Spirituality and Mental Wellbeing - Finding Your Path
Spirituality and mental health are not often mentioned in the same sentence, however for many people their spiritual wellbeing is intricately connected to their mental wellbeing. When you consider that spirituality is in part the way you make sense of your life and existence in the universe, it cannot help but be related to your mental and emotional health.
Several studies on this subject have attempted to explore whether spirituality or religion have a positive effect on mental health or a negative one. Of course it is no easy task to reduce the depth of spirituality to a questionnaire or interview for research purposes, so findings must be interpreted with this in mind. Research results have been somewhat mixed- some have shown a positive relationship and some a negative one, however the overall finding is that spirituality is more likely to be associated with better mental health.
My own spiritual journey began in a Catholic primary school with occasional church on Sundays. As a young child I absorbed everything I was told without question (because teachers knew everything, right?) and only when I got to my teens did I start questioning some of the beliefs that formed part of the religion.
I didn't feel brave enough to start questioning the priests straight away, but I do remember that elements of the religious experience felt really awful to me. Reconciliation (confession) was something that we all had to participate in from about age seven, and basically we had to come up with something to confess to the priest so that we could be forgiven by God and absolved of our sin. I always agonised over this. What do I say? Do I tell the worst thing I have done? What if the priest thinks I am just horrible? What if I say something not as bad, but then I don't get forgiven for the really bad thing? And so on. The guilt was just huge. No matter what I chose to confess, I always cried during the process because I felt so terrible about not being a good person.
Eventually I was ready to start finding answers. The fundamental question that I had never been able to reconcile in my head, was: "If God is love and forgiveness, how can he hate someone so much that he would condemn them to an eternity of torture in hell?" I asked a priest this one day, and surprisingly, he didn't try to convince me of anything. He just told me to go inside myself, ask God, and find the answer there. So I did. I'm grateful that he gave me that advice.
There is actually no-one outside of yourself that holds the answers your soul is seeking.
Since then I have read many different spiritual texts from different times and places. Some I gravitated toward so strongly that for a little while, I called myself a Buddhist. What I eventually found through continuing to experience life and integrate understandings that resonated with me was that I didn't belong to any religion, and I didn't need to to have a strong spiritual foundation inside.
My understanding of the spiritual journey has changed and evolved many times over the years, and every time I come to a realisation, it's easy to think "That's it! I get it now!". In reality I believe we will never stop growing and so our understandings and realisations will only deepen and broaden as we continue on our journey. At this point in time, to me a spiritual path is about connecting to that deep, eternal part of yourself that is beyond time and space, and then finding what resonates with it.
This could be certain texts written by people who have a similar resonance to you- when you read the words they feel familiar, and you feel a deep inner knowing inside. It may be certain lifestyle practices that resonate with you- being outside, making things, eating vegetarian, getting lots of exercise, not working too much, music, having fun! Spiritual practice then is about aligning your life with that eternal part of yourself through feeling for what resonates inside.
How freeing is that? :-)