If you look in a dictionary, spirituality is described as an involvement in the life of the spirit or the soul as opposed to the material or physical world. This opposition reflects attitudes in the contemporary world, where spirituality is widely perceived as a way of being that is different to living a ‘normal’ life, and only available to the special few. Society has strayed a long way from the universal umbrella of religion, much of which has lost touch with its spiritual past. But now and then we hear of cultures, past and present, where this division between the material and whatever we mean by the spiritual, is incomprehensible, in which every aspect of the day is considered a real involvement in the rich life of the spirit, which gives cohesion not only to the life of the individual but also to the society people live in.
There is a widespread renewal of interest in spirituality, particularly in the secularization of some of its ‘wisdom’ in the psychological and healing arts. But more often than not, we carry this paradigm of there being a split between the ‘normal’ life of the material world and the spiritual, which leads us to believe that the spiritual paradoxically exists somewhere else. The consequence of this is that when we feel a calling to explore the depths of who we are, we can take it to imply that we should become a very different person from the one we already are. We often see spiritual ‘brands’ advertising themselves with a promise of ‘transformation’, with a new and better version of ourselves sitting invitingly on the horizon. These claims are a little fragile. Commonly we carry an identity generated in childhood and embody a history of believing ourselves to be unworthy. It’s hardly surprising then that people respond to options that promise radical change, with the prize of transitioning from the burden of the wounds we already carry, to being unveiled anew as a kind of spiritual warrior. I am generalizing and exaggerating, but I simply want to underline the paradox and the unkindness of building the sense of the spiritual on our apparent failure of being the person we already are. Our wounds may well lead us to deeper explorations, but our possibility is of opening to a beauty that is ourselves and already present, rather than becoming someone else. This is where the real nourishment resides. And to quote a common platitude, we all want to ‘be’ ourselves. Spirituality isn’t really one of life’s options, since everyone is called upon to negotiate the blessing of their own nature, even when we think it otherwise. We are all fellow travelers.
How does this relate to healing? The general approach to healing illness, whether of mental, physical or emotional origin, is that there is a problem that needs fixing, so that we can return with ease to whatever we think is our ‘normal’. And yes, we all wish an alleviation of whatever it is that ails us and others. But if this is the only approach it generally puts us into conflict with whatever we are suffering. The return to ‘normal’ requires us to mentally and emotionally discard what is discomforting. As we grow older this has less and less efficacy as we are after all mortal, and the discomfort cannot be avoided.
A ‘spiritual’ approach to healing isn’t magic, although it might feel and be welcomed as quite magical at times. Just as spirituality is about intimately witnessing all of life as a manifestation of the Oneness of Beauty, the same is true for oneself and everything that happens to us, as we are naturally included. Nobody wants to invite illness, but when we experience illness and grief it can be included as an inclusive part of our lives, that carries the potential not to distance ourselves from a sense of well-being, but can actually draw our attention to our deeper needs, our connection with who we are in the present. May we all stay healthy and strong, but let’s not ignore the potential that discomfort brings. Discomfort brings with it embodied questions about the manner in which we are experiencing our lives. And when we take the time to listen to these questions, which for me, are often revealed as a request from our deeper realms to pay attention, our experience of illness also changes. This isn’t only talking the good talk. There is an increasing amount of scientific research that shows the huge benefit of activities that bring about an enhanced sense of calmness and spaciousness and give time and opportunity to settle us in our depths. Many of these activities such as meditation have developed over millennia of spiritual practice. They seem to radically affect the experience and outcome of illness, particularly where the sense of aliveness has been dimmed in a person. As a practitioner who wants to offer what works, I witness at first hand the deep restoration that spending more time in just being you, brings.
I consider my own job as a therapist who sets out to help people to sleep better, as someone who accompanies a person on a journey rather than someone who fixes the problem. The truth is that I can’t fix the problem, but I can encourage and guide people as to how to address sleep issues themselves. Although I have plenty of helpful scientific and energetic tools to offer around sleeping better, the key to better sleep is how a person learns to soften the anxiety surrounding sleeplessness and its consequences. This is very much about how we live our lives, which is our spirituality, what we do day to day, rather than what we might do in some ideal world. Traditionally sleeplessness is governed by the heart, the seat of our sensation of feeling at home in our own bodies. Regaining better sleep isn’t about achieving a goal as this only introduces further anxiety. It’s about being present to what we are already living, trusting that what we experience can feel already real and inviting, even where discomfort is involved. This access to our deeper sense of ‘home’ is what allows our hearts to rest in peace and thus better rest. As a therapist, I am not a magician, but I know from experience that there is a kind of magic that sits close to the surface of all the people that come for help. People discover that help is close at hand and it comes from a revaluation of their own experience, and the good consequences this has of the way we live our lives. It often feels that at the heart of this process, is a guiding hand that reintroduces us to a heart already bathed by Beauty.