Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Talking Spirituality in Addictions and Mental Health Setting

I was asked to give a talk on the subject of spirituality and felt very honoured.  It was a human request so it wasn't as if God spoke to me directly and sent me to Nineveh. No whale swallowed me at least.  I just had to ride my motorcycle over to Burnaby. 
The preparation was made easier because the  the Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal May 2009 edition arrived with two cover story articles on Religion and Spirituality. The great man of the subject, Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University and the Canadian guru, Dr. John Toews had done their typical brilliant best. I then just had to get my staff to copy the pertinent references and create a very impressive hand out. The Power Point presentation was another matter but a reasonable facsimile was created as well. 
Herbert Benson MD had done superb work in the 70's on the benefits of meditationstudying "Relaxation Response" whereas only a few years ago Dr. Willie Gutowski had given a series of lectures on the benefits of Prayer.  I'd also read Dr. Madeleine Martindale's paper on the benefits for spirituality in internal medicine.  
I told my friend with just a little pride I'd be talking, about talking about God in psychiatric settings. "Don't you think it's a little ironic that psychiatry is admitting that God might be good for some people at this late stage."  I naturally explained that spirituality and religion weren't one in the same but yes it was somewhat ironic that mere psychiatry should 'market' God so to speak.  We laughed about that.  It wasn't like psychiatry or God needed me personally or maybe that each needed the other, but I was glad to do my part.  Anxiety is a measure of one's distance from God and equally a measure of humanity. I do get anxious about presentations.  It would pay to remember humility. 
I did however enjoy the talk.  Marylyn who was the organizer was terrific. Scott who preceded me talked personally about how a Higher Power had altered his life. I came in with all the 'science' and the 'studies' and even shared an amusing anecdote. Thankfully the audience laughed in the right places and then it was over.  Amazing.  Marilyn thanked me and I looked at her thinking, my God, she does this daily. I was exhausted and glad to get on my motorcycle and return to the office where one on one I talk to people.  It wasn't like I had to face 'gang' of students there. 
In the end I was really just telling people to join with others in celebration of the finest in life.  Become aware of the common ground between the various beliefs of those around and look for means of meeting at the highest points where bridges are easily forged. I expressed the importance of times for silence and for sharing silence together. I asked that people look to the best of the religion that their grandparents had passed on to their parents.  I encouraged them to ask what was the 'meaning of life' for them individually and what was the meaning of death for them individually. It was okay to ask these questions of people who were suicidal.  It was okay to explore the so called 'delusions' of schizophrenics by asking what these foreign images meant and where had they come from. It was also okay to say that life and love trumped death and fear to those who were having a hard time making a choice. This didn't mean it was okay to prosyletize or evangelize or condemn.  I encouraged people to read about others religious and spiritual beliefs if only to know that what was being said was true to the text they were quoting.  Finally I encouraged people to talk to religious and spiritual leaders of the various traditions and ask them questions when it was relevant.  
There's a wealth of love and care in spiritual communities that can be brought to bear on the problems of addiction and mental health where so often many of the problems stem from isolation and fear.  As for addiction, the addicts already have unhealthy Gods they worship called Booze, Pot, Crack, Meth, E, K, Opiates and H.  The people and Gods they'll likely to find in synagogues, temples, shrines, and churches won't be nearly as unhealthy or cost nearly as much for them individually.  Politically that's a different matter.  But then I encourage isolated people to join political parties because I know that for many loneliness is killing them.  So much of spirituality is about the interconnectedness. It's about finding the perrenial philosophies that celebrate the journey more than the end.  Love adds and multiplies whereas fear subtracts and divides. It's about Love really.  And Love heals. 

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