Dear followers of The Way Back. Happy New Year to all. I hope this post finds you safe and well. I’m Simeon and am one of the TWB teachers based in Massachusetts, USA. I would like to share with you some insights from a thought provoking discussion about spirituality and God that was had at one of our recent TWB online teachers meetings. I’ve not written any posts on here before, but this was really helpful for me and so I thought I’d give it a go and write this to share with you.
Although we’re all volunteer teachers we regularly meet up online to share inspiration and to help each other support the members of TWB and those we care about in our communities. On this occasion I raised the topic of ”The impact of spirituality on mental health”. Like many people, the topic of good mental health is very important to me, especially at this time of year with the short days and post-Christmas blues. As well as ensuring I am doing what I can for my own mental well-being, it is at this time of year I feel an even more heightened awareness and responsibility towards the mental health of others.
There are many factors that can impact ones mental health, that include both genetic and environmental. One challenge that you may be familiar with is the problem of negative thought rumination, which falls into the latter category and is very common. Such repetitive cycles of negative thinking for sure take their toll on ones mental health.
In-fact both Tonia and Mark, two of the teachers from the UK, both commented that one of the most common reason for people attending their beginners mediation classes was ”To improve their mental health” and to ”Cut down on mental chatter”. Drawing from past teaching experience Mark noted that a common cause for anxiety and depression was that some people have an inability to find the ”Off-switch” to their minds. They find it hard, if not almost impossible, to stop the common self-doubt and negative thoughts. I’m sure many of us have been there, seen that and possibly have several of those T-shirts too!
The list can often be quite extensive and thoughts like these may sometimes spiral out of control. And it’s thoughts like these that often prevent us from feeling free, liberated in life to feel and do what makes us truly happy. It’s as if sometimes our minds are literally holding us back.
It’s really amazing though to see how in recent years society as a whole is waking up to mental welfare and many people are turning to relaxation as well as mindfulness meditation both of which can be a temporary fix to the negative rumination.
But sharing our experiences and insights as a group the discussions led us to recognising that although there are often many benefits to mind-based approaches there is a more profound path to take. When a person focuses on love, spirituality and God then they can really start to explore a lasting and permanent freedom. This freedom can be thought of as ”emotional freedom” but my own experience is that it’s far more than that too.
In one of our recent podcasts Mark talks about experiencing God in our lives and embracing the qualities of God. He explains that this has nothing to do with a religious belief, but rather is something that is spiritual in nature and importantly can be experienced personally. As we discussed the matter someone else said how because God’s love is unconditional then the more we welcome God into our lives and importantly embrace following God’s example which is to be non-judgmental, unconditionally loving (of ourselves) and kind then it can affect us in a far deeper way that trying to think the right thoughts or use mindfulness etc.
I can’t remember the exact words but one of the group said something like ”When we stop judging ourselves, then there is no inner criticism, and when we start loving ourselves unconditionally then we stop telling ourselves that we are not worthy”.
What became clearer was that so much of the mindful approach which is notice and accept thoughts and to be present with them without judgment is all still an activity of the mind, but spirituality has nothing to do with the mind and touches on the soul and spirit, both of which are far deeper within. So sitting with yourself for example in mindfulness or chanting or sound baths is a much smaller space than embracing spirituality and ”Sitting with God”.
As Mark said, all self-development work is ultimately based on self-judgement and because it involves the mind it is like trying to improve your life by fixing, rearranging or replace the furniture in your house. At the end of the day you may end up with a nicer living space but it’s still just a house. True liberation comes when you realise that whatever house you live in right now you’re already loved, valued and have life-purpose because you are part of something far greater.
This really resonated with me because I’ve experienced this for myself and what I’ve found is that by spiritually accepting God in your life, knowing that God already loves you unconditionally and is already with you liberates you from the labels, pressures and doubts you put on yourself. Isn’t this the ultimate ”off switch?” Wouldn’t this enable you to be more present, allow you to feel and share love with others and enable you to make the most of your life? I think so! but what really matters, and something we all agreed on in the meeting is that it doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says, its about what each of us can find out for ourselves from our own experience.
I wasn’t ”Looking for God” in a religious sense, and that doesn’t appeal to me, but what I’ve found here is very real and practical, however most importantly it’s something that has made a really positive difference in my life. Anyway, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this interesting and important topic of spirituality and God in relation to well being.
Peace & love to all.