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In life, it's hard to find a complete sense of acceptance. Even when we encounter affirming people, places, and events; the din of denigration can feel more salient. As a result, we harbor shame and embarrassment about the parts of who we are that have been deemed wrong, strange, inferior, or ugly. So, we deliver altered versions of ourselves to the world. Beau ideals that meet the assent of our families, friends, peers, partners, and colleagues; but betray us.
Sadly, this experience is not exclusive to the secular domain of human life. It's evinced in spirituality and religion, too. Spirituality and religion at their bones, depend on people unifying around a collection of beliefs and experiences to guide and enrich their lives. With that can come the pressure to conform to a set protocol of cognition, conduct, and ritual. But, how can a single doctrine satisfy the yearnings and questions of one person, let alone a large sample of the population? I don't think it can, because people are changeable. Conversely, doctrine tends to be uncompromising. And it's that last bit that affects how we view ourselves and others in the presence of what we consider holy. Being a person that dares to question or change dogma is scary. Firstly, it's prone to be greeted with scorn and disgust from peers. Secondly, it puts you in a predicament of either renouncing yourself or being ousted not only from a sacred community, but what's sacred itself. Constantly worrying about what you say and do, lest you end up on the wrong side of God, does not foster a culture of discovery and learning. Instead it builds a place of asphyxiation, derision, secrecy, distrust, and contempt.
So, I'm turning it over to you readers. How can we create spiritual/religious communities where people are truly accepted?
Over the past few weeks, several notable individuals within the music, film, and television industries have died. Like many people, I am struck by sadness and bewilderment over such a strong emotional reaction to individuals that I did not personally know. Public figures/celebrities have the platform to make an extensive impact on people. More than that, they produce significant contributions to the images, styles, soundscapes, and lexicon that help to shape our lives. They and their works can also help us to feel less alone when we are isolated within our families, peer groups, communities, and even society as a whole. Perhaps that is why the loss of these people is so affecting.
Anytime that a person dies, celebrity or not, it reminds me of the finite nature of incarnate life. As a spiritual practitioner, there can be an expectation to not be sad about a person’s death. This is attributed to the belief that “death is an illusion” and that ultimately “people live on in spirit.” While I do believe in an afterlife and that one’s soul survives physical death, that does not bar me from feeling downhearted when someone dies. Nothing can entirely match being able to have a palpable connection to another human being. Also, there can be a sense of wonder about how their lives could have advanced, had they lived longer.
The subject of mortality can become complicated with celebrities, because they are subject to a sort of pop culture deification. So much so that when news of their passing occurs some people find it hard to believe that they could have died as the result of illness, negligence, suicide, addiction, fatal accidents, or self-destruction. And yet these things are factual occurrences that led to the painful and at times preventable deaths of well-known individuals. No cruel or nefarious misfortune is necessary to bring someone to the grave, because money and fame do not spare a person from suffering or dying. We must not forget that celebrities are human beings, with their own lives, loved ones, pathologies, and experiences. Regardless of the reverence that we hold for them or how much of their work we consumed, we are not the authorities on their private lives.
As these outpourings of mourning for deceased public figures continue to flow, I hope that those of us who are not within the intimate circle of surviving loved ones, respect their bereavement process. Specifically, I hope that we allow them the time and space to reckon with the fact that their relative, friend, partner, and/or colleague is now far removed from their lives and palpable existence. May we be courteous and objective enough not to pose our ideologies, religious/spiritual practices, morbid curiosity, gossip, or opinions on them in their time of deep and visceral sorrow.
There has been a disturbing trend in spirituality and religion that needs to be addressed. That trend is the negation of mental health concerns among people who are affiliated with a religion or a spiritual tradition. This topic is close to my heart, because I am both a spiritual practitioner and work as a post-doctoral fellow within the field
of Clinical Psychology. What I have witnessed repeatedly among some spiritual people and religious people is that they will misinterpret serious mental health issues as being the result of one or more of the following: bad karma, negative energy, psychic vampires, the attachment of a malevolent being, demonic possession, a preordained “spiritual contract”, or “a lesson” meant to further spiritual enlightenment. What is worse is that instead of seeking psychotherapeutic intervention, these same individuals will resort to remedies that are inappropriate, irrelevant, and insufficient.
Why do some people who are affiliated with a religion or a spiritual tradition eschew mental health care, even when they have a mental health diagnosis? The answers vary. For some individuals, they may be afraid that their religious or spiritual beliefs may be pathologized. Furthermore, some people may believe that seeking psychotherapy and other forms of mental health treatment, will invalidate their faith or the power of divine intercession. Finally, given the emphasis on maintaining piety and moral rectitude in religion and positive energy in spirituality, a number of religious and spiritual people erroneously think that their sin and negativity are to blame for having a mental health diagnosis. So, in response they suppress their emotions, punish themselves for not being more holy or awakened, and pretend to be alright. This never truly heals the symptoms of poor mental health. Instead it can lead to shame, secrecy, maladaptive coping mechanisms, and the worsening of symptoms.
To be absolutely frank, I am fucking tired of seeing people struggle to function and find the will to live only to have their sacred communities ignore their deteriorating condition until it is too late. We deserve better than that and we can do better than that. And it starts by knowing what course of action to take. If you know or suspect someone in your religious or spiritual community (whether online or offline) is struggling to cope with a mental health issue, please validate their experience and let them know that they are not alone and they have support, as well as resources. Furthermore, talk to this person about seeking therapy from a qualified mental health professional in their area. If you do not know how to go about that search, you could start by helping them to look online for psychotherapists in their city or the surrounding area. You could also help them search for national or local counseling and psychological association websites, which usually contain directories for mental health professionals. You could help them ask their health insurance company (if they have coverage) what mental health professionals in the area take their insurance. Finally, you could help them ask their physician for a possible referral to a mental health professional. For more information about searching for qualified mental health professionals, please refer to these links from the American Psychological Association (https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/choose-therapist) and Kristin Wong from The Cut (https://www.thecut.com/2017/12/a-beginners-guide-to-finding-the-right-therapist.html). Please note that these articles are geared towards readers within the United States. Therefore, they may not cover pertinent details regarding mental health services in other countries.
Alternatively, if you know or suspect that someone in your religious or spiritual community (whether online or offline) is at imminent risk of suicidality or homicidality you can do the following: call your country’s emergency number (e.g., in the US you can call 911), call or go to the nearest emergency department, and contact your local/national suicide prevention number (e.g., in the US this includes the National Crisis Textline Number [i.e., text HOME to 741741] and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Number [1-800-273-8255]).
Lastly, if you suspect or know that anyone within your religious or spiritual community (whether online or offline) is being abused or neglected (particularly children, adolescents, older adults, and disabled individuals), you could do the following: call your country’s Child Protective Services or an equivalent, call your country’s Adult Protective Services or an equivalent, call your country’s emergency number, or call your local law enforcement agency.
For clarification, I am not casting aspersions against the enrichment, solace, and healing that can be found in religion and spirituality. What I am saying is that religion and spirituality cannot be the salves to heal all wounds. Just as one would not use prayer in lieu of surgery for a broken leg, one would not use the invocation of love and light to treat Bipolar I Disorder. You can hold on to your sacred practice and beliefs, while also seeking psychotherapeutic intervention. This is an ongoing conversation that does not begin and end with a single blog post. But, what I sincerely hope is that it will begin to empower religious/spiritual people with the awareness and motivation to do something more than send healing thoughts and prayers or be silent, when they can tell that someone is in a poor state of mental health.
Thank you to Mimi Bonhomme. Our conversations inspired this post. And thank you for reading.
Photo Credit: Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
I'm calling for an abstract, relational death. A death that has far reaching consequences. A death that entails liberation from centralized power belonging to one person.
In the journey to obtain spiritual enlightenment so many of us have intentionally or unintentionally forsaken our critical thinking and personal agency to follow a charismatic spiritual/religious leader. While most of us are familiar with the extreme version of this phenomenon in cults, we overlook the more ubiquitous ways in which we sacrifice ourselves for a favored spiritual practitioner. For example, perhaps we make excuses, when we learn of ways in which our beloved spiritual teachers and leaders belittle and harass people, even when we're the subject of their rage. Or maybe we suppress dissenting views within ourselves and others because there's an established school of thought that's gone virtually unquestioned.
We must come to terms with the great power and responsibility of organizing around spiritual/religious beliefs. Spiritual practitioners (particularly those who hold a public platform) are not just working with the divine. We are working with vulnerable individuals who are sharing their most personal needs, experiences, and concerns in relation to all that is holy. Consequently, they are placing a lot of trust, faith, and goodwill in us to enact services and/or rites in an ethical, compassionate manner. If we are not in a constant process of checking ourselves, our egos, our biases, our insecurities, our selfishness, our entitlement, or our need to be seen as important we can easily abuse our power and harm others in the process.
So since I'm calling for the symbolic death of an all-knowing guru. I'm also calling for rebirth. A fluid state of being in which people regardless of our spiritual/religious ideologies work interdependently with the divine and each other. Where we can still be our full selves without pressure or hubris. A state of fellowship where Do No Harm guides every breath, word, and deed. This proposition is not going to be rigid or consistent, because we all have a stake in it. But it should live, breathe, and develop as we do.
So, in closing, spiritual/religious practice is an honorable craft. Spiritual practitioners don't have to be perfect. But, we sure as hell, better not be remiss about our responsibilities or the impact that we have on others.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash
Home. For some people it's a plot of earth purchased, stolen, or selflessly bequeathed by one's ancestors. A terrestrial component of heritage carried down to subsequent generations. I used to envy those people, because it seemed that they were firmly rooted to a specific place. Their origin story was presumably clear and uncomplicated.
Conversely, home for me has been a state of transience. I was born in Landstuhl, Germany and spent year 0 to age 4 there. As an infant my parents (who are U.S. Air Force veterans) took me on visits to Spain, Italy, and Vatican City (where my mother and I met Pope John Paul II). Then, my family and I relocated to Florida and lived there for another four years. In 1996, my mother and I moved to Georgia, where I lived until late June 2016. It was at that time that I moved to Utah for a yearlong internship, as one of two final degree requirements for my doctorate. Finally, over the past several years I've traveled to Berlin, London, and Dublin.
There's a very real possibility that I'll always be a nomad. And that's beautiful. Being removed from a fixed environment has given me a sense of freedom. It's helped me form meaningful connections to different countries and people from diverse backgrounds.
Ultimately, home is not limited to a finite, physical space. Existence is so expansive that it contains us all. We live in everything.
I've been wearied from the weight of holding up a faith that my body is too shaken to firmly clasp. The kind of faith that stands as the last house in a hurricane. Or the firefighter that emerges from the door frame of a building in flames.
I've been beaten by the lash that says my unstable faith is lazy, whiny, and unacceptable of an enlightened being.
I am no stranger to the roiling emotions of anger, doubt, fear, jealously, bitterness, and frustration.
Throughout my life I've struggled to obtain some elusive sense of perfection. The kind that never errs, refrains from maladaptive patterns, knows everything, and is always joyful and kind. Even though it is impossible for any human to be infallible, some would make it seem as if that's within reach. This is particularly true in religion and spirituality where there can be a pressure to be impervious to suffering. But, that's a lie.
I've tried to be the unshakable fortress. But, even fortresses can burn and fall from a million fissures and cracks.
All that I know for sure is that if my spirit gets broken, it will be repaired. If I fuck up, I will take accountability for it. If I don’t know, I'll get the answer at the right time. And if I fall, I have support above and right here to lift me up.
That's my kind of faith. The kind the honors the complications of being an incarnate person.
"Ugh! The fuckery of some so called, spiritual leaders."
Earlier this week, I had a meeting with a spiritual leader, with whom I share a similar background. I was under the impression that this would be an informal conversation designed to help us get to know each other better. Initially, they seemed to be interested in being of support. They asked about my current work, aspirations, and concerns. However, as we spoke it became clear that they wanted to sell me their mentoring course at an exorbitant price. A price that exceeds what I have in my bank account at the moment, which I told them. When, I declined and said that I felt uncomfortable purchasing a mentorship at this time, they tried to persuade me to take part in a monthly payment plan. This would have entailed me paying what remained of the full retail price at the end of the program. Given the length of the program and my current as well as anticipated finances that seemed too risky. So, once again I declined. Finally, they questioned how much I was willing to invest in myself, as well as my faith in the Law of Attraction and my manifestation abilities. Are you for fucking real? Not only was this person trying to force their mentorship program on me, but when I repeatedly told them no they tried to misappropriate spiritual tenets to manipulate me. Well fuck them and fuck that!
I know that we as spiritual practitioners are people, too. People who have bills and need to receive adequate compensation for our energy work. Still, we have to conduct ourselves with moral integrity and ethics. This includes respecting the boundaries of others. Moreover, this means being clear, transparent, and honest about our work and our intentions. It’s because of bullshit like my aforementioned encounter that people lack trust in spiritual practitioners.
In closing, don’t fall prey to or commit spiritual dishonesty. Because that’s not spirituality to begin with. Also, your spirituality is your own. Don’t forsake your soul’s power and personal connection to the Divine for the advice of another, fallible human being.
Within the spiritual community there’s been a lot of conversation surrounding soul contracts, soul missions, and the law of attraction. These phrases and the contexts in which they’re discussed, suggest that much if not all of the content of our lives and beings are preordained.
However, this stance omits a critical component of being human: free will. As incarnate individuals we have the personal agency to make choices that precipitate adaptive or maladaptive outcomes in our lives, the lives of others, or the totality of existence.
Moreover, by neglecting free will we run the risk of absolving individuals of personal accountability, perspective taking, empathy, and rectitude. This is particularly evident when spiritual tenets are misappropriated to engage in victim blaming or to excuse those who have committed maltreatment (whether egregious or minor in severity) of the personal volition that fulfilled their transgressions. Because let me be clear: When one is performing any type of harm, the onus is on them not on the individual who is enduring affliction. Yes, there are grace, forgiveness, and redemption. But those virtues can’t come from ignorance and denial.
While we enter this world with purpose that does not mean that we are absent minded puppets of the cosmic machine. We always have the free will to yield helpful or injurious results. Hopefully, we have the awareness, as well as the moral and cognitive development to do the former and correct the latter.
Englane Read is a 35-year-old British psychic-medium. She identifies as a bisexual, multiracial (i.e., English, Filipino, and Spanish), cisgender female. In addition, she is an accomplished musician, who has played reputed musical events such as the Isle of Wight Festival. Finally, she is a devoted life partner, friend, and has a lust for life. I'm honored to call her a Soul Sister and give you the opportunity to get to know her better.
When did you first notice that you had psychic, intuitive, mediumship, and/or healing abilities? How did you feel about it at the time?
I first noticed my extra sensory abilities in 2003, when the Spirit of a famous rock star visited me and stayed with me for a while and played their music in my head all the time! Being that I’m a huge fan of the person I honestly, genuinely thought I was losing my mind! Even my friends were worried about me! But that initial experience taught me a lot.
Did you have any religious or spiritual beliefs prior to being aware of your abilities?
I was raised Catholic, but I certainly wouldn’t class myself as one! I’ve always believed in the Afterlife and Spirit.
How have your religious or spiritual beliefs evolved?
I’m definitely the most spiritual now than I have ever been. Loving the continuous journey - a learning curve, to say the least!
Have you come out about your abilities? If so, what has the response been?
I haven’t fully come out about my psychic-mediumship abilities yet, but I am certainly getting there! I’m getting braver about sharing certain things, definitely. So far the response has been positive and people have been intrigued and asked me about it, which I think is nice.
How has having these abilities affected your relationships with family members, friends, romantic partners, etc.?
I am very lucky to have extremely loving and supportive parents who are extremely open minded, and my partner has been amazing about it, too!
In your opinion, what are some of the misconceptions people have about psychics, mediums, and other highly intuitive individuals?
It really bothers me that people tend to tar us all with the same brush, in the sense that we are all ‘fake’ and/or scamming people. Also, it’s not a given that we can “see into the future!” Stereotypes!
What have been the greatest joys of having spiritual abilities?
Being visited by and able to communicate with an array of different spirits, famous, non famous, family and friends that have passed, etc. It’s a beautiful, comforting thing.
What have been the greatest challenges of having spiritual abilities?
Having TRUST and FAITH in my abilities and not just shrugging them off or thinking “it’s all in my head.” Also, unfortunately - being worried about what certain people might think, and being laughed at and criticised.
What are some of the best and worst experiences that you’ve had with spirits or other preternatural beings?
I’ve had some absolutely mind blowing experiences with Spirit, positive and negative ones, but I view them all as positive for being able to sense/hear/see them at all!
What do you think the afterlife is like?
One hell of a party!
Do you fear or embrace death?
I fear the way I might die and the feeling of it, but I embrace going over to the other side!
Do you think that people can carry on relationships with loved ones in Spirit?
Oh, absolutely! Without a doubt. You simply cannot break energy. We are everlasting.
What are your thoughts about grief?
It is truly one of the worst things that we can ever feel, or go through. One of the worst things about death, in general. But time does indeed help to heal.
What has facilitated your personal, spiritual growth?
Well, practice makes perfect, but it’s also SO important to be able to talk about and share your different experiences with other psychic mediums! Invaluable, in fact.
What do you do for self-care?
I love to relax and unwind, pamper myself with long luxury baths & products, eat good food, and sleep! I love my sleep!
What boundaries do you have when it comes to your work with spirits and clients?
Hmm... I haven’t really had any clients yet so it’s hard to say really. But I would never do anything that made me feel unsettled or uncomfortable!
Where do you see the spiritual/metaphysical field evolving?
Hopefully it will evolve so much that it’s many people’s reality and normality, one day!
Where can people find you and your work?
Or just look me up on Facebook!
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Englane!
You’re very welcome, sweet Soul Sister!
All of us have shouldered the burden of emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual distress in our lives. I've experienced it myself and as a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Yet, rather than be compassionate towards ourselves for the pain and suffering we so valiantly carry, we berate ourselves for never achieving an absolute state of healing. The reality is that healing is a cyclical process that we are equipped to address.
For example, when I was a trainee I conducted therapy with children, adolescents, and adults. Quite often they would express frustration over dealing with the same mental health problems for years. Compare this to how we react when we get the flu. None of us say, " God damn it! Why am I getting the flu again? I thought I was done with this shit when I was five." No. Rather we recognize that external conditions have compromised our immune system and we must remedy it with appropriate intervention. The same line of thought applies to mental illness or other forms of distress that impact us. Just as the earth takes its revolution around the sun, psychopathology and nonpathological stressors can reappear in our lives. Luckily, when it does we can address it with healing tools, or even better, preventative measures.
The following exercises are adapted from the Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency (ARC) model. The ARC model was created as a psychotherapeutic intervention to address the multifaceted sequelae of trauma among children and adolescents (Blaustein & Kinniburgh, 2010). It is based on the theory of complex developmental trauma, which pertains to repeated and protracted involvement or exposure to harmful, interpersonal experiences, beginning in early childhood (van der Kolk, 2005). Due to limited research, the ARC model is categorized as a promising/emerging treatment (Arvidson et al., 2011). However, the model is based on empirically supported theories and research related to: attachment, lifespan development, trauma, and neurobiology (Kinniburgh, Blaustein, Spinnazola, & van der Kolk, 2005). Some of us may not be within the population for which the ARC model was designed. However, the underlying theories from which the model was derived apply to and have useful implications for a wide range of ages, developmental stages, and presenting issues.
Exercise I: Steps for Emotional Definition
Exercise II: Steps for Emotional Management
When you have completed exercises I and II please put your responses in a place that you can easily access in times of need. You have now complied a set of resources that you can modify and expand, accordingly.
As we go through the cycle of healing, we realize that revisiting adversity does not have to be redundant and leave us feeling helpless. It can be empowering, by enabling us to utilize our skills and acquired knowledge for restoration and progress
Arvidson, J., Kinniburgh, K., Howard, K., Spinazzola, J., Strothers, H., Evans, M., … Blaustein, M.E. (2011). Treatment of complex trauma in young children: Developmental and cultural considerations in application of the ARC intervention model. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 4(1), 34-51. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19361521.2011.545046
Blaustein, M.E., & Kinniburgh, K.M. (2010). Treating traumatic stress in children and adolescents: How to foster resilience through attachment, self-regulation, and competency. New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Kinniburgh, K. J., Blaustein, M., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Attachment, self-regulation, and competency. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 424-430. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.3928/00485713-20050501-08