Merging Science And Spirituality for a Fulfilling Life with CEO And Best-Selling Author Dr. Dawson Church

Merging Science And Spirituality for a Fulfilling Life with CEO And Best-Selling Author Dr. Dawson Church

Have you ever wondered how merging science with spirituality could enhance our lives in ways we never thought possible?

In this episode of The EmPOWERed Half Hour, Becca sits down with Dr. Dawson Church, a renowned scientist and spiritual teacher, to explore how modern research has validated ancient practices. They discuss how these insights can transform our lives in profound ways.

Join us as Dr. Church delves into the concept of radiance, exploring the profound states of joy that we are naturally wired to experience. The episode also covers the impact of meditation on brain structure and productivity.


Dawson's Journey: From Misery to Mastery

Battling deep despair and suicidal thoughts in his teenage years, Dr. Dawson's journey began with a transformative vision at 14, where he felt cosmic love and connection. This experience ignited his quest into psychology, spirituality, and energy medicine.


The Science of Happiness and Healing

He explores how emotions and thoughts impact our genes, brain function, and well-being, Dr. Dawson reveals how science now validates ancient spiritual practices like meditation and mindfulness, showing their power to rewire the brain for happiness and resilience. Advanced technologies now track these changes in brain structure and function.


Connection and Disconnection

Dr. Dawson stresses our inherent connection with ourselves, others, and the cosmos, supported by mystics and modern science. Increased connection boosts brain regions linked to compassion, joy, and creativity.


Radiance and Inner Light

Through meditation, Dr. Dawson explores the concept of inner radiance, showing how this light expands outward to transform internal states, interactions, and the world around us. He references ancient texts and modern studies, demonstrating that those who cultivate inner light often have a transformative presence, enhancing their impact on others.


Empowering Your Life with Meditation

Dr. Dawson views meditation as essential for enriching all life areas—family, career, spirituality. He echoes the wisdom of Shankara, highlighting the need to connect with the eternal to grasp the essence of human existence.



 

Key Moments You Won't Want to Miss:

  • Transformation at Age 14: Dr. Dawson shares the profound vision he had at 14, feeling cosmic love and connection, which ignited his lifelong quest into the intersections of science, spirituality, and energy medicine.
  • Science Meets Spirituality: Discover how Dr. Dawson reveals groundbreaking research linking emotions and thoughts with gene expression, brain function, and overall well-being.
  • The Power of Connection: Learn how Dr. Dawson emphasizes our inherent connection with ourselves, others, and the cosmos, supported by ancient wisdom and modern science, boosting brain regions linked to compassion, joy, and creativity.
  • Inner Radiance and Transformation: Dive into the concept of inner radiance and how practices like meditation expand this light, positively influencing our state of mind, our interactions, and the world around us.
  • Simple Yet Powerful Meditation Techniques: Explore Dr. Dawson’s practical advice on starting with just 20 minutes of daily meditation to enhance productivity, creativity, and well-being, with accessible resources to help you begin.
  • Meditation as a Life Enhancer: Hear Dr. Dawson’s perspective on meditation’s role in enriching all aspects of life—family, career, spirituality—echoing the timeless wisdom of Shankara on connecting with the eternal to grasp human existence truly.


Empowering Thoughts to Take With You:

  • “Science has come into the picture and helped refine those spiritual practices and help us identify which works best.” — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “If you're surrendering your sense of a separate self and becoming one with your all, then you have the ultimate sense of connection with all of life, all of love, and all of compassion from that full heart.”  — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “It's so important to get control of what you think, what you feel, and then regulate that tune into those powerful feelings out there and then live that kind of inner-directed inspired and radiant life.” — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “Spiritual practice is the leverage point that affects it all, so when you get that one thing right then everything else improves.”  — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “If you don't devote any part of your day to the real, you've completely missed the boat as a human being.” — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “For a family to improve and run better, every member does not have to change or improve. It's like a system when you change one person then everything in relationship to that person shifts.” — Dr. Dawson Church
  • “As they tap into the all-knowing and come back to themselves, their radiance begins to express. It's not like they had to go out and get it because it already existed and now it's expressing itself.” — Becca Powers 
  • “As people return to the radiance, that inner light is shining on the outside and their life becomes more meaningful and fulfilled.” — Becca Powers


About Dr. Dawson:

Dawson Church, PhD, is a best-selling science writer and author of The Genie in Your Genes, Mind to Matter, and Bliss Brain. His groundbreaking work reveals how emotions and brain states influence gene expression, reality construction, and brain rewiring for happiness. As the founder of the Veterans Stress Solution, Church has provided free PTSD treatment to over 22,000 veterans. 

He has published over 100 scientific studies in prestigious journals and collaborated with institutions like Harvard Medical School and Duke University. Church also founded the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare and developed the EcoMeditation method, promoting evidence-based stress reduction. His contributions to integrative healthcare and energy psychology have earned him recognition, including invitations to testify before US Congressional committees. 

Now retired from active business management, Church continues to inspire through his teachings, podcasts, and writing. He resides in Nevada, Hawaii, and California with his wife, Christine Church, a noted painter.


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We Want to Hear From You!

Share your journey of reconnecting with your inner radiance, overcoming challenges through the blend of science and spirituality, and discovering the power of meditation and self-love.

Connect with us on social media or leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your stories inspire us and highlight the transformative impact of aligning with your true self and embracing positive change.




Welcome to another episode of the Empowered Half Hour, I am thrilled to bring you today's guest and conversation, Dr. Dawson Church is joining us. He is a scientist, spiritual seeker, teacher, and author. He has discovered a way to present science and spirituality in a way that lands very practically and I am just so obsessed with all of these topics. I can't wait to get into this interview, so welcome to the show. 

I know that you have published a book, that you're a teacher, and that you have more than one book. I do want to ask what's your backstory, but I feel that there's a question before that.

Why are you obsessed with this topic and bringing this attention to people?

 

Bridging Ancient Wisdom with Modern Science

We're at a really interesting stage in our development as a species right now and for thousands of years, people have sought the answers to big questions like how do we get happier? How do we shut off suffering? And so 2500 years ago, the Buddha was talking about that 2000 years ago, Jesus was talking about that longer ago, Lao Tzu was talking about it in China, and so you have these Greeks debating these questions thousands of years before all of those philosophers and spiritual teachers. So we've had an ongoing understanding that we are suffering and then we need to break out of it.

We've developed all these techniques and tools in those spiritual traditions like prayer and meditation, spiritual studies, and spiritual practice, and they've been really valuable. What happened though, just in the last 50 years, is that science has come into the picture and helped refine those spiritual practices and help us identify which of those work the best.

We have the development of the electrocardiogram in the early 1900s, then the EEG, which could read brainwaves in the 1920s, then the MRI, CAT scans, and SPECT scans. What we can do now is we can stick these spiritual people, these Tibetan monks, these Catholic nuns, these Christians, Pentecostal faith healers, put them in an MRI or hook them up to an EEG, measure their brainwaves, and figure out what's going on in these states.

What I'm passionate about is measuring those states and then finding the practical ways we can apply those ancient traditional lessons, but which ones work neurobiologically? That's my current area of fascination.

I am already obsessed. I want to ask you so many questions, but I do want to focus on the backstory.

What got you to this point of exploring, being an explorer, and wanting to bring it forward to people?

 

Transforming Despair through Neuro Spirituality

What got me here was abject misery. Becca, I was a coach and a therapist, they say, I began with a series of life disasters or whatever it was and I was pretty miserable as a kid, I was suicidal, disconnected, and very depressed, and then I had a vision when I was 14 years old, alone in my room one day, just feeling completely despairing, existential despair, and I suddenly had this sensation of floating in space, looking out at the universe. It was just an extraordinary experience.

I'd never had anything like that before and I floated in the universe and just a beautiful panorama of stars, light, and sound and had this feeling of such love. I'd never experienced the material plane before, because most of the people in my life were not that loving.

Most people I saw around me, in the church and spiritual communities weren't that loving. So I had that one big experience and even though I went back to misery after that, I always knew it was there. I studied psychology, studied spirituality, joined a spiritual community when I was 15 years old, and really focused on understanding these techniques and applying them myself and then discovering energy, medicine, psychology, and healing. 

These ways of producing shifts in immaterial circumstances, just by energy, just, research shows, for example, in my book, Mind to Matter, I described the research showing that when people have an intention that, for example, plants grow, the plants grow better when faith healers put their hands around water.

The molecular structure of the water changes the bond between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms when we have that intention or pray or have that healing effect. So there are all these ways in which we're using our consciousness to affect the outside world. As I have applied these in my life over almost 70 years, I've just gotten happier and happier and one of the cool things about these states is that there's no end point to them. Like, when in research, in my book, This Brain, I describe research into Tibetan monks who've done 60, 000 hours of meditation in their lives, comparing their brains to Tibetan monks who've done a mere 40, 000 hours only.

The average Westerner, if they get 4,000 hours and they're a pretty good meditator in their lifetime, these Tibetan monks have done 40 plus thousand, and even between 40,000 and 60,000 we see changes in the brain life. 

For example, the amygdala, the stress structure, and the fire alarm of the brain shrink even more. So we see atrophy of the stress structures of the brain, we see atrophy of the craving structures, the nucleus accumbens of the brain, we see expansion, we see development, and parts of the brain getting bigger parts like the dentate gyrus, which controls and regulates emotion brain-wide.

In one study I shared in Mind2Matter, a particular person who was practicing meditation, measured his brain before and after they measured all the different structures in his brain, they found that the dentate gyrus which regulates emotion, grew by over 20 percent in eight weeks. So our brains are just changing and shifting as we use our minds differently.

And so my whole story has been one of applying these things myself and then getting so excited by the science showing that we can get dramatically happier than we ever thought we could be and have extraordinary lives of well-being.

 

From Disconnection to Radiance

I love that so much and you said quite a few things that I want to ask additional questions but I'm going to narrow my focus to one right now, disconnection. I'm an author as well. I have my next book coming out with New World Library, A Return to Radiance, releasing in October. The concept of the book is rooted in disconnection. So I grew up in an environment where my parents were full-time musicians where I was born.

And I got to see people fully in their radiance and their gifts, talents, joy, laughter, dancing, and celebrating. I just thought that was normal and then, as I got older and my parents got more committed to work responsibilities and kids, it was very sad. I saw their spark start to dim, I saw them go into depression, I saw them become disconnected from themselves, other people, and the universe, and eventually both my parents passed away at different times. So I have this unique perspective that I grew up in what I'm calling radiance.

And then I saw the disconnection, and then within myself, I experienced extreme burnout several years ago. When I looked back at the root, I was disconnected. I haven't really had anyone on the show that I can geek out and talk about this connection with, but since you use that word specifically, can we talk about it?

Don Siegel talks about interpersonal neurobiology, and we are beings of connection. We're meant to be connected internally to ourselves. We're meant to be connected externally to other people. We're meant to be connected to the universe. There are scales that assessments can be used in science to measure that degree of connection and the people who are connected to all three are the mystics. They are usually connected to themselves, their own experience, to others around them. 

What they're doing, which is remarkable though, is they're plugging into all this source of divine inspiration, infinite power, and creativity that is extraordinary. And what happens in their brains as we see things happen, for example, in some mystics, a seven-fold increase in this very special brainwave called Gamma. The wave of integration, the wave of joy, the wave of gratitude, the wave of awe. If we have a sense of awe and altruism and love and happiness, we make lots of Gamma.

In these mystics, they're at baseline before they begin meditation. When they meditate, their Gamma rises 7x. Massive increase in all of those brain waves positive emotions. And so we have brains that are meant to just swim in these positive brainwaves and positive neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

And we have the hardware of ecstasy inside our skulls. Most of us just aren't using it, and so these mystics can plug in and have a connection up there. Also, it affects our lateral relationships. I know when I'm feeling a sense that maybe I'm just going through a stressful patch of work or something, and I don't want to impose that on my wife.

I'll take a walk in the woods, and I'll go to the ocean and walk in the sand and just be with the infinite, be with all that is plugged in up there, it's a source of incredible renewal. Then when I come back to my wife or back to my team member or back to the person, maybe someone's doing something and my business world that's giving me heartburn.

Then I am bringing all the compassion, all the love, all the creativity. We find that the creativity these people have rises dramatically when they're in these elevated states. They're not just in these elevated states and feeling good up there when they get backed out of everyday reality, they're incredibly creative.

So it gives you a sense of connection, but that first sense of connection is with you. If you've got that in place, if you are one with the universe and the term for this from spirituality is nonduality. If you're surrendering your sense of separate self and becoming one with you, then you have the ultimate sense of connection with all of life, all of love, and all of compassion from that full heart.

You go out and you can, for example, I manage a really large veteran PTSD program called Veterans Stress Project and helped over 20, 000 veterans with PTSD. You go and do things like that when you are in that hooked-up state, you can't do it when you're all stressed and overwhelmed and having burnout yourself.

So hooking up that way is the first thing you do in meditation, in spiritual practice. Then you move from that again, overflowing love in your heart, and do what you can do for people around you, your family, and the world.

That's beautiful and you mentioned something, in the response again, there were many things and multiple ways I can take the next question, you said that we were hardwired for ecstasy, hardwired for joy, and I believe that too. That's why I have named the next book Return to Radiance because what I found is through my spiritual journey and I'm a Kundalini yoga teacher too, and stuff like that, but I say that because as I have deepened my practice and observed others and witnessed others deepening theirs, what I have found is as they tap into the all-knowing and they come back to themselves, their radiance begins to express. 

It's not like they had to go out and get it because it already existed and now it's expressing itself. So I would like to talk a little bit more about that hard wiring that we are hardwired for joy, ecstasy, and stuff because I hear so much more about suffering and even though I'm trying to say that I hear so much about why we have trauma responses and why we respond the way we do, but I don't get to have enough conversations about why we're hardwired for.

Radiance is very interesting in the great mystical traditions and whether it's Judaism, especially the Kabbalah, Islam, especially Sufism, Christianity, especially mystical Christianity Judaism, all of these traditions have these elements of this experience there, and it begins usually with an inner radiance.

And so Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras talks about the yogi, the person seeking oneness, who has a sense of inner light in their being. One of the cool things though is that Patanjali then starts to talk about outer light and how the light radiates out from us. What we find in more recent studies, there are two giant data sets that I draw on a lot in my work, and I won't go into detail about where these people have been studied.

But what we find is that for people who are living with that sense of radiance after a while, it begins to extend outside of their bodies. So it's not just an inner radiance, it's an inner radiance expressed outwardly. And when you walk into the room with one of those people, you can feel it. Like I'll be doing a meditation retreat, they'll be leading next weekend.

Those people will begin radiant inwardly, they'll end up the weekend radiant externally. There are accounts in the scriptures, for example, Ramakrishna, the great Hindu saint of the 1900s, people would describe radiance as just light pouring out of his body. In the Christian depictions of saints, you see these halos around their heads, golden light or white light emanating from them and you'll feel this. Some people might be feeling it right now, even as we're just talking here, you might be sensing the light-generating here in the conversation. So you'll sense that light, it's in you and this is also mediated by hardware in our brains.

There are two parts of the brain that I trace. One is called the enlightenment network and several circuits are part of the enlightenment network. And again, I described them in my books, I won't go into them now but there's a physical hardware set of regions in brains and in mystics, in people having this elevated experience, it's all lit up.

You see those circuits that are processing all these wonderful emotions and all these elevated states, they're highly active in their brains. What's inactive in their brain is part of the brain that processes suffering and that process, that part of the brain is called the default mode network, and it has one pole here right behind the forehead called the mid-prefrontal cortex in self-absorbed people.

The default mode network is highly active, but for people who are having that experience, it is that the default mode network is shut down. A lot of these two networks operate in opposition to each other as you meditate, as you pray, as you fill your life with that radiance, and then you raise the activity in the enlightenment network, which suppresses the default mode network.

When you tune into suffering, when you get all self-absorbed, and you raise the activity of the default mode network, it suppresses the enlightenment network and that's where most people live. In my research into cortisol, I've done several clinical trials of people's levels of cortisol, they're walking around high levels of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, and hormones like cortisol.

They're living in relative luxury, in a luxury that I lead a lifestyle that the kings of Europe couldn't have imagined 200 years ago and yet I can stress myself out by my thoughts alone and raise my cortisol level to the level of a person scrambling for survival in the Paleolithic era.

So we're living at these levels of stress and they're inappropriate to our levels of material challenge. By activating the default mode network, we're suppressing the enlightenment network. And so we're living with these stress-filled brains that are completely unnecessary. So the trick, all of these ancient practices that have been brought to us by these great traditions show us how to reduce the activity or lower the activity in that mid-prefrontal cortex and the default mode network, which then raises the activity and enlightenment network, we find ourselves becoming dramatically happier. So that's our challenge as people not to buy into the narrative we have of suffering, distraction, overwhelm, and all the bad things going on in the world.

Are there bad things going on in the world? Absolutely, climate change is real, and human rights and terrible wars are raging in the world right now. Civil rights, social rights, sexual reproductive rights. There are all kinds of real issues we can worry about, but in the middle of that, we can meditate, we can love ourselves, we can live in that radiant state and then be really effective. Like I didn't just get upset about people with PTSD. I started a nonprofit and we treated over 20, 000 people with PTSD.

I've seen and I like what you're saying about the inner and outer. I see that as people return to the radiance and that inner light is shining on the outside, their life becomes more meaningful, there's more fulfillment, and what I'm calling impact, like you're saying comes as an expression of it, you no longer have to chase for the thing, that thing manifests through you.

You said, you created a nonprofit and now you've served 20,000 people. That's an extension of who you are now. It just kept building and I see beautiful things unfold like that for people when they allow their light to shine.

The inner experiences you have, translate into outer experiences and we're used to thinking about the material world as being an objective reality out there. That thing happened to me, that is real but perhaps, the root of that in your consciousness just like I'm thinking about it. I had a little fender bender a while back, a little car accident, and the other guy was clearly to blame.

I could see how I was just petering left, the driveway was blinded by the sun shining glaring in my eyes and he hit my car but then it's like I can say that happened out there and that was the object of reality. But then I think back and was I paying attention that day? Was I going a little bit too fast? Was I mindful?

And almost always when I look back at accidents I've had and losses I've had, there was some part of me that was implicit in that external event. So our minds play far more of a role in creating our outside reality than we might believe. I mentioned water earlier and how water is affected by just thought alone.

We're able to change molecules like cortisol in our bodies just by stressful thoughts. We can produce molecular changes in the outside world in plants, animals, and people around us by thought alone. So that's why it's so important to get control of what you think and feel, and then regulate that tune into those powerful feelings out there and then live that kind of inner-directed, inspired, and radiant life.

I want the listeners to break meditation and prayer down to be practical and easy. What I mean by that is even like being a Kundalini teacher, I have all sorts of meditations that have mantra and mudra and all, 60 minutes, meditate for a thousand days, there are so many different ways you can go about it.

But I tell people all the time, I'm like, hey if you can just find three minutes in the bathroom, take it, but I think it would be really helpful for the audience cause there's a lot of people that are, I would say in high production mode. They're in that hamster wheel, they're working professionals, they've got the kids or they're taking care of their parents, they're working and doing all the things. Like how can they bring this into their life easily?

 

Practical Meditation for Busy Lives

I'll fast forward to the study I did. I've been involved in over 100 clinical trials and a lot of them are ptsd depression anxiety, but the more recent ones are about human potential and we're showing that people can reach these transcendent states without 10,000 hours, without being a monk.

It's possible to reach them quickly if you do certain evidence-based techniques, now a lot of meditation and what people think of as meditation is not evidence-based.

There is no good science behind it, a lot of it doesn't work very effectively. So if you pick really clear evidence-based things, you can shift extremely quickly. And so we've had a lot of practice in the last 10 years bringing people into these elevated states and showing that in just a few hours of practice.

In one of my clinical trials, we showed that people using an evidence-based meditation for 30 days, measured anatomical changes in their brain in an MRI. Now think about that for a moment, the anatomy of your brain changing in under a month. In an MRI scan, we found that the mid-prefrontal cortex generates suffering, stress, worry about the past, concern about the future, and that part of the brain shuts down. We found the compassion network, part of the enlightenment network, and the compassion circuit of the brain lit up, so you can do it really quickly.

But in this later study, we then looked at what happens to them when they go back to work.

We did a study on productivity, and we found that in the first month, their productivity goes up so much that they get an extra day in their week in the first month. In six months, their productivity is even higher so the bottom line is in terms of time management, you get an extra day in your life.

If you meditate every week, if you meditate effectively, and you have to use an effective meditation to do this, there are tons of downloadable free tracks on my website. They're all over the web and highly accessible so if you're a busy professional I urge you to devote that time in the morning to meditate now. Studies are showing that 8 minutes is effective, and 12 minutes is effective.

We personally advocate at least 20 minutes for that one day a week of extra time productivity payoff. That was the track in that study, it was a 22-minute track of eco meditation. In this evidence-based meditation, we've measured that if you spend your first 20 minutes of the day, during meditation, your productivity within a month is going to dramatically increase, so do a little bit if you can. 

When I made that commitment to meditating every day, I was like 45 years old, I had two young children, and I was a single dad. I thought I had no extra time, but when I began to do it, my whole life began to transform quickly.

So it is worth doing even though you may have a story in your mind. Oh, I don't have time for me, I don't have time for this. I had to set my alarm half an hour earlier in the morning and do it every day and not accept any excuses. There's always these voices that will say, I'm too busy. Ignore those voices and just do it.

I love that you share that you have some on your website because there's a spiritual listenership on this podcast, but there's also a very practical one. And I think that a lot of my practical folks would like to know, hey, this is evidence-based meditations.

So listeners, he'll share his website here in a few minutes, but feel free to use everything that he's shared to better your life, that's what this podcast is all about, so I'm so happy you have resources for the listeners. That's fab!

It's just really powerful to know that when we are doing the most important thing when we're plugging in upstairs like all the wisdom, all of the creativity, your creativity by the way soars when you do this and your resilience goes way up as well. It might look like you're disengaging from everyday reality and you are. 

So you are taking the 30 minutes and you're going into a quiet place, even if it is just the closet or the bathroom, and you're doing some breathing, you're regulating your emotions.

You're shifting your brain and shifting your mental focus on what's really important in life. When you emerge from that state, your whole brain works better. A Harvard study found that the effects of that meditation period extend in terms of better and more efficient brain function for 24 hours into the future, just from one meditation.

So that time you're giving yourself may seem like it's apart from everything that's really pressing and materially important in your life. It turns out to be the most important thing you can do for material life. So I urge you to make that your top priority. Believe me, your kids will appreciate you.

I know my wife really appreciates the fact that I meditate. 

We're at 30 minutes already and I knew this conversation was going to go by way too fast, but I would like you to share before we get into sharing how can the listeners follow you is the information that you shared today, not just meditation, but the overall conversation and tone, how can applying this empower someone's life?

 

Empower Your Life Through Spiritual Practices

What we find is that there are dimensions of your life, there's family and connection, there's work and career, there's spirituality, there is well-being, and meditation and spiritual practice are the leverage points that affect it all. So when you get that one thing right then everything else improves. If you don't get that one thing then everything else is gonna suffer. 

There's a great Hindu sage called Shankara who lived around 700 AD, and he said that if you don't spend at least part of your day paying attention to the real or the eternal, and again, you say there's the eternal, which is real, and there's everything else that's not eternal, that's changing, the world of change, that's unreal.

If you don't devote any part of your day to the real, you've completely missed the boat as a human being, so this is your leverage point, your family is going to appreciate it. One of the cool things about family dynamics is that for a family to improve and run better, every member does not have to change or improve.

One member changes, it's like a system and you change one person and everything in relationship to that person shifts. So people say like one woman emailed me last week and said, my two adult children are suffering so much. How do I help them have better lives? They said, number one, meditate yourself, shift yourself.

You're part of this family system, and that's going to have an impact on the rest of the family. So you'll find your money life improves, become a better investor, a better caretaker, a better steward of your financial resources, your work life, your interpersonal relationships change, and ways of accessing creativity.

In one study, they found that creativity improves about 400 percent when you're in the load states that meditation brings. So this is your leverage point over all these other life domains. Get this one thing as Shankara said, 1000 years ago, “Everything else tends to shift in the positive direction.”

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