We come into this world as innocent, bright-eyed, malleable souls who are continuously shaped and formed by our environment. We collect pain and heartache along the way that effects every interaction that follows. As the pain and heartaches pile up, eventually we begin to see the world we were born into as a dark and evil place. Everything we look at—whether it’s good or not—is viewed through the lens we see the world through, which causes us to see everything distorted.
We are reactionary creatures, and yet, we aren’t seeing the world clearly, so how can we be certain our reactions are accurate? Are we reacting to actual live events or are we reacting out of our layer upon layer of pain and heartache?
Where did that innocent, bright-eyed, malleable soul disappear to? Is he gone forever? Is she lost for good? Is it possible to see any good in the world when we have been programmed, conditioned, shaped to only see the bad?
How do we get relief from the pain and heartache that bombards our soul wave after wave? Even when we aren’t being bombarded from external forces, our minds constantly reinforce the pain over and over! The trauma or event may have happened decades ago, but the signals our body receives from our brain tell us it’s still happening RIGHT NOW!!
We try to shut our brain off, but to no avail. We obsess or worry ourselves into a frenzy. Alan Watts said, “The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are not as real, but more real than the present. The present cannot be lived happily unless the past has been ‘cleared up’ and the future is bright with promise.”
So, we live in a constant state of turmoil. The memories from our past torment us, the dread of our future consumes us, and the hope of peace and joy in our present has vanquished. What can we do in those moments when we’re being chased by our past, haunted by our future, and tormented by our thoughts in the present moment?
The worldview I was raised in might suggest Let go and let God. And, truthfully, for many people that’s enough to get them through the day. They believe if they cast their burdens at the feet of Jesus, then he can help them carry those burdens or even take them away completely. Their Bible tells them to cast all their cares upon him, because he cares for them.
That all genuinely sounds wonderful, but what about when it’s not working? What do we tell the well-meaning Christian who casted their cares on Jesus day after day, month after month, but their cares came back and smacked them in the face like a boomerang? Or, what do we say to the non-believer, or the individual who experienced abuse in the name of the very person we’re asking them to cast their burdens to?
To some, telling them Let go and let God could be just as insensitive as telling them Just get over it! For the individual who had a positive experience in their religious upbringing, using religious symbolism may be helpful. But for those hurt by religious dogma or not raised with any specific religion, a different approach is in order.
It may be tempting to pile on more guilt and shame by letting them know their lack of faith is at the root of their problems—and kick them while they’re down while you’re at it. The underlying assumption is they aren’t believing right, or living right, or praying right, or confessing right. Those who mix religion and mental health often assume there’s a formula to live by and if the individual has problems in life, then they must not be doing X, Y, and Z or believing A, B, and C.
Sometimes remedies for mental health problems can be found in religious symbolism; and other times it’s damaging to throw religious darts at someone in desperate need of psychological, emotional, or physiological help.
There have been innumerable scientific advancements since the days most religious texts were penned. Many problems once believed to be demonic actually have clear scientific reasons today. Not every problem can be solved using fallible interpretations from archaic texts.
However, we should be careful not to allow the pendulum to swing so far in the scientific direction that we fail to look at the spiritual. To those hurt by religion, or raised without it, it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and disregard any spiritual advice for what is assumed to be a mental health issue. That may be a mistake as well.
Just because someone’s spiritual practice looks different than yours, that doesn’t make yours right and theirs wrong. Differences in spiritual practices do not create superiority and inferiority divides. If your spiritual practice gives you a feeling of superiority, then it’s not a spiritual practice; you have a psychological problem. True spiritual practices are rooted in love and cultivate humility, freedom, and growth.
My journey has brought me to a place where I am extremely leery of people who assume they have all the answers to life’s big questions. I absolutely love having spiritual and religious conversations (yes, they are different). When I talk to people about spirituality and religion, it doesn’t take long to learn who is spiritual and who is religious.
Generally, those who are spiritual have a demeanor of humility, awe, wonder, thankfulness, flexibility, learning, growth, and openness. Those who are spiritual may belong to a specific religion, go to a specific church, or vote for either political party. They may subscribe to specific religious and political systems, but overall, they have a spiritual demeanor. Conversely, they may not outwardly subscribe to any religion, political party, or spiritual practice; yet, they still walk with a genuine sense of devoutness.
On the other hand, when I speak with those who are religious, it doesn’t take long to sense their demeanor of certainty, pride, rigidity, closed-mindedness, dogmatism, a lack of wonder and awe, strong opinions, superiority, authoritarianism, rules, lack of confidence in their own thought process, rehearsed responses, their “truth” is swathed in their conditioning, they have lots of answers but ask few questions, they judge everything according to their stance without being open to new information, and they are generally willing to choose their religion over close relationships. Religious people may not belong to specific religions or political parties. Typically, though, these “religious” people give the impression they have all the answers, they align with the right political party, they watch the right news source, they speak with certainty about incomprehensible mysteries of life, and they have minimal ability to carry on a long conversation with someone who thinks differently.
The “religious” people referred to above view God, and life, as a formula: A+B=C. “If I believe in A, and live like B, then I will get C.” Because they see life as a formula, they typically assume if someone has any troubles in their lives, it’s because something is off with A or B. When someone in their life has problems, instead of simply being with the person or loving the person, they turn into Magnum P.I. super-investigator to discover where they might have strayed in the A or B in order to get a different C than they hoped for. As a result, we end up with wounded people unwilling to share their true heart and feelings with others for fear of being guilted or shamed to death.
As I said, we come into this world as innocent, bright-eyed, malleable souls who are continuously shaped and formed by our environment. We collect pain and heartache along the way that effects every interaction that follows. Some have pain they carry with them most of us could never fathom. Others have pain that may seem trivial and minor compared to atrocities aired on the news every night—but their pain is just as real and important as another’s pain.
Instead of comparing pain from our past and judging others whose pain should be managed easier than ours, what if we attempted to offer healing to everyone—no matter the severity of their pain? Instead of investigating where someone went wrong or who to blame their problems on, what if we just listen? Truly listen. Try to learn something new about them. Listen beyond their words. Listen beyond their hearts. Listen for what their soul has to say about their struggles.
You see, that innocent, bright-eyed, malleable soul is still in there. It hasn’t gone anywhere. Your capital “S” Self—your highest Self—is still inside you waiting to share this beautiful life with you. Behind all the pain, behind all the abuse, behind all the religiosity, behind all the poor choices, behind all the desperate attempts to cover up the pain through self-sabotage, your True Self is waiting to come out.
I’m a firm believer that we all have the answers we need for ourselves. When I sit down to talk to someone, I have the easiest job in the world. All I have to do is actively listen and create a safe space for the individual to hear their own truths. They know what they want deep down, they know what they need, they know what they must do. I don’t have to be smart or use clever techniques to help another person. My genuine presence in the here-and-now is my greatest tool. I attempt to stay out of my head and listen from my heart.
If you were once one of those innocent, bright-eyed, malleable souls who collected pain and heartache along the way, and you are struggling to recognize the True Self that lies within you, please consider talking to someone. I have been in therapy for nearly two decades—some years more consistent than others—and there has been no greater impact on my life than sitting across from the beautiful souls I have opened up to in therapy. I believe in the power of therapy so much that I am currently in graduate school to become a counselor myself and I will spend the rest of my life helping others rediscover their True Self. There’s already enough pressure in the world, that’s why my intention is to help people be more comfortable with their humanness.
Remember, your innocent, bright-eyed, malleable soul is still in there. If you need help finding it again, let me know.
Peace my Friends!