So You Know

Revenge of Eye So You Know

 

So You Know (S.Y.K.) is a new weekly challenge from Revenge of Eve.  This week’s questions are:

  • What is the soul?
  • What is religion?
  • What is spirituality?
  • What purpose do humans serve in the scheme of things?

 

What is the soul?

I conceptualize the soul as the energy that is contained within our body.  I also think of the physics law of conservation of energy, and so it makes sense to me that when we die the energy contained within us goes back into the earth.  Sort of a Lion King circle of life kind of deal.

What is religion?

When I think religion I think of organized belief systems that address broad issues like a higher power, greater purpose, and the meaning of life and death.  While this is something that can potentially give people a great deal of comfort, particularly during difficult times, rigid adherence to doctrine can cause a lot of problems.  It can also get in the way of acceptance of others, especially those with different belief systems, although that’s probably more about certain people’s interpretation than anything else.  The number of people who have been killed throughout history related to religious beliefs is truly frightening, and to me it shows that at its core religion may be about a higher power, but in practice its led by fallible humans who can become corrupted by power.

Personally the idea of an organized belief system doesn’t sit very well with me, so I am not and never will be a religious person.  My parents were atheists as well, so it’s probably not too surprising that I turned out this way.

What is spirituality?

I see spirituality as each person’s individual beliefs around the same sort of broader questions that religion addresses.  Spirituality may be based highly, somewhat, or not at all on religious beliefs.  Spiritual practices can include anything that allows us as individuals to connect with something greater than the microcosm of ourselves.

What purpose do humans serve in the scheme of things?

I’m not convinced there is a greater scheme of things, but I think if we can be compassionate towards others then we’ve done what we came here for.

 


 

If you want to join in, these are the S.Y.K. guidelines:

  • There are no right or wrong answers… Your answers = Your opinion = Your life
  • Answer a few or one, whatever you are comfortable with
  • Pingback to any S.Y.K. post
  • Use the hashtag #SYK to tag your post
  • Be real.  If you feel a certain type of way, say it.  You were asked your opinion 😉 (double dog dare)

Book review: The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People

Book cover: The handbook for highly sensitive people

The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People: How to Transform Feeling Overwhelmed and Frazzled to Empowered and Fulfilled is written by Mel Collins, who describes herself as a counsellor, spiritual healer, and reiki master, as well as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

The book begins with a description of the characteristics of HSPs.  The author explains that they process emotions on a deeper level than others, and tend to be highly empathic and intuitive.    They also have difficulty tolerating high levels of sensory stimulation.  She also says that HSPs are more intuitive.  The author writes that HSPs “are some of the strongest people I know and can be assets in any environment, personal or professional, if understood and respected for who they are.”

There is a top ten list of challenges faced by HSPs, along with tips to help address them.  They include being empathic sponges, deep emotional sensitivity, and a feeling of not belonging.  The author also observes that HSPs appear to dissociate more easily.  They also tend to be susceptible to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and digestive issues, which she says may “represent problems with HSPs ‘digesting’ other peoples’ issues and processing them”.  Whether or not that’s true in a literal sense, it’s an interesting idea.  There is also a helpful discussion of the masks that people may construct to hide their real selves, and explains how HSPs tend to identify with certain types of masks.

A number of strategies are laid out to boost self-love.  These would be useful to anyone, but the focus is on how they relate to HSPs.  There is also a chapter focused on strategies to keep from being over-stimulated and overwhelmed.  Some of these are fairly obvious, such as focusing on the breath and spending time in nature, while others are less mainstream, such as emotional freedom technique (also known as tapping), progesterone skin cream for females, and various vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements.

There is a significant amount of non-mainstream alternative material in the book.  My biggest concern was statements that were presented as scientific fact without anything to back them up.  A few examples of things that struck me as dubious:

  • HSPs can be more sensitive to the effects of electromagnetic fields.
  • For HSPs working in stressful environments, “it has been scientifically proven that the challenges are amplified on so many levels due to increased brain activity in the areas that react to such stimuli.”
  • In the chapter devoted to the Law of Attraction, thoughts are likened to magnets that “give off a vibrational frequency and will draw to us that of the same frequency”.

The book recommends walking barefoot for the purpose of “earthing”, which “allows electrons to flow between your body and the Earth and infuses the body with negatively charged ions, which the body needs.  Grounding or earthing in this way also discharges electromagnetic fields…  This was named the ‘umbrella effect’ by Nobel prizewinner, Richard Feynman in his lectures on electromagnetism.”  Being the skeptical person that I am, I felt compelled to look this up, and it turns out no one except proponents of grounding seem to be talking about this umbrella effect attributed to a Nobel physicist.

I’ll pause here for a brief detour.  Pseudo-science talk about “ions” annoys me, because I suspect that these people have never taken a chemistry class or looked at a periodic table of the elements.  We’ve all heard of electrolytes, and another term for electrolytes is ions.  Chloride (Cl) and bicarbonate (HCO3) are negatively charged ions and sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) are positively charged ions.  Both types are necessary, and normally our kidneys are rockstars at helping us keep them in balance.

The third section of the book is devoted to spiritual healing, which the author does acknowledge that not everyone will connect with.  It includes topics such as reincarnation of the souls, spirit guides and guardian angels, and the creation of blueprints for our next lifetime.  The author writes that “HSPs are often more aware of their spiritual helpers [guardian angels and spirit guides] than non-HSPs, mostly because they are sensitive to feeling subtle energies due to their high sensory processing sensitivity, but also because they are gifted with natural healing or psychic abilities.”

The author writes about past life regression, and common unresolved past life issues for HSPs, including abandonment and guilt.  She also touches on “earthbound spirits”, spirits of the dead that remained on earth and attached themselves to the living.  She suggests that HSPs can be vulnerable to having these earthbound souls attach to them, and recommends “energy protection” strategies and aura and chakra cleansing to avoid attracting these spirits.

The biggest positive about this book is that it encourages HSPs to recognize their strengths rather than look at themselves as flawed.  However, it isn’t as broadly suitable as the title (The Handbook For Highly Sensitive People) would suggest.  The cover gives no indication of the heavy focus on alternative concepts, which is unfortunate because this can be potentially misleading to some readers but also fail to attract some of the potential readers who might be most interested in these topics.  For science-minded me this book wasn’t a good fit, but I think it could be an interesting read for people who are interested in some of these non-mainstream ideas.

 

I received a reviewer copy of this book from the publisher via www.netgalley.com.

You can find my other book review here.

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What’s God got to do with it?

This post is only loosely associated with mental health, but it’s a topic I wanted to explore anyway.  I hope that this isn’t offensive to anyone, and my intent is not to criticize anyone’s belief system.

I was raised in an atheist family, and never set foot in a church as a child.  As I entered my 20’s and began travelling, I started to experience religious practice as a detached observer.  I would go into sites of worship, and observe religious services (always in non-English languages though).  I’ve been an array of churches, mosques, and temples of various sorts.  I’ve been to Jerusalem and seen the three major Abrahamic religions co-exist in an uneasy juxtaposition.  I’ve read the Quran and parts of the Old and New Testament.  And it all fascinates me.

I tend to be a left-brained, logical, scientific kind of person, and from that perspective, there just seem to be so many holes in the whole idea of religion.  There are all of these various monotheistic, polytheistic, animist, and other spiritual points of view held by people throughout the world, but for the most part it would seem they can’t all be true/right at the same time, so who’s right and who’s wrong?  If there is one God, wouldn’t he/she/it have everyone dancing to the same tune?  I understand that faith is supposed to be about belief, not logic, but I can’t help but see holes.

It also puzzles me when religions are highly prescriptive and proscriptive.  I’ll be completely facetious here for a second, but why would a spiritual belief system need to tell me that I should hop twice on the right foot, twirl around, and then do a two-footed hop?  If there is a higher power, does he/she not have more important things to do than ask me to do that little dance regularly?  And I’ll reiterate that this particular example is entirely ridiculous, but the point remains that I have a hard time accepting highly literal interpretations of holy works, particularly when they dictate individual behaviour aside from behaviours that are reflective of fundamental moral principles.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s talk a big about religion and mental health.  It seems very clear that religion can be a good thing.  Religious beliefs that don’t condone suicide are recognized as a protective factor against suicide.  Turning to a higher power seems like a good way to find hope and establish a framework of meaning.  I’ve certainly read bloggers who have gained a great deal of strength from their faith.  But from what I’ve read, sometimes members of faith-based organizations will offer only a very narrow form of support to those with mental illness, like the argument that meds aren’t necessary and more prayer is the only way.  I would imagine there’s a great deal of variability not only among faith traditions but among individual community-level groups, and so the problem is likely not religion per se but what some particular groups choose to do with it.

To further complicate matters, religion is sometimes incorporated into people’s mental illness.  I’ve had various clients who thought they had a direct hotline to God.  My last boyfriend, who had schizophrenia, was not normally religious, but in the context of his illness he believed that he was able to interpret the bible in a special way.  Sometimes he would spend hours writing nonsense messages he thought he was receiving from the bible.  What does become interesting, though, is trying to tease apart genuine religious beliefs from religious-themed delusions or hallucinations.  In some cases hearing the voice of God may be considered religiously or culturally appropriate, and the DSM cautions that this sort of thing needs to be taken into account in determining whether someone is having experiences consistent with a psychotic disorder.

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll be signing up for any religion anytime soon, but I will probably maintain my sort of detached fascination with all of it.  What I do hope, though, is that all faith traditions will take advantage of the power they have to promote the healing journey of people living with mental illness.  Rather than blaming mental illness on things like lack of faith or prayer, religious organizations should step up to the plate and make sure they are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Your thoughts?