I get asked a good bit, "What do you believe?"
The response is usually something like, "I believe religions are mythological, archetypal, symbolic reflections of the human psyche." Sometimes it's more like, "I believe people can believe whatever they want to believe so long as their beliefs are not causing harm to another." Other times, I just say, "I believe in Love."
The truth of the matter though, is that I don't believe anything. There's just some stuff I know, and there's other stuff I put in the category of "don't know" or "don't know yet."
In my coaching approach, I have three main goals: clarity, purpose, and action. It has been my experience that we need clarity to know what's wrong before we can start to work toward making things right.
I know that homing in on a sense of self-defined purpose can allow us to have a philosophical anchor when life throws challenges our way. If my purpose is to manifest Love and be Love, then when I find myself acting in hate, I know I am out of alignment with what is most important to me. Purpose is why we wake up in the morning, whether or not we feel like it.
Lastly, action, from a place of clear-mindedness and integrity, is what will put clarity and purpose to use. If I clearly know I'm in a location that prevents my ability to Love, and my purpose is to Love without condition, I have work to do. There are actionable items, and coaching can help us stay accountable to our own mission.
WTF is "sociopsychoneuroimmunospirituality"?
The reason I want to write this piece today on "sociopsychoneuroimmunospirituality" has more to do with the holistic approach to health and healing that informs these goals of clarity, purpose, and action. The five domains of wellness in my own coaching paradigm are:
- Mental wellness
- Emotional wellness
- Physical wellness
- Social wellness
- Spiritual wellness
Thoughts, perceptions, beliefs—conscious or unconscious—are what make up the mental wellness domain. We may think we are loving someone, or that another is not loving us, but that is clouded by the ability to see clearly the mind's operation.
For example, Mom tells me to clean my room. I think Mom is being ridiculous. I withhold love. But what I don't see is that Mom's desire for me to clean my room is rooted in her love for me. She wants me to grow up to be a capable, productive member of society. For her, a clean room reflects the cleanliness I might apply to myself and my environment in the future. I may not like it, but I can see love there. From a place of Love, I can communicate my own needs, and whether or not I want to clean my room.
What we feel, how we feel, why we feel, when we feel, and what it feels like to feel are all areas of emotional wellness. Our capacity to experience sadness, joy, heartache, longing, and the ways in which we allow emotion to move and flow or become blocked, stuck, and repressed, all impact the level of wellness we experience.
For example, if my boyfriend breaks up with me, I might feel sad. If my boyfriend was an asshole, maybe I'll feel happy! Regardless, how I feel that sadness (or happiness) will matter in how I think about myself, how I move through my day, how I treat others, whether or not I feel like taking care of myself. Maybe I eat a pint of ice cream in front of five hours of Netflix. This is all information. No judgment. The real question is, how do I want to show up? How could my emotions help or hinder me from showing up in Love for myself and others?
Mental and emotional wellness is intimately connected with how we feel in our bodies. The way we move our bodies, how we fuel our bodies, who we let our bodies come in contact with, even the thoughts we have about our bodies, are all ways in which we can cultivate wellness in our lives.
For example, in my own life, I like to lift weights. Resistance training has been very helpful for me as a way to be more in touch with my body, to feel strong, and to burn off nervous energy from the day or week. But if I get in my head that I need to lift weights in order to look like the Rock, then I'm setting myself up for a lack of wellness. I'll get fixated on my body and convince myself that I am not worthy except in conditional, cultural contexts that require my own self-loathing in order to make a profit. Physical wellness, for me, is moving to feel good, not to look different.
Our social lives, social locations, levels of privilege, experiences of violence and oppression, how much quality Love we experience on a daily basis—these are all social wellness areas. Many areas of social wellness are in our control, or at least how we respond are within our control. A lot of us don't realize though, how impacted we are by social locations. We don't see that our family system is depleting or assisting our capacity to heal. We don't recognize that an abusive partnership is wrecking our self-worth. We don't understand that how we vote or what we buy might be reinforcing an inability to find Love in our lives.
In my own life, I've had an uncomfortable time relating to my social location. As a white, heterosexual, cis-presenting man, I am mostly not a victim. I am merely ignorant to my power. The anxiety, this heart pounding, the cognitive confusion, the terror of discussing race, sex, gender, power, disability, and the white supremacist structures which have educated me into ignorance, conditioned me to speak of love with hollow prayers and empty sentiments—this is not an expression of my powerlessness. The truth is that I have power to speak, to act, to learn, to transform, right now.
From my bipolar location, I think a lot about oppression and discrimination regarding mental illness. Every visible feature of mine, other than perhaps body size, is a point of privilege. This white skin, male body, educated tongue, wedding ring, nice clothes, etc. all allow me to move with ease through society. But then there's this invisibility, which at times has threatened my life and my sanity, and has made Loving and being Loved very difficult. Were it not for my privilege, I might not be able to Love as I do today, or enjoy abundant opportunity in this bipolar body.
Spirituality is one of these terms that requires an operational definition every time we use it. When I use the term "spiritual" or "spirituality," I'm referring to a transpersonal domain within ones psyche that allows the individual to feel a sense of unity beyond their physical form. This could look like traditional religious views, or the growing "spiritual not religious" category, or agnostic and atheist orientations. Some of the most spiritual people I've ever met are atheists.
Spiritual wellness is not about telling you how to use spirituality. Rather, I encourage folks to think about the deep meaning and existential queries that are inherent to the human condition. I have my own beliefs about Goodness and Love, but they mean little unless those beliefs can translate into actionable ways in which I show up in my own body and how I express myself to others.
For example, from a Christian location, I might believe that suffering is inevitable until I die and am fortunate enough to go to Heaven. My beliefs might help me be a good person, to show up in ways that I know God would want me to. But my beliefs might hinder my ability to experience liberation while I'm still alive. I might think that only Jesus or saints or prophets get to really know God, which prevents me from sincerely pursuing spiritual realization that might enhance my quality of life and ability to Love right now.
Considering the Implications of Sociopsychoneuroimmunospirituality
The term sociopsychoneuroimmunospirituality is the result of my own study regarding the effects of social systems on the wellbeing of individuals, religious and spiritual interpretations of psychological crisis, as well as the emerging field of psychoneuroimmunology. A holistic interpretation of the many intrapsychic, biological, ecological, and social systems we automatically inhabit as human beings allows for a greater freedom to choose health in whatever way is best for us. We don't have to buy into wellness that someone else is selling. We can be the wellness that we already are, provided we take honest, courageous steps toward befriending ourselves.
The seed of wellness, of enlightenment even, is already planted in every human being. It is our decision to cultivate growth, to till the soil, to provide the proper nutrients, to plant ourselves in the right location, climate, and proximity to Light. Transformation, the flowering of our own consciousness, is inevitable under proper conditions. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "No mud, no lotus."
Let us contemplate the complexity of our lives from the simplicity of Love in our hearts. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: You are Love, and the extent to which you are able to Love freely and receive Love will ultimately guide your total wellness.