or three hours in any other type of situation, we found why I was hired to be part of every year class.
And everyone takes this class. And their very first day is that if you even just spent 60 seconds, once, each morning, thinking about what your deepest value should be to anchor yourself to for the rest of the day. In 90% of our students' stress levels went down, work productivity went up. When we went to go publish this in an academic journal, psychological journal, they were suspicious because nobody gets results that are that high.
It's usually 35 or 40%, which is slightly above CBO. So instead we had it published in the journal of executive education that became the most popular downloaded article in the 10-year history of that journal. And we now go around the world, teaching corporations, how to do this mindfulness-based meditative communication practice.
It only takes up 45 minutes of training to do this sales go up. I mean, one of the American Express executives, they were divided into two groups. Half of them were given a compassion and forgiveness meditation to do for a weekend at the end of the year. Their sales were almost double to the people who were not in that contemplative class in that mindfulness class, knowing these very powerful, simple meditation strategy. So they all came out of these spiritual traditions, which Andy Newberg and I were one of the world's leading teams on that. And Richie Davidson and others are the other world's leading teams on that. They're looking at mindfulness.
We just look at all the different spiritual practices. And we also know that there are fast ways to really, you know, we're back to the psychedelic question. Yes, well, if you begin to deepen your breathing and you'd take a particular word or phrase or sound like LA LA, LA LA, or even going Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.
You add maybe a little rhythm to it. A little beat, a little bit of ritual body movement. You'll enter these altered States of consciousness where your frontal lobes turn off your sense of self immediately disappear. And this is as close that you can get to a psychedelic state. Then if you come back out of that state, go back into the contempt of the state and just ask your intuition.
What insight did I gain from that experience? The individual almost always come up with a profound, new realization that they can immediately apply to their lives. Right? So that's what we do. We teach people how to have instant mini enlightenment experiences.
Jonathan Levi: Right. And it makes really perfect sense.
Right? I mean, if I had to translate that and explain that to someone who is completely cynical, I think it'd be very easy. I would say you're bringing yourself into the present moment, bringing awareness into the present moment. And then obviously when you sit down to communicate to another human being, you're not in the negative interaction that you had.
In the taxi on the way here, you're not in where you're going to be for lunch in two hours. And you're also nodding your head in your own insecurities. You're just super connected to that other person in the present moment. So of course you would communicate better. Of course, I mean, the neurochemistry part is almost the cherry on top that, you know, your brain functions in this way, but it's just also.
So, imminently understandable that if your awareness is in that interaction and you're focused on the other human being.
Mark Robert Waldman: And the most important thing that we discovered was that you don't have to do long-term meditations of 20, 30, 40 minutes, just 60 seconds of contemplative awareness. Once every hour is enough to create the kind of brain changes that we see if you do this for, you know, and like I said, a few minutes a day after normally we bring people back in after eight weeks and we'll see the same type of empathy develop, self-love develop, confidence increasing so we can measure them psychologically. And we can see the same neurological fingerprint taking place.
So, even just making a commitment to do one mindful breath each day, this is what Mang who you know, is one of the founders of Google created in their program.
Just make a commitment to do one mindful breath or one super slow stretch. Just watch that breath. Give your full attention to that breathing. That's enough to organize your brain. For the next 10, 20, 30, 40 minutes. And you'll do better work.
Jonathan Levi: Yeah. So I was going to ask you for a homework assignment for the audience, but it sounds that that is a very specific and very good one.
Mark Robert Waldman: So here's 10 of them make a commitment to do just one mindful breath a day. As you breathe in, just notice how the air flows in through your nose, the cool air as you breathe out, notice the warm air. Put your hand on your chest and belly. And as you breathe in, feel how it rises and as you breathe out, feel how it decreases. One mindful breath.
Then in super slow motion, take a full 60 seconds to slowly roll your head or twist your torso. And just immerse yourself in all the tiny, subtle sensations you have. That's all you need to get rid of physiological stress. And, but you have to go super slow for your brain to recognize where those tiny little places of tension are.
Then take a moment and ask yourself, what is your deepest value that you want to bring into your next hour of work or into your next dialogue with another person? And just spend 60 seconds savoring that word for yours. It was acceptance and kindness, for mine. It's peace and connection. Take a moment and think of one thing that you feel grateful for, today.
A moment right now, just visualize something that you feel grateful for. Maybe it's a person, maybe it's a situation you've been in. No, this is how that makes you feel or take one minute to simply think about all of the accomplishments you've had in the last day. In the last week. That's all it takes to train a pessimistic worrisome mind and turn it into an optimistic, satisfied mind.
Jonathan Levi: I love it. Mark, that's a fantastic note to end on. So I just want to give you an opportunity before we close out the show and finish our time here to tell the audience where they can learn about your Neurowisdom programs, check out your books, and learn more about you.
Mark Robert Waldman: Go to MarkRobertWaldman.com. And if you want to experience a personal neuro coaching session with me, you'll find a place there. If you want to check out our new book that is called Neurowisdom: The New Brain Science Of Money, Happiness, And Success. That includes all of the strategies that I've been sharing with you here. This is part of our textbook that we use in our executive MBA program.
You'll also find out about the neuro coach training and certification program, we've just created. And you'll find a bunch of very wonderful, simple audio programs. So we'll help train your mind in mindfulness, in positivity and have fun with it. And feel free to send me any questions that you have.
Jonathan Levi: Incredible. Mark Robert Waldman, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. It both energized me and calmed me down and put me in a more grounded place. So I really do appreciate it. And I know our audience is going to love the episode.
Mark Robert Waldman: Has been a great deal of fun.
Jonathan Levi: Awesome. You take care.
Mark Robert Waldman: You too. Bye-bye.
Jonathan Levi: All right, SuperFriends, that's it for this week's episode. We hope you really, really enjoyed it and learn a ton of applicable stuff that can help you go out there and overcome the impossible. If so, please do us a favor and leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher or however you found this podcast.
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Closing: Thanks for tuning in to the Becoming SuperHuman Podcast. For more great skills and strategies, or for links to any of the resources mentioned in this episode, visit www.becomingasuperhuman.com/podcast. We'll see you next time.