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The Marriage of Science, Spirituality, and Recovery

Left on Science, Right on Spirituality, Recovery is just ahead. 

Like the invisible boundary between states, science and spirituality often live side by side in the great divide. But is it conceivable that science and spirituality share an intertwined existence, or at the very least exist in a mutually supportive space?

Recovery from alcoholism and addiction teaches open-mindedness. With this open mind, one can begin to fathom the unfathomable…imagine the unimaginable. This is as simple or as difficult as imagining a life without drugs and alcohol, a life that is abundantly full – overflowing with joy and grace and endless possibility. 

The crux is how to discover and nourish self-awareness, compassion, and open-mindedness in one’s self. Scientists once believed the brain was fully developed by early childhood. Further research now indicates the brain maintains a certain level of plasticity – neuroplasticity – for the duration of one’s lifespan. In short, this is the brain’s ability to adjust and reorganize. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to regenerate old, or most impressively form new, neural pathways based on changing environments and external conditions – i.e. new lifestyles and new behaviors.

Chade-Meng Tan, employee number 107 at Google and an engineer by trade, developed a curriculum for the personnel at Google. This curriculum explored the relationship between emotional intelligence and mindfulness meditative techniques. Meng went on to leave his post as a Google engineer to become a full-time teacher at Google University – teaching his newfound curriculum titled “Search Inside Yourself” to not only Google employees, but also to world leaders, well-respected meditators and researchers, celebrities, and business folk around the globe (Search Inside Yourself , Chade-Meng Tan) 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to observe emotions and feelings emoting from one’s self and others, and to use that information to influence future thought and action (Salovey and Mayer). Likewise, mindfulness is ”paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally (Jon Kabat-Zinn). One basis of Meng’s teachings is that through emotional intelligence and mindfulness, an individual can emote new energy, discard old behaviors into the wasteland, and learn new behaviors paralleling the present journey. 

And here is the intersection of science, spirituality, and 12-step recovery. Through emotional intelligence and mindfulness one can begin to utilize the brain’s plasticity to mold a life of recovery. The fundamental principles of 12-step recovery teach, among other things, the need to be selfless, to be considerate of others, to be correct past wrongs and any future wrongs we may incur. Sound impossible? Well here is the good news: the discussion above leads to one imperative conclusion. The brain is moldable and trainable. Emotional competencies like self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and empathy are not skills one is born with, but rather skills one acquires through practice. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence allows an individual to objectively observe thought and behavior and make a conscious effort to take right action. Through consistent practice over a long period of time the brain’s neural pathways recover and renew until a new version, the best version, of the once ill-fated self has been created.  

Brett Tiberio
Vice President