Spirituality's impact on mental health

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

More good news surfaced recently on the mental health front. There's something almost anyone can do to lessen mental darkness and increase well-being. Consider this from a cover story in Newsweek: "[T]he impact of forgiveness, may boost health.... In a survey of 1,500 people published [last] year, Neal Krause, a researcher at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, found that people who forgive easily enjoy greater psychological well-being and have less depression than those who hold grudges" (Nov. 10, 2003).

It's the kind of story that makes you smile. Not just because of the upbeat results. But because, well, you don't exactly have to be steeped in religious history to know that, while Krause's survey results are news, the healing power of forgiveness is not. It's more like an account of Jesus walking on water. Thought-provoking and inspiring? Definitely. But we're talking about issues that have been around for a while. Forgiveness has been in the spiritual healer's medicine chest for at least 3,000 years, as the Bible shows. It has been benefiting both those who practice it toward others (or themselves) and those who are on the receiving end of forgiveness.

Perhaps parallel surveys would produce similar good results for those who practice compassion and spiritual love. Like forgiveness, these flow naturally from true spirituality. And these, too, have a long history of healing impact when it comes to mental health.

What's at the core of true spirituality to elicit such great outcomes? Current research shines one kind of light on this question. A healing from Jesus' ministry shines another. A man from Gerasenes suffered acutely. "It was no longer possible for any human being to restrain him even with a chain.... All through the night as well as in the day-time he screamed among the tombs and on the hill-side, and cut himself with stones," says the Bible (Mark 5: 3, 5, J.B. Phillips).

What did Jesus employ in this healing? Compassion? Forgiveness? Perhaps that and more. Jesus' response displaced the problem - the legion of evil spirits that the Bible says harassed the man - and replaced it with something more wholesome.

But the mental illness wasn't native to him in the first place. He was "in the grip" of it, says the Bible. What a relief to see it as foreign! A spiritual perception reveals that mental ill health has no rightful place in a person because it has no place in the divine likeness. Perceiving a person in his or her true nature - guiltless, loved unconditionally, accepted by God - moves healing forward.

At the core of true spirituality is the calm and untroubled message from the Father to human consciousness. A message of compassion and love, underscoring the innocence of each person. A message assuring the stability of each one's mental health and well-being. A message of each person's preciousness to God. A message that is, in a word, Christ.

Just before this healing, Jesus was caught in a storm at sea. He stilled it. Maybe there was a correlation with the man's healing. Christly power stilled the outer turbulence shrieking through the storm, then stilled the inner turbulence raging through the man.

The Monitor's, founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, "To the burdened and weary, Jesus saith: 'Come unto me.' O glorious hope! there remaineth a rest for the righteous, a rest in Christ, a peace in Love. The thought of it stills complaint; the heaving surf of life's troubled sea foams itself away, and underneath is a deep-settled calm" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," page 19).

Those storm-calming words can speak to anyone with mental health issues. Anyone who has struggled with anxiety, phobias, self-hate, or rejection feels yanked by a legion of fears. How reassuring to be drawn by the one Christ, not pulled by many demons.

The simple, healing, calming power of Christ speaks to yearning hearts everywhere. It's not impossible to break with self-loathing when you're bathed in selfless love coming from God through Christ to you. Feeling pummeled by rejection eases when you remember Christ is saying to you, "Come unto me." And Christ is.

The spirit of forgiveness, of compassion and of love that flow inevitably from true spirituality - and that speak to each person through Christ - never stays out of reach. The simplicity of the one Christ cuts through a multitude of mental health complexities and always applies, always harmonizes, always enlightens, even the darkest caverns.

A thought from the Bible

God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

II Timothy 1:7

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