Treating a Spiritual Illness
Whatever your state of health and well-being, however hard you strive for greater wellness, you might not realize that you’re neglecting your spiritual well-being. You may need to treat a spiritual illness.
Not long ago, I received a strong message in a dream: Death can be a spiritual illness. I understood that what my unconscious was telling me was to explore the relationship between spiritual illness and the type of death we experience when we feel drained of joy, vitality, and enthusiasm for life.
The death most of us worry about is physical death—an end to our mortal existence and the body’s loss of the life force. Yet there’s another death we should be concerned about, a slow death we experience when we don’t fully embrace our lives today. Yearning for the past, wishing for a better future, and being unable to recognize the gift of today is a sort of spiritual illness. If we feel we can’t transform our lives, we might feel so frustrated and melancholy that we fall into despair and hopelessness.
Accept this moment, whatever it holds.
Doing so can help you to shift your perception of your situation and appreciate what you have instead of what you don’t have. You can free up the energy you are currently spending in longing for a quick and easy cure to your unhappiness—or in distracting yourself from it. Distractions only keep emotional discomfort at bay temporarily.
Choose to find the beauty in some aspect of your life today.
You might focus on the health you have instead of any ailments that reduce your mobility or cause you pain. You might draw your attention to an area of your life that is going well instead of an area of your life that you tend to obsess about. Why are you successful in that area of your life? What can you learn from your successes that can be applied to other “chapters” in your story?
Spend some time in nature and tap into its wisdom.
Nature offers spiritual lessons if we are willing to slow down and observe what it is communicating to us. A scarred tree with a few dead or dying branches doesn’t give up creating nourishment from the sun and sending it through its trunk and surviving branches. It keeps the life force moving through it, through every cell and every leaf and twig. As you think about a tree that may have suffered some damage but continues to grow and thrive, can you identify any areas in your life that are growing and thriving despite your having suffered or been hurt in some way? Do you need to prune something away? Can you let something “die” and not give it any more attention? Is it time to focus instead on some aspect of your life that is working for you and giving you nourishment?
As I grow older and have to deal with physical challenges, I’m much more aware of my mortality than I was years ago. It’s easier for me to focus on my vitality and the potential for continued growth, healing, and thriving if I remember to accept what is, shift my focus to where my life is satisfying, and spend time in nature absorbing her wisdom. I reconnect with nature in any way I can. Time in nature can be a spiritual tonic, strengthening your spiritual immune system that you can draw strength from when life is particularly stressful.
I also relate to death differently from how I would have years ago. I see that endings—things dying—are a part of the cycle of life. I let go of anything that reduces my enthusiasm and vitality, such as focusing too much on medical problems or the limitations I have right now as one of billions of people dealing with a pandemic. Consequently, I feel a sense of vitality despite having health challenges and being aware that while we can do our best to delay physical death, it will eventually claim us.
I believe that where we put our attention in the river of life will determine what we experience. If you want to feel a sense of vitality, optimism, and enthusiasm for your life, lay the foundation for all of that by consciously choosing to focus on what gives you spiritual nourishment. Are there practices that help you feel connected to your spiritual self and to the cosmos and the love and wisdom of Spirit? What are they, and why aren’t you using them more often?
What if you were to make the time to engage in those practices instead of doing what you know drains you of vitality?
What if you were to spend more time in nature and observe it as it observes you? What if you were to ask it to share its wisdom with you?
What if instead of struggling to distract yourself from your sadness, and feeling that your life should be different, you looked at how you frame what you have experienced and are experiencing and consciously chose to change the story of your life?
There are some things we have little or no influence over. However, we don’t have to be mired in hopelessness, helplessness, and inner turmoil. We can reclaim our vibrancy by appreciating what we have and our potential to transform our lives if we’re willing to let go of some things—resentments and attachments, for example, or rigid ideas about what we have to have in order to be happy.
You have control over the meaning you make of the experiences you have had and are having right now. If cynicism and moroseness seem like they’re your birthright given what happened in your past and the family in which you were raised, question that. Maybe you have inherited a spiritual illness that is robbing you of the energy to be adventurous and explore the possibilities before you and that are as yet unseen.
Every time you wake up to another new day, you have the potential to transform how you perceive your life. Make a conscious choice to focus your awareness on what gives you vitality and see if the circumstances of your life don’t shift. In doing so, you may be remedying a spiritual illness that has kept you from living fully for too long.
A version of this article appeared in Eden magazine and Oracle 20/20.
You can learn more about spirituality and personal transformation in my books.
Carl Greer, PhD, PsyD, is a retired clinical psychologist and Jungian analyst, a businessman, and a shamanic practitioner, author, and philanthropist funding over 60 charities and more than 850 past and current Greer Scholars. He has taught at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago and been on staff at the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being.
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