Spirituality is a word that I have ebbed and flowed with for most of my life. Understandably, since religious people use it to define their powerful theistic beliefs, while many atheist or agnostic minds tend to use the word to abandon religious structure altogether. For the intent of this space, I will regard spirituality as a place in my own mind, where I am guided by pure individual morality, rather than any particular guide.
While meditation and simplification are, at the root, harmonious and peaceful, my brain still craves that evidence and research to convince me it’s working. (Which makes it easy to choose meditation, considering the mountain of evidence linking standard meditation to improved mental and physical well being). But expanding past that, I also value Shamanistic principals, that we can quiet our own minds and be content in the present, and I find it difficult to combine a clinical approach while also recognizing these ideas. A part of me feels this would essentially be devaluing a very real anxiety or trauma diagnosis. As a clinician, I will of course implement the treatment that was researched and developed by the scientists and educators who were involved in my specialty. But I do believe that living in mindful way, reading and understanding a spiritual approach to life will better enable me to serve the people I communicate with in a therapeutic way.
As an example, I have recognized traumatic events in my life and can draw a line to traits of my personality that would serve as a coping mechanism. When people around me are upset or annoyed, I pick up on it instantly. I will be upset with my husband because I see that he is mad about something that I feel is unjustified. My ability to notice these tiny changes in body language, smile lines, tone of voice, etc. is common in people who have experienced abandonment trauma. We have been conditioned to be hyper–aware because for so long or so dramatically, our world shifted and nothing was dependable. We had to anticipate when the next stone would crumble or else we would fall into a pit. So I compartmentalize myself. What do I do as a result of this terrible thing that happened, and what other shortcomings do I own as a result of this other terrible thing happening? It becomes an exhausting list of problems I need to solve, and the therapy to treat one compartment at a time would take years.
This was and, in some ways, still is a clinical approach that stays with me. But the alternative to this is a spiritual approach. Self love, self forgiveness, self acceptance. I am who I am, I have done the best I could all this time. I made mistakes because I am human, but it’s the best I could do at the time and there’s nothing I can do to change it, so I need to let it go. More importantly, forgiving people who I subconsciously blame for these traumas. And not forgiving them because they deserve it, but because I do. I don’t want there to be a person on this planet who can drudge up pain in my body. I want those scars to heal so that I am in control of my own emotions. The man who made me feel powerless and helpless during the most vulnerable time in my life. I don’t want something to remind me of him and make me feel pain. That pain is in the past, and feeling it now isn’t justice, it only hurts me and me alone. So I forgive so I can eliminate the fire forever. Forgive and move forward.
Healing in this way has de-compartmentalized a lot of things I considered “wrong” with me. I have freed up so much space for happiness and joy, which is truly all that matters on a moment to moment basis. But it still begs to question if the textbook based clinician could incorporate this homeopathic philosophy into an allopathic treatment, and how much thinner would the DSM (the authoritative guide to mental illness) become if the population embraced this as a first-line approach when we are beginning to feel out of sync with our natural selves. I do not in any way believe that my experiences have shaped my brain in the same capacity that much more traumatic experiences have shaped others. But I am curious to see how this would could effect some of the worst cases. Of course, research on something like this is near impossible. Anyone who would be willing to put in the sustained emotional effort to heal at a spiritual level would have to be at least somewhat convinced it would yield a positive outcome, and the quality and quantity would vary daily in every participant. It reminds me of the story of a patient written about by Catherine Gildiner; he suffered unspeakable abuse in concentration camps as a child, and following years of psychotherapy, Gildner regarded his quest for spiritual healing as an indicator of his psychological wellness. And although it seems like her well-regarded professional opinion would be that clinical treatment reigns superior, she sought out and absorbed years of spiritual knowledge to treat this individual in a way that would match and vibrate well with his natural, individual self.
More than likely, there is a hint of spirituality in most medical practice. And not the kind that states “God will heal this, no need for surgery..” but the kind that says “If I hold his hands when I tell him this, it will make him less scared of what I’m about to say.” I’m interested to read more about this, let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts or recommended reading that addresses this subject.