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Healing the Hardware of the Soul: Enhance Your Brain to Improve Your Work, Love, and Spiritual Life [Paperback]

Daniel Amen

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Review

Barry Sears, M.D. author of The Zone Amen continues to be one of the most innovative researchers of the mind. He is one of the few scientists willing to cross the frontier between neurology and religion to describe the soul in terms of cutting-edge science. I strongly recommend this book to anyone searching to build a better life.

Thomas M. Brod, M.D. Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology; Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA Dr. Amen links his new observations of brain effects to real problems many people suffer, and then offers solid practical advice about what to do about them. Applying his discoveries, many of my patients have experienced "miracles" of sustained relief from misery they thought would be theirs for life.

Emmett Miller, M.D. author of Deep Healing and the web site www.DrMiller.com Healing the Hardware of the Soul takes science a brave and much-needed step forward, bringing mind, body, and soul together in a most fascinating way. It will prove as enlightening for health professionals and religious/spiritual teachers as for anyone who desires deep self-knowledge.

Timmen Cermak, M.D. author of A Time to Heal: The Road to Recovery for Adult Children of Alcoholics Dr. Amen takes another bold step toward a unified understanding of the human brain and all of our human experience. Since all consciousness funnels through the brain, we must accept that the health of our personality can never outstrip the health of our brain. Consequently, our spiritual maturity also rests upon optimal functioning of the brain.

Diane E. Hough, M.S. Counseling Professionals Northwest, Mercer Island, Washington Dr. Amen's work brings science to character traits once considered to be moral or psychological flaws and opens up a door of opportunity to optimize the strength of the human spirit. His book allows people to create behavior changes worthy of trust, leading to healthier relationships by integrating physiology, psychology, and spirituality.

About the Author

Daniel G. Amen, M.D., is a clinical neuroscientist, a psychiatrist, and the medical director of The Amen Clinics in California. The author of a number of books, he is the country's foremost pioneer in applying brain-imaging science to clinical practice. Dr. Amen lives in Newport Beach, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: The Brain Is the Soul's Fragile Dwelling Place

The Feedback Loop Between the Brain and the Soul Offers New Answers

The brain is the violin and the soul is the violinist. They both need to work together in order to make beautiful music.

-- FATHER CHARLES ARA, CATHOLIC PRIEST

Josey experienced a living hell. Not as a far-off place where people burn for unforgiven sins, but in her everyday life. Josey suffered from panic disorder, the most common psychiatric disorder in the United States. It began in her early twenties. She worried constantly, saw the future as negative and frightening, and endured many anxiety attacks. The attacks, which came on suddenly, were associated with crushing chest pain, her heart pounding hard against her chest wall; she also had trouble catching her breath, and she felt that something terrible was about to happen. The attacks made her hide from the world. They came in waves, eight to ten in a month, and then months with none at all. They were unpredictable. Her life started to revolve around the fear of attacks. She dropped out of college after her sophomore year, stopped driving, stopped seeing her boyfriend, and worked at home doing transcription so that she would not have to go out unaccompanied. She did not seek help for years for fear of being labeled crazy.

Josey prayed to God for deliverance from the anxiety attacks. As a child she had felt close to God and prayed every night before bed. Like many young adults, she had drifted away from her prayers but had still believed in a loving, present God, as her parents had taught her. When the attacks first occurred, she prayed many times a day that God would take this curse from her. Over time, as the anxiety attacks persisted, she prayed less and finally stopped. She became angry at God, and wondered why He was punishing her with the attacks. On several occasions the attacks were so bad that she contemplated suicide. When her parents heard about her suicidal ideas, they forced her to see me because I had helped her cousin with similar problems.

The day I met Josey I thought this young woman was in hell -- years of torture and torment from her anxiety disorder and disconnection from her friends, her work, her future, and even her God. Many theologians believe that hell is disconnection from God. The illness had caused Josey to lose herself, her relationship with God, and nearly her life.

As part of Josey's evaluation, I ordered a brain SPECT study -- an amazing test that examines how the brain works. Josey's scan showed a number of "hot spots," overactive areas, in the part of the brain that generates fear and anxiety. Seeing the physiological problem in her brain for herself was the first step in the healing process that would unfold over the next several months. Rather than thinking that she had a moral, character, or personality problem, she now accepted the fact that she had a medical illness needing treatment. The treatment involved medication, prayer and meditation, and targeted mental exercises. Over time, she successfully rebuilt her life. She was able to travel unaccompanied to work; she fell in love, married, had children, and made peace with God. Josey's brain, the hardware of her soul, all that she was inside, had been ill, a fact that caused everything else in her life to suffer. Helping her brain allowed her to once again have access to her soul, her real self, and even her God.

Josey's SPECT Study

The white color indicates the areas of greatest brain activity. A healthy scan shows white in the back of the brain only (cerebellum). Josey's brain shows white or hot areas in the emotional and anxiety centers of her brain.

The word "soul" as translated from Old Testament Hebrew means "all of your thoughts, feelings, personality characteristics, self, desires, and passions." The soul is who we are inside, from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet. The soul is felt and translated into action through the day-to-day function of the brain. William Shakespeare said, "The brain is the soul's fragile dwelling place." We can now see actual evidence of this brain-soul connection through the latest brain-imaging techniques. These studies have so clearly taught me that when the brain is healthy we are compassionate, thoughtful, loving, relaxed, and goal directed, and when the brain is sick or damaged we are unfeeling, impulsive, angry, tense, and unfocused, and it is very hard for our souls and our relationship with God to be at peace.

In my previous books Change Your Brain, Change Your Life and Healing ADD, I use my work with the latest brain-imaging science to teach readers about brain-behavioral problems like anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, obsession, anger, and attention deficit disorder. Through images of the brain the books show that behavioral problems are often related to brain dysfunction and are not the result of a weak will or a character defect. Healing the Hardware of the Soul builds upon these books by helping you understand and enhance the connection between brain function and your innermost being, your soul.

Brain-Soul Feedback Loop

This book will teach you how to harness the positive energy at work in the powerful feedback loop between brain function and the condition of your soul. A healthy soul actually enhances brain function, and a healthy brain is essential to a healthy soul.

Like the hardware of a computer, the brain must function at an optimal level in order to run the software programs of life (daily activities like child rearing, teaching and learning, going through adolescence, training for a career, intimate relationships, navigating midlife crises). When a computer does not have enough RAM (random-access memory), speed, or storage space, it cannot run its software programs efficiently. Similarly, a brain that isn't running at optimal efficiency will have trouble keeping a life and soul on track.

As with computers, you need more than hardware to live a full and authentic life. The hardware of a computer is powerless without an efficient operating system or proper software. So too in our lives, we need effective programming -- good parenting, optimal nutrition, positive relationships, freedom from chronic stress, clear goals, positive thoughts, and an attitude of gratefulness -- in order for the brain to work right. A dynamic feedback loop exists between the brain and the events of our lives. The brain impacts our behavior, and how we behave impacts actual brain function. Our latest research has shown that thoughts, feelings, and social interactions all impact brain function in potentially positive and negative ways.

The brain-soul connection is involved in everything we do. Understanding it will lead to a deeper knowledge of our most intimate selves and help us to explain human triumphs and failures. This connection will help us understand:

• good (it is likely that Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi had optimal brain function),

• evil (it is also likely that Adolf Hitler and other brutal dictators had faulty brain wiring, despite being able to rise to power),

• sin (in the New Testament the Greek word for sin is hermatia, or quite simply, "missing the mark," which is quite easy to do with poor brain function),

• love (couples who thrive likely have more optimal brain patterns than those who struggle),

• hate (in my clinical experience, many racists have abnormal brain patterns), and

• child abuse (often at the hands of people with brain problems).

I have seen firsthand at the Amen Clinics how many people are searching desperately for a more fulfilling, meaningful, peaceful, hopeful, positive life, who want to live, love, and feel connected to something. Instead, many feel depressed, angry, lonely, unhappy, and disconnected. The clinically based brain-soul healing techniques included in this book will help you optimize your brain and improve your relationships, work, and spiritual connections in the deepest ways possible.

But what do I know about the soul? Isn't soul work off target for a brain scientist? Let me put these ideas into the context of my own life. I grew up in a very religious Roman Catholic Lebanese home, with five sisters and a brother. I attended Catholic school until the end of ninth grade, and was an altar boy for many years. I was taught very clear ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, heaven and hell, and the judgment day. These beliefs followed me into my adult life.

During the Vietnam War, I had a very low draft number and went into the U.S. Army, where I was trained to be a combat medic. I was fortunate enough to be sent to Germany rather than Vietnam. In Germany, as a lonely soldier, I met Christine, a pretty, petite company clerk. She asked me to go to a church service with her. It turned out to be an Assembly of God Pentecostal Church service, with shouting, praying in tongues, and long, intense healing sessions. At first I felt strange, especially with all of the noise in church. As a Roman Catholic, I was used to church being a quiet place. Not this church! There was a lot of intense emotional expression, but also a lot of fellowship and worship. I met some wonderful people and became actively involved with Teen Challenge, a Christian group that worked with drug addicts, which was one of the factors leading to my interest in psychiatry. Many of the addicts had failed traditional drug-treatment programs but were able to rid themselves of their addictions when they developed a deep faith and a connection with God. It was a fascinating process to watch.

After three years in Germany, I was discharged from the military and attended Orange Coast College for a year and then Vanguard University, an Assembly of God Bible college in Southern California. I studied biology and the Bible. I wanted to be a doctor, but I also wanted a solid spiritual foundation for my life. Nothing in the Bible dissuaded me from...
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