The quote above was from one of my lecturers at university. I'll always remember her stating that we are ostensibly, Physical, Mental, Emotional AND Spiritual creatures. Despite what Richard Dawkins feels - I think it's fair to say that his arguments have become somewhat of an embarrassment even for some of the more rational atheists...bless! I personally came from a family that was utterly devoid of ANY religious affiliations. None, zero, zilch! I developed an interest in philosophy from a very early age. I recall being fascinated by what we call the Big Questions. I used to pinch my mothers 'adult' Library tickets. The librarian once commented to her that she was impressed by my mother's interest in Plato, Descartes and Buddhism and Krishnamurti!! Eventually finding most interest in the teachings of Buddhism, particularly the Buddhist philosophy of mind - they are centuries ahead of contemporary cognitive neurosciences in my opinion. If you’re interested, read Nargajuna, Shantideva and if you're feeling REALLY brave, look into the Madhyamika and Prasangika schools of philosophy. I think the search for consciousness is noble, I just think 'science' has been looking in the wrong place for its source. Any other 'science' would have concluded by now that mind, consciousness or awareness, having not been pinned down in the body, must exist elsewhere. But as that hypothesis simply does not fit into a closed system of Newtonian physics, its not on the lab table!
We haven't even looked at what David Chalmers called "The Hard Problem" - “the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience, the way things feel for the subject… It is these phenomena that pose the real mystery of the mind” (Chalmers, 1995)
But for those with faith, it's a different matter. The assumption that faith is a crutch for the emotionally lame is outdated now. I have spoken to many people of faith who struggle to articulate their feelings and experiences, as we are so used to describing things via a Platonic view of the world. Its like trying to describe what sugar tastes like. Try it! Its impossible without describing something that sugar is not. 'Sweet' doesn't cut it as honey is sweet, but it doesn't taste like sugar! Its a non-conceptual, direct and subjective experience that belies description. Like faith.
After 30 years studying Buddhism, I have developed a deep interest in Christianity over the last few years. I maintain that the church missed a trick in the early 1960s when the 'kids' were looking for something to satisfy their need to answer the Big Questions - especially in the west post Bay of Pigs crisis. As it happens, there was a spiritual exodus (no pun intended) to the East. Not a bad thing, but the church and especially the Catholic Church could have capitalised and made more available the rich and diverse mystical tradition inherent in its literature. Its here that I am currently drawing my interests from. It's all there, from St Augustine and St John of the Cross to St Teresa of Ávila and so on. A rich and fascinating wealth of mystical teachings.
So, how does faith help in terms of mental health? I am not going to focus on one particular faith; but attempt to be more generic.
There are many different reasons that leaning onto a faith can help reduce the distress from an anxiety disorder or depression. The subject is in fact huge and far too complex to cover in any details here - suffice to say that there are certain aspects of all faith led belief systems that have common practices that can help. Confession being one. It might come as a surprise that the Christian faith and specifically the Catholics are not the only religion that has confession as an integral part of their liturgy. Tibetan Buddhism also has a strong reliance on confession. In certain pujas (or a structured set of chants, prayers and recitations) they recite something similar to the following:
I confess my wrong deeds from all time,
I rejoice in the virtues of all
Please stay until Samsara ceases,
And turn the wheel of Dharma for us.
I'll let you look up the various word you may not be familiar with! But the point is that confession helps generate a feeling of a new start, a fresh outlook on our deficits that can help us avoid partaking of them again. Look upon it as a form of self compassion, maybe.
To be continued....