Spiritual Defined: The All-ness of Life
My husband, Bill, and I, are dedicated to sharing an understanding of mental health, known as the Three Principles, which explains the relationship between the psychological and the spiritual. We would love to see this understanding return psychology and psychiatry to their origins as sciences of the mind, spirit and soul.
And, if I had $1 for every time well-meaning people have said to me — “The Three Principles have power and potential, but you have to stop talking about them as SPIRITUAL if you want helping professionals to listen” – well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I would certainly have enough money for a nice night in a five-star resort!
I think I will have fulfilled one of the missions of my life if I somehow participate in a fresh dialog about what “SPIRITUAL” means.
Initiating that conversation, I am moved to share a list of experiences that I think of as spiritual, in random order as they float to mind:
…The earthy, modesty-stripping miracle of the birth of my daughter; the first time I glimpsed her sweet, teeny face and saw her father’s soft brown eyes above his surgical mask flood with tears of awe and love. WOW!
…Nursing my tiny baby girl sitting in a rocking chair in her nursery on the second floor of our townhome in Sylvania, Ohio, feeling the milk let down in my breasts, blown away that my body knew perfectly how to nourish another life.
…Catching the first breath-taking glimpse of a shimmering fishing harbor, snugged up against the warm body of my first husband as we rounded a curve on our burgundy Gold Wing motorcycle and cleared heavy mists on a road carved high into the cliffs above the ocean on the sparsely populated Gaspe’ Peninsula in northern Quebec, Canada. OH MY GOD!
…Feeling the shock-wave of energy that passed through my body as my beloved and gentle father-in-law, Jim, took his last breath at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan as his children recited the rosary, a Catholic ritual he loved.
…Watching a tiny droplet of rain trace the outer edges of a deep purple Northern Hibiscus flower and, as a child of about ten, being simply stunned silent at the beauty of creation.
…Making love with my heart wide open to both of my husbands, late and present.
…Stepping into the Porzioncola in Assisi, Italy, the very tiny church around which St. Francis and his friend, St. Clare, founded their communities of religious men and women dedicated to serving the poor. Inexplicably, the exquisite simplicity of that humble church, barely big enough to stand up in, touched me so deeply that I still know it as the holiest ground I have ever walked on.
…Singing with the Ladywood High School concert choir; blending with 100 young feminine voices creating music so big and sweet and beautiful that the tiny imperfections of any single voice simply didn’t matter. I can still feel the power of our Hallelujah Chorus sung from the heart. This brings tears as I recall it. My voice, an important contributor, but barely discernable in the whole tapestry of sound.
…Filling up with the fun and comfort of being with friends and family.
…Spooning next to my husband at night, knowing that my heart is home.
…Listening to a Sanskrit chant on a CD by performing artist Deva Premal one sultry, humid day sitting in the dirt driveway of my beautiful home nestled in the tree-dappled hollows of West Virginia and feeling the music lift me beyond intense pain over the sudden death of my first husband, only later to discover that the chant, in language unfamiliar to me, is sung in praise of Divinity in all the forms and names by which it is known.
I see the spiritual every day. I see/hear/feel/touch it every morning as I drink my huge mug of the best coffee ever (Gevalia) and enjoy a few moments in my coral-colored rocking chair in the backyard, basking in the brilliant sunshine, hearing the morning doves coo and watching as Arizona palm trees sway in desert breezes.
What are the common threads in these experiences? In each there is presence in the moment, a full recognition of beauty. In each, a flooding with a beautiful, deep feeling that I know of as LOVE. Within each, an experience of touching something bigger than myself – a glimpse of a formless energy behind all of life – and an awareness of awe at the power of that. In each, a sense of contented well-being. Sometimes they are “peak experiences” but most often, not.
I have NEVER met a human being who has not had such experiences, differing in form, perhaps, but of the same essence. Touching the spiritual is universal to all, regardless of race, culture, creed, political party, mental health diagnosis, nationality or any other category we use to divide ourselves. When people are encouraged and given permission to share freely about such experiences, they pour out — sometimes initially a trickle, but before long, a gush. These experiences are windows to our shared humanity. We forget them, hide them, ignore them or judge them as unimportant, as somehow verboten to talk about, at our peril.
Utterly human, spiritual experiences do not create beautiful feelings in us; they reveal them to us and us to ourselves. They show us what we are formed of. This love, this awe, this gratitude surfaces whenever we are present in the moment and noticing beauty and truth, ordinary to extraordinary, from the sweet stained faces of our grandchildren as they eat blueberries with gusto to the multi-hued glory of a magnificent sunset. At the level of the sweet and simple, their significance might even go unnoticed, but once we recognize and prize these glimpses into the heart of life as spiritual gifts, we see them everywhere. And we become happier, more grateful, contented and healthier.
Many people have experiences of the spiritual in the context of religion and religious rituals. I have, too, many times — in Catholic masses, Baptist Gospel services, Jewish Shabbat dinners and Native American sweat-lodges, among others. These beautiful experiences are formed of the mystical power that all religions point to as source, essence or spirit. But that mystical power is too big, too universal, to be confined to any belief system, ritual or structure; any form. It is all of life.
Touching that all-ness brings out the best in us; it is the essence of what it means to be human and mentally healthy. Spirituality cannot be separated from psychology. Trying to keep them in separate containers has kept noble, big-hearted helping professions from realizing their true potential to alleviate the suffering of humanity. Our spiritual nature is the source of all mental health. Finding it, knowing it, feeling it, acknowledging it….will restore us all to wholeness.