Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spiritual Journeys to Wellness

What is a spiritual journey, and how does it lead to wellness? In fact, what does it mean to be spiritual? To my mind being spiritual involves relationship – relationship with the self, with others and with something greater than the self. It does not have to be connected to religion, though it may be.

We are all spiritual, whether we realize it or not, and I see our spiritual journeys as the development of a mature spirituality in which we feel deeply connected to others and hold feelings of compassion for them. But the journey has to begin with building a compassionate relationship with the self. Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul wrote:

“The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is ‘loss of soul.’ When soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it.”

If we do not have a loving relationship with our self, we have indeed lost our soul, because without that we cannot have a truly loving relationship with anyone else. We should aim to treat our self as though we were a beloved friend; understanding and forgiving rather than blaming when we make mistakes. Mistakes are part of being human.

Apparently, the word that was translated as ‘sin’ in the Bible, also meant ‘mistake.’ So ‘sinners’ are simply those who have made a mistake – not a big deal. To call someone a sinner is to attack who they are, to say they made a mistake simply passes judgment on their behaviour, and behviour can be changed.

For those who have never experienced being treated as a beloved friend, it is important to find someone who will model that – a counselor, Minister, neighbour – someone who does not judge, but is respectful and caring. As we learn what it like to be nurtured, we are also learning how to nurture ourselves and can then extend nurturing to others, starting with those we know and then extending it to everyone we meet.

Spiritually nurturing others involves compassion – a nonjudgmental recognition of their suffering and a strong desire that they be released from it. Too often we react to things others do with judgments about them, especially if their actions inconvenience us. The person who cuts us off in traffic, the client who does not pay on time, the relative who does not come to our wedding, are seen as directing their behaviour at us. We feel slighted, and react rather than respond. Often our reaction leaves us feeling angry and upset.

Responding starts when we examine our reaction to the situation. What beliefs do we hold about it? Do we know without a shadow of a doubt that these beliefs are true? The beliefs we hold determine the meaning we give to a situation, and our thoughts and emotions spring from this. Change the meaning and our response will change.

Connecting with our self leads to awareness of how we relate to our self and to others. Every event or interaction then becomes part of our spiritual practice and is grist for our spiritual journey. With consciousness, patience and practice we can develop compassion and loving-kindness for ourselves and others, and over time may see that, at least in some ways, we are all one.

The third leg of the spiritual journey is to develop a relationship with something larger than our self. This may be God (or whatever term we give to the prime mover), or it may be nature, science, art, music, child or animal welfare, saving an endangered species – anything that we feel passionate about and give time and energy to.

While it is important to work on all the wellness dimensions, it is especially important to pay attention to our spiritual journey. All the great religions see love and its expression as central to our lives because love is our true nature. So to be whole is to respond with love to everything. As A Course in Miracles says: “Teach only love, for that is what you are.”

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