Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
What is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality?
Emotionally healthy spirituality is a universal approach to spiritual and religious life. It advocates a way of life where one can come closer to God while respecting one's needs, tendencies, and temperament.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is a path and a lifestyle which aims at bringing one closer to the 'Spirit'. Spirit should not be mistaken as anything which is not physical. Rather the Spirit is what is often referred to as 'God' or 'Soul'. The Soul is the divine spark which shines within each of us.
Love and compassion in action
Difference between Religion and Spirituality
Religion and spirituality have similarities but are not the same thing. Their common ground is to enable one to come closer to God.
Religion aims primarily at bringing God to regular folks and thus to enrich their life and give it a higher purpose and meaning. The focus is usually on practices and traditions inherited at birth. Most religions discourage indulging in practices belonging to other religions. One usually needs to abandon their own faith if they wish to convert to a new one. The goal of religion is to add a divine dimension to one's life and thus obtain happiness here and hereafter - in this world and in heaven.
Many like to argue that religion may have created more evil than good on this planet. Others tend to think of religion in negative terms and spirituality in positive terms. I firmly disagree with these opinions. Both religion and spirituality can tremendously benefit whoever is using these great tools for a better life. Of course they can also be misused and create untold sufferings in this world. Overall they bring more good than evil.
Spirituality is concerned with becoming one with God or the true Self in a very pragmatic way. If a method works then the spiritual aspirant will use it no matter what tradition it belongs to. For eons the mystics have been like scientists testing out techniques of all kinds, discarding the inefficient ones and keeping all practices that led them closer to God or the Self. Spirituality is more concerned with mysticism and less with traditions and rituals although mystics practice rituals for a definite purpose. The spiritual aspirant wants to experience union with God first and get worldly happiness second. The goal is not to be happy here and to go to heaven but to become one with God in this life and hereafter.
Forgiveness and cheerfulness in face of incredible adversity
How about the Emotions?
There is an inherent danger in religious and spiritual life to sacrifice so much for the sake of God so as to deny our physical, energetic, sensorial, and psychological needs. This can lead to repression of our basic desires and emotions leading to an inner conflict and a - mild or strong - form of schizophrenia.
Repression & Expression
Here is a dilemma. The spiritual aspirant needs to transcend his lower self and lower needs to embrace the glory of his Spirit. In so attempting, many a religious person suppresses their desires and various emotions. This creates untold tensions in the depth of the unconscious.
Modern western psychology is well aware of this and many want to avoid this pitfall. The knee-jerk reaction will be to express all their feelings, positive and negative all alike. Let's say one feels anger mounting and building up. The mistaken aspirant will express it in a fit in a poor attempt to get rid of the excess energy contained in this emotion. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is about finding a better solution, which is ...
The process of sublimation - in the spiritual context - is to take the tremendous energy belonging to our lower nature and manifesting in all types of desires, tendencies, and emotions, and transforming it into a higher type of power which will fuel our spiritual life. Lower emotions and desires such as sexual impulses are not looked at as obstacles anymore but as the very foundation of our spiritual life.
The obvious question here is: How to we do that? There are two avenues to that purpose which are 'spiritual practices' and a 'refinement of our lifestyle'. They should be practiced in concert. They eventually merge into one.
Self abnegation and renunciation
One can beat around the bush for ever but spiritual growth is a direct outcome of practice and discipline. The more one invests in prayer, meditation, rituals, and other disciplines advocated by their tradition, the faster and the farther one will advance in one's spiritual quest. A subtle, esoteric process is triggered and the energy usually dwelling in lower regions of the mind is transmuted into a subtler form which now pushes the practitioner's mind and consciousness upwards. This is very much like the naturally downward flowing water will naturally be transformed into a more potent, upward moving power when placed in contact with heat. The water in its new form of steam has now the power to propel a whole train and much more.
Refinement of Lifestyle
In order to not create any imbalance and repression of the emotions and desires, one needs to embrace the totality of one's being. There should not be any shame or guilt beyond a small, healthy dose. Let's open a parenthesis here to acknowledge that guilt can help one become aware of one's errors and lead to correcting them. Too much of it though will lead to inner conflicts and tensions which will slow down one's spiritual advancement.
Recognize Your Desires & Emotions Through Introspection
The first step is to develop the habit to be more introspective. Throughout the day do observe your thoughts, emotions, reactions, innermost desires and activities. You can optionally keep up a spiritual diary or journal to that effect.
With practice you'll become better at it and you should also see the causality of thoughts. You will recognize common though patterns. For example you will find that the same thoughts always occur when you are in a certain location, situation, or around certain people. You will also note that oftentimes a thought is always preceded by similar ones. If you want to address a certain desire or negative emotional state you will be more successful at it if you can interrupt or redirect the process at its budding manifestation.
Pure love, simplicity, and generosity
Be kind to yourself. Don't try to change yourself all at once. As you go on with the introspection you will become acutely aware of certain actions and feelings which will stand out as more harmful than others. Look at them and don't deny these desires but devise other healthier outlets for these tendencies. It's all about replacing thoughts and actions with similar ones which are more in tune with your spiritual aspirations.
The golden principle is that a negative quality or emotion can be best dealt with by developing the opposite positive quality. Good is stronger than evil. If for example you find yourself being too cheap, meditate on the quality of generosity. Visualize and analyze the downsides of miserliness and the advantages of generosity and magnanimity. Bring to your consciousness great examples, either famous ones or people close to you. Draw this quality from them and thank them for it. Emotions and feelings all come in such dual pairs: fear & courage; sadness & cheerfulness; greed & contentment; etc...
The gist is to not dwell so much on the negatives but to focus on positivity.
This should also be applied to actions. Substitute any actions you are not happy with with better alternates which will fulfill the same psychological needs. For example if you find yourself doing a lot of backbiting, replace the fault finding with the keen observation of other people's good qualities and virtues and replace the backbiting by making a point of discussing other folks' great character traits. If somebody tries to suck you into the old negative speech, stay quiet, try to change topic, don't feed the negativity in any way. Walk away if necessary. After a little practice backbiters will find you boring and positive thinkers will be drawn to you and this will thus create a new speech dynamic.
The Fascinating Journey
This post is just scratching the surface. The main principles have been laid out but more examples could have been given. It's up to you now to change your religious and spiritual approach. Above all remember that emotionally healthy spirituality is and should be fun and enjoyable. A sign of an emotionally healthy spiritual person is that he or she looks happy, relaxed and radiates love. Everybody wants to be around such a person. There must be a mix of determination to reach the spiritual goal with the tenderness and softness of love and compassion as well as a tangible, communicative joy.
May we all be in that state.