Provision #408: Avoid Spiritual Illness

Laser Provision

Next week we will begin to look at the things we need to embrace for spiritual wellness. Before moving on, however, today’s Provision summarizes the twelve things we need to avoid if we hope to avoid spiritual illness. We’ve covered these things in detail since the start of the year, but if you were not able to read an issue or two, this Provision will give you the Reader’s Digest version of them all.

LifeTrek Provision

Since the start of this series, we have considered twelve things to avoid because they contribute to spiritual illness. There are, of course, many other things that can get us off track spiritually, but these twelve point us in the direction we need to go. Simply put, they set us on the path toward spiritual wellness.

Their wisdom notwithstanding, one of the problems of this series has been the titles. They have all highlighted twelve kinds of thinking we need to avoid in order to promote spiritual wellness, as though spirituality was primarily or even exclusively a matter of thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Spirituality is primarily a way of being in the world. As with all ways of being, spirituality involves our thoughts. But it also involves our feelings, intuitions, ambitions, bodies, practices, environments, finances, communications, and relationships. In other words, it involves our whole being and we have to pay attention to the whole person if we hope to generate a field of spiritual wellness.

This will become clear in the second half of this series, as we move on to the things we need to embrace for spiritual wellness. We will consider twelve positive dynamics that move far beyond the cognitive realm and that capture both the richness and the power of spirituality. If you want to seize the day for zestful living, we hope you will stay with us for the ride.

Before we get started on our first embrace, I want to use today’s Provision to summarize the main points we have covered so far:

1. Avoid Magical Thinking. Too often spirituality smacks of woo-woo, hocus-pocus formulas for success and fulfillment. Think the right thoughts, and all will be well. Believe the right things, do the right things, practice the right things, or sacrifice the right things, and all will be well. Robert Farrar Capon calls these the “creed, cult, and conduct formulas” of religions that kill the spirit. There’s one big problem with these formulas: none of them work. There is no magic pill, whether natural or supernatural, that can always make everything better. What’s more, thinking that there is such a pill is just no fun. It slowly takes the zest out of life as we try, but fail, to make the formula work. Better to avoid magical thinking altogether, living mindfully in the here and now, than to go through life weighted down by thoughts of a transactional universe.

2. Avoid Cynical Thinking. Once people are freed from magical thinking, it’s easy to swing all the way over to cynical thinking. But that too provokes spiritual illness. Just because there is no guaranteed, esoteric, invisible, or unassailable system for getting what we want out of life does not mean that there is nothing worth doing or paying attention to in the present moment. First of all, there are things that work more often than not. So better to increase your odds than to not play the game at all. Secondly, and more importantly, there is great joy that comes from living with our eyes wide open. When we stop looking for the magic pill we can start living in the here and now. We can stop worrying about the future and fretting about the past. We can set aside the pain of expectation and embrace the joy of discovery. We can live free for love.

3. Avoid Positive Thinking. This one generated a lot of interest when the Provision first came out. I mean, how could anyone be against “positive thinking!” Unfortunately, for all too many people, “positive thinking” becomes another one of those magical systems that interferes with our ability to really see, hear, smell, taste, and feel what’s going on in the present moment. When intention overshadows attention we lose the balance that makes for spiritual wellness. When positive thinking becomes a system of control or influence over life, rather than a system of recognition and respect for the underlying perfection of every situation, we fail to live from a posture of joyful fascination. So forget about “positive thinking.” Discover, instead, the power of nonjudgmental witnessing awareness. It can certainly make life better, through good times and bad.

4. Avoid Negative Thinking. When you consider the state of the world, “negative thinking” is a far bigger problem than “positive thinking.” It’s easy to look around and see things to complain, whine, moan, and fret about. All of which can lead to a victim mentality, as we irrationally and fearfully turn a little bad thing into a much bigger bad thing. This illustrates how the problem with “negative thinking” is not much different from the problem with positive thinking: both approaches garble our awareness and appreciation of life based upon either our fear (that nothing will work out) or our faith (that everything will work out). By filtering things through our favorite lens (are you a pessimist or an optimist?), we distort our responsibility, usually make matters worse, and miss many opportunities for discovering meaning, purpose, awareness, attachment, and identity in the here and now.

5. Avoid Unexamined Thinking. Socrates may have said it best: “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet many people go through their days with mindless inattention to their thoughts, feelings, actions, and intuitions. No wonder so many people suffer from a dearth of both knowledge and wisdom! That is not the way to spiritual wellness. Through regular practices of self-reflection and self-examination we can turn this around for life. “Whatever is true,” wrote the apostle Paul, “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Don’t just think about these things, I would add, but read, write, pray, meditate, create, dialogue, and act upon these things. Ponder every external and internal voice until you clearly hear their wisdom. Raise your conscious awareness of what you stand for and how you carry yourself in the world.

6. Avoid Exclusive Thinking. This one also came as a surprise, since “exclusive” is such a popular word in so many circles. People like exclusive clubs, opportunities, stories, resorts, properties, contracts, sales, and truths. Everyone likes to receive special perks, privileges, and treatment. So why, then, did the poet Carl Sandburg call “exclusive” the “ugliest word in the English language?” Perhaps because of the way it separates us, one from another. “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.” When we avoid exclusive thinking we avoid these dire consequences. When we embrace love in the here and now, we commune with the divine in both this life and the next.

7. Avoid Anxious Thinking. It’s as easy to succumb to anxious thinking as it is to succumb to negative thinking. There are not just problems in the world, there are scary problems. That’s why many have labeled this the age of anxiety. But through adjusting our awareness, position, community, and intentions, we can keep our anxiety at bay. Keeping our awareness in the present moment, rather than worrying about tomorrow or fretting about yesterday, is an anxiety antidote. Especially if we keep things in perspective. Every moment has its blessings. But awareness is not just a function of mental focus; it is also a function of position. Sometimes, to avoid anxious thinking, we need to take action in order to shift our perspective. Other times we need to connect with people who can assist us to relieve our anxiety even as we disconnect from those who pile anxiety on. And it never hurts to look at the sunrise to be reminded that everything will be all right.

8. Avoid Aimless Thinking. Aimlessness lies on the opposite end of the spectrum from anxiety. Anxious thinking comes either from our attachment to what we want to happen or from our aversion to what we don’t want to happen. We get so attached to a particular outcome, and a particular course of action, that deviations cause us to fall into the anxiety pit. Those who fail to make the necessary adjustments in awareness, position, community, and intentions can find themselves adrift in aimlessness. We abandon our aspirations and ambitions in order to protect ourselves from the anxiety pit. In the process, we rob life of the very things that make it worth living. “Vision,” it’s been said, “is a target that beckons.” So don’t be afraid to see your own visions and to dream your own dreams. They have the power to move us forward toward spiritual wellness.

9. Avoid Superior Thinking. There’s only one thing worse than a poor loser, and that’s a poor winner. When our aspirations and ambitions are working out, it’s tempting to boast and to develop a superiority complex both during and after the fact. That, however, is a surefire way to not only develop spiritual illness but also to sow the seeds of our own demise. Such attitudes disengage us from the very things that brought us to the dance in the first place. University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has noticed how this works in his studies of flow. The harder we try to overcome a challenge that is just about manageable, the less likely we are to experience flow. That’s because we get in our own way through the prideful exercise of control. Better to let go of pride in favor of humility. Better to do things for their own sake than for some later external goal. Better to receive every accomplishment as a gift.

10. Avoid Inferior Thinking. Of course the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. If every accomplishment is a gift, then we can discount our contributions and sidestep our responsibilities to the point where we are paralyzed by an inferiority complex. We can become discouraged and hopeless in the face of adversity, as though neither we nor anyone else can turn things around. But remember the resurrection. There is always hope for the flowers! Especially when we expand our awareness to include the instinctive intelligence and rapid cognition explored by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, Blink. Armed with these tools, there really is no place for inferior thinking. We can always overcome the odds, even if that means having to snatch life from death.

11. Avoid Scarcity Thinking. Another factor which contributes to spiritual illness is viewing time, money, energy, and love as limited commodities that we trade for and protect carefully. This view contributes to a sense of time, money, energy, and love scarcity which, unfortunately, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to think of these dimensions as essential experiences to be enjoyed and shared with reckless abandon as though our generosity would generate more than enough for one and all. Fortunately, this too is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By giving them away, we discover that there is no scarcity of time, money, energy, or love. These things can be found in abundance, everywhere we look. Life is full of opportunities, resources, rhythms, and relationships from which we can draw strength and live. So go forth and act accordingly.

12. Avoid Selfish Thinking. We concluded our series with the admonition to avoid selfish thinking, and the Provision created a stir among our readers (see our Reader Replies). Some thought it was the best one ever, others that it was both misguided and unfair. My point, simply put, was to make other-care the foundation for self-care (rather than vice-versa). Putting self-care first sounds like a good idea (loving ourselves so we can love others) but it’s open to too much manipulation and self-deception. Putting other-care first (loving others so we can love ourselves) creates a spiral of caring: caring increases geometrically with each iteration. Unfortunately, as evidenced by some of the comments, not everyone experiences caring in this way. Some care for others to the point of exhaustion (deficiency) while others care for themselves to the point of self-absorption (excess). Well, don’t do that! The point of this Provision was to highlight the symbiotic relationship between other-care and self-care, not to counsel one over the other. Do whatever it takes to create a rhythm between the two movements since herein lies the promise of a better world for all.

Coaching Inquiries: What do you need to do to avoid spiritual illness? Do any of these recommendations speak to you? Which ones would you like to learn more about? What’s the best way for you to learn? To read a book? To write in a journal? To talk with a coach? To go for a walk? Why don’t you do one of these things, right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I appreciate your insight. I am in total agreement with your Provision regarding selfishness. I do not know what scripture passage it is but there is a Christian hymn that it inspired that goes something like this: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and its righteousness. Then all these things will be added unto you. Alleluia!” Whenever I hum that hymn and think about the words, it puts everything into perspective and helps me keep my priorities in line. My husband and I certainly believe that God rewards faithfulness and compassionate hearts.

Thanks for the inspirational Provision to Avoid Selfish Thinking • it ranks among your best.

I disagree with your last Provision on selfishness. I spent many years of my life putting other people first, especially family and friends, and that never led to excellent self-care. It just led to a messy and unbalanced life. We need to put self-care first if we hope to actually do it and do it right.

Once again, your Provisions topic came at the most perfect moment to assist my inner Being with enduring and ultimately Transforming a situation in which I am currently involved. Thank You!!

I usually enjoy your columns, but I cannot agree with your point of view on selfishness. Although I believe in helping others and have instilled those values in my children, I would be unable to give love to anyone else if I did not first love myself. I would have no idea what love was. I cannot give away what I do not own. If I did not take care of myself I would not have had energy to raise healthy children.

The great people you noted as being unselfish were in my opinion very selfish. All of them fought to overcome situations that oppressed them. Mandela did not fight for the rights of Hispanics. Gandhi did not advocate for the rights of Native Americans. Anthony did not fight for suffrage for 18 year olds. Although their examples are a model to others, they all fought for the rights and freedom for people like themselves. It was indeed extreme selfishness.

Perhaps you might want to review your article or run it by someone whom you know and whose opinion you value. But I think you were way off base on this one. In a humorous way, it reminds me of Gilda Radnor’s little old news-lady character who took something out of context and ran off into left field with it. 

Your last Provision was an excellent restatement of Ayn Rand’s interpretation of “selfishness.” Good perspective.

Thank you so much for the window into nature today. Your pictures of the hawk Click, as well as your words, were just what I needed.

Like Christina, I too have been inspired by Tim McGraw’s song. I really don’t think much of him as an artist, but I had great respect for his dad (Tug McGraw), for whom this song was written. I was a high school kid in suburban Philadelphia when Tug McGraw was at the peak of his pitching career in major league baseball. I can still see the footage of him being hoisted above his teammates in jubilation when the Phillies won the world series in 1980. I was lucky enough to be able to shake his hand when, along with a few friends. I marched down Broad Street with thousands of other fans in a parade that ended in Veterans Stadium, which no longer exists.

I too remember when Tim McGraw started to become popular and how it was well known (to anyone that watches national entertainment or network news shows) that he and his dad were “estranged”. It was only when Tug became ill that they found themselves able to mend fences. That was their “wake up call”, as you say. It is unfortunate that it all too often comes to that, unfortunately I think it’s SO hard for many of us, myself included, to get out of the “comfortable rut” we might find ourselves in to love deeper and speak sweeter and live a more enriched, authentic life (like we were dying). If you find a way to capture the urgency needed to take on that challenge • let me know.

Your Provision to Avoid Scarcity Thinking was simply wonderful. My life is filled with miracles everyday … absolutely joyful in the way the universe works … gratitude for every Provision you write pours from me!!! Thanks.

You mentioned your legs felt tired after a long run. Hot whirlpools after a long run may feel good, but do not help your legs much. To help with the inflammation after a long run use cold water or take an ice bath. (Ed. Note: You are right about that. Thanks for the reminder!)

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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