Friday, February 14, 2014

B85. Mind and Spirit: A Healthy Pair

Have you ever said or thought, “If it can’t be proven, I’m not interested”?  Or maybe this one: “People who go to college lose their spirituality”?

One of the most profound problems of the generation in which we’re living is that we set up false dichotomies, like mind vs. spirit, as if the two are enemies.  Either this or this, we say, when in reality we are designed for both, and our lives are unbalanced when we opt for one above the other.

We live in two realms at once.  One is physical.  We see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, and smell it.  We study it, understand it, master it, and control it.  The other is spiritual.  It cannot be mastered, controlled, or understood with our human senses, yet we all sense its profundity and power, and we all know the restlessness of spirit that comes when we ignore it.

Spiritual mystery is beyond what we can experience with our senses and what anyone has ever read or written on a page.  Mystery lives in another realm, a realm we all touch, but in which we cannot seem to reside for any length of time, returning quickly to the familiar comforts of the senses.

Seemingly for most of us, it is difficult to acknowledge something we cannot control, so we tend to respond to the very real spiritual realm in one of two ways.  Either we refuse to acknowledge it, maybe outwardly rejecting it, dismissing those who acknowledge it as superstitious or unintelligent; or maybe just paying it no attention; or we embrace it and pretend we control it.  We give the spirit world concrete rules, and we say we know all about it with certainty, when by its very nature, this cannot be so.

Similarly, in the physical world, there is so much that can be studied and learned.  Yet the more we learn, the more we realize we do not know. Some of us abandon all that we can’t see or touch, and focus our entire lives on feeding our minds.  Others, often those who have not had the opportunity to follow higher educational paths, decide to reject all of science and academia, asserting that these are harmful to the spirit.

What is truly harmful to the spirit, and to the mind, is the dichotomy we have set up.  We live in both worlds, and a healthy life will balance the two, carefully exercising both mind and spirit and allowing them to live harmoniously within us.

How can we exercise the spirit? First we exercise it by acknowledging that we cannot understand or control it.  We cannot set the rules for connecting with God.  It’s not about how much time we spend in church, or how many times we’ve read the Bible, or how much money we place in the offering plate. Any of these could be good for the spirit, or they could be hindrances, or, as is often the case, they could be neutral, little more than any other club/organization with its bonding and rituals.  We find our spirit in solitude, and in those moments of grief or fear when our lives are falling apart. We find our spirit in nature, in the babbling mountain stream, outside the rush of daily routine and the clatter of our many electronic devices.   Even in those Sunday morning times when a song or a word transports us spiritually, we might be surrounded physically by other people, but that connection is solitary and personal.

You know the moments.  Maybe that morning you got up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean.  Or the moment you first held your tiny little baby.  Or walking through the woods, or bird watching, or singing “How Great Thou Art” as you drive.  The moments are different for us all, but we know their feel and their power.  We know in these moments that spirit is not about saying the right words or believing the right doctrines, but it’s a deep rich indefinable communion with God. 

And while we cannot control a realm we can’t see, we can exercise our spirits to invite the moments.  While many of our spiritual moments might have come to us unexpectedly, we can open the door to them with the right exercises.  Solitude.  Isolation from all tasks, all people, and every distraction.  Go outside to a spot of natural beauty.  Take a walk, and talk aloud to God.  Or journal in total honesty and abandonment.  My exercises will not be yours, and yours will not be mine.  There are no rules, no steps that guarantee “this is how it’s done.”  But when our spirit is in communion with God, we are real and at peace.

And how can we exercise our minds?  Intelligence is not measured by how many degrees we have, or by how many hours a day we read.  Again, these might be positive or negative influences to a healthy intelligence.  Higher education is great if pursued with the intention of expanding our minds, not just of getting a degree or seeking a higher paying job; if we read our textbooks to ponder what they have to teach us, not just to pass the next test. And in higher education, we likely owe as much or more of our mind expansion, not to the classrooms and textbooks, but to the culture of being surrounded by all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds.

Thus, perhaps the best exercise for our intelligence is to seek to broaden our own thinking.  What if we made a list of all the types of people we dislike, and then we consciously chose reading material written from their perspectives, not ours?  What if we consciously changed our tv/radio news channels and listened to a different perspective, at least every other day?  Being able to perceive the world from perspectives other than our own is one of the greatest signs of a healthy mind.

Finally, how do we know when we are making progress? 
1.  We have embraced our intellects and our spirituality, acknowledging that both are very much a part of who are designed to be, and that exercising both is necessary for any balanced life.

2.  We are regularly and consciously exercising both mind and spirit, not by checking off a list of rules, but by personally and privately seeking our own balance.

3.  We are finding peace within our own souls, as we constantly strive to become better people, having less and less interest in judging others.

4.  Which leads to possibly the most important of all: Once our intellects and our spirits are being exercised and embraced, our relationships with other people become more gentle and peaceful.  We can stop judging each other by how many degrees we have, which churches we attend, or which political party we claim.  We can stop categorizing people into groups that we love to condemn, as we better understand those with whom we disagree.  We recognize that they might be ignoring either their intellect or spirit, and we can forgive them, knowing that we all still have work to do on finding that balance.

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.  (Luke 10:27 KJV)

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