The Science of Awakened Awareness

Dr. Lisa Miller, New York Times bestselling author and leading expert on spirituality, was a featured speaker in middle and high school chapel on September 20, 2021. Dr. Miller is a Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and has conducted decades of groundbreaking research on the scientific benefits of spirituality.
Dr. Miller explained to the students that through her clinical studies she and her colleagues have found strong evidence to suggest that everyone is born with an innate spiritual awareness. All that anyone needs to do, she stipulated, is to tap into it and, she noted, “there is nothing more profoundly protective and renewing in times of difficulty and no greater seat of possibility for opportunity for flourishing as whole people.”

Over the course of the pandemic, many people felt an overwhelming sense of isolation. Dr. Miller posited that we can reframe this period by asking, “What if this time away was not lost time, but transformative time? Struggle,” she continued, “is often a catalyst for growth.” From these darkest hours, many emerged with a renewed appreciation for relationships and experiences that may have been taken for granted previously. CH senior Phoebe K. ‘22 found this concept particularly appealing: "Instead of letting difficulty taint the beauty around me, I try to view struggle as an opportunity for possibility. In retrospect, I’ve found that ‘my field of perception,’ as Dr Miller calls it, is the most vast when I’m at a loss of what to do next. Especially regarding the last year, it’s incredibly important for the esteem of adolescents to be reminded that COVID allowed for growth, and didn’t just steal years of our childhood. It was lovely to hear an adult reaffirm that notion, particularly one with such impressive credentials."

Dr. Miller noted that most of us experience life from the vantage of “achieving awareness,” finding pathways to get what we want in a strategic, linear manner. When this kind of achieving awareness breaks down, as it did during the pandemic, and you can’t get what you want, there exists an ideal opportunity to move toward the “awakened awareness” state of mind. This is an entirely different neural circuitry, allowing us to perceive, see, and know in our mind’s eye and heart that we are held and loved, that we are guided, and that we are never alone. When you use this “muscle” of awakened awareness habitually, it grows strong. Long-term clinical studies show that when young people build their awakened awareness, over time they are 80% less likely to face struggles with addiction, are protected against the national epidemic of tragic suicide, and are more resilient to struggle and difficulty.

She ended the session by conducting two short exercises that engage the awakened brain. First, students were asked to clear their inner space by breathing deeply. They were then invited to visually set a table at which they could gather anyone, living or deceased, who had their best interest in mind. They were then invited to grow their table by adding their higher self and subsequently their higher power, asking each guest in turn if they loved them. This full, abundant table can serve as counsel for any issues or problems they are searching for answers to.

Finally, Dr. Miller reminded the students about the joys of life and what the essence of our humanity really is, stating: “We are not merely makers of our path, we discover our journey. Life is less about fulfilling a laundry list of goals, and more about an awesome, magnificent set of surprises.”

Will E. ‘22 caught up with Dr. Miller after her chapel, speaking with her at length. “I found talking with Dr. Miller to be a broadly and plainly enlightening experience,” he said. “Beyond the conceptual amazingness of her ideas, the objective truth to Miller’s science has some incredible gravity. Her personality emanates the love and optimism her science and philosophy preach. She is truly a pleasure.”
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