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Ilya Repin, 1876

On the Fascinating Relationship Between Oxytocin and Spirituality


A “love hormone,” related to emotions like wonder and gratitude shows that there is love in all that inspires us.

Oxytocin is commonly called the “love hormone” because its presence coincides with warm emotions of amorous passion. It also appears in the brain whenever we’re doing something enjoyable. The name comes from the Greek oxys, meaning “fast,” and tokos; “birth.” Oxytocin is also present in the spasmodic contractions of the uterus during childbirth. It’s actually used clinically to induce labor.

Recently, a study at Duke University found that oxytocin is not only present in social circumstances (such as when we share happiness, feel empathy, or fall in love). It’s also related to spiritual emotions, such as moments of great connection with the transcendent, callings from God, infinity, the cosmos, the Earth or the unity of all things in one vibration.

The study recruited 83 volunteers, all middle-aged men, who were divided into two groups; the first group was administered oxytocin, and the second a placebo.

After inhaling the hormone, participants had to answer questions and take part in a guided meditation. Those who received oxytocin claimed to be more in line with statements like “All life is interconnected,” and “There is a plane of consciousness or higher spirituality that includes all people.”

During the meditation, those who took the hormone reported feeling emotions such as awe, gratitude, hope, inspiration, love, and serenity. The effects remained even a week after the experiment had ended.

The lead author of the study Patty Van Cappellen, says that from a scientific standpoint,

Oxytocin appears to be part of the way our bodies support spiritual beliefs. Spirituality is complex and affected by many factors, however, oxytocin does seem to affect how we perceive the world and what we believe.”

Does this mean that spiritual emotion experienced in the body is an indisputable connection between the individual and all that exists? One in which limits and barriers are confused and that it’s therefore merely a chemical illusion? The answer might be yes if we consider the body and the human experience as a “mere” chemical illusions. But before the “chemistry,” we might emphasize the “illusion” present in all human experience. The wisdom of Buddhism speaks of the maya, a veil of appearances.

In short, spiritual development is something like an act of harmonically holding a dialogue between all of the illusions that make up our reality. These are balanced by the brain’s chemistry, and that which transcends them simply can’t be verbalized.

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