Holiday Special: Lesson #2 – Why We Need Spiritual Guides
Religious matters and spiritual issues frequently abound during the Holiday Season.Therefore, I will discuss an important spiritual issue today. As a pain management specialist, I have long recognized a particular pattern: many patients primarily complain of a symptom, specifically physical pain, but they are unlikely to bring up a deeper underlying issue – how their experience of pain and the subsequent physical impairments have affected their relationships. In other words, they wish their physical pain would go away because of the negative impact pain has on a variety of their relationships and they are also experiencing a great deal of emotional and spiritual pain.
For instance, a patient with chronic (long-term) pain may be chiefly concerned about her inability to participate in the activities and lives of her children. She may not be able to sit for a prolonged period of time (without pain exacerbation and being disruptive) to watch her son play in a soccer game or her daughter practice gymnastics. She may be worried about how her painful condition has interfered with her sex life and is thus concerned her husband will seek sex elsewhere and eventually leave her and their children.
A single male or female patient with chronic pain may be concerned about his/her diminished attractiveness to the opposite gender and thus reduced ability to find and marry his/her conception of a perfect or acceptable mate. An elderly man with chronic pain may feel guilty about his burden on his wife, as she has to help him physically with many acts of daily living. A religious person may be worried he will fall out of favor with his church, mosque, or synagogue, as he cannot withstand the pain aggravation from prolonged positions, and is also concerned he will lose his main social circle of friends.
The numbers of cases I have seen are enormous and I can continue to cite a long list of examples, and thus last time, in lesson 1, this author made the claim that life is ultimately about relationships! …and a variety of relationships exist, including with ourselves, our environment, a higher power, and other people. The key to having successful, mutually beneficial relationships with others is to first develop good self-concept by forming an authentic and empowering relationship with our inner selves.
Unfortunately, this is more easily said than done because of constant external influences that bombard and disconnect us from our inner sense of peace and tranquility, and the hustle and bustle, and stress related to the Holiday Season may exacerbate our experience of negative emotions. In addition, some of us may have lacked good parental figures to help us with this difficult spiritual task. Thus, many people focus on external relationships, especially with a romantic/intimate partner, without first developing a strong sense of inner security and self-love.
A key concept is that we cannot give what we have not experienced and possess. Thus, a child raised without love and respect is unlikely to be able to give authentic love and respect to others. And even more, once the unloved child grows up to become an adult, it is difficult for him to develop successful relationships, not just because he is unable to love, but also because he is not able to be receptive of love. This adult is often condemned to a lifetime of failed, poor and unfulfilled relationships, leading to the experience of numerous unhealthy emotions, such as depression, anger, self-hatred, and apathy. A pattern of repeated relationship failures typically represents a symptom of much deeper psychological and emotional disorders, and spiritual disconnection.
It is a sad reality that few pain management specialists are capable of and skilled enough to help patients with chronic pain conditions to deal with their predicament – of how their painful conditions affect, whether perceived or real, a wide variety of relationships. Some pain specialists focus on prescribing mainstream medications, such as opioid pain pills, anti-inflammatory drugs, and anti-depressants. Others focus on performing a variety of procedures, hoping to reduce or eliminate the pain.
Some doctors refer out to complementary or alternative healthcare providers, while some will refer to surgeons to “fix” the pain condition. Other doctors will refer their pain patients to a variety of mental health providers, sometimes with the goal of teaching them pain-coping skills. Unfortunately, despite all these attempts and interventions, many patients are left with chronic pain conditions, and few physicians are skilled enough to help their patients learn to cope with the various problems, including relationship issues, secondary to the patients’ ongoing pain condition.
Lesson #2: Even with kind and caring parents who were capable role models of good communication and life/stress-coping skills, it may not be enough to aid us down the line to cope with the wide range and deep problems that often confront us in life.
1) Inside each and every one of us is our true, authentic spirit. It’s something we were born with; it is ours and ours alone, and it can’t be really taught or learned, but regrettably it can be taken away.
2) We are all born with an authentic spirit, but traumatic life events can derail us off the spiritual path at any point in our lives. A life event may be so traumatic that it exceeds even a well-adjusted individual’s ability to cope, using his normally positive and healthy life and stress coping mechanisms, and he basically “loses” his soul as he becomes derailed off his previous spiritual path.
War is an atrocity, but is a good and common example of spiritual derailment. War provides scientists with many opportunities to study human behavior and coping strategies. Many lessons can be gleamed from the atrocious acts of war, e.g. numerous soldiers who participated in combat during World War I experienced a pattern of symptoms that led to the initial diagnosis of a “new” mental health disorder, termed shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, which was eventually replaced by another term, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) in the psychiatric manual DSM III, applied retrospectively for WWII combat soldiers and thereafter.
The point is that even a well-adjusted, spiritual individual may lose his soul at some point from witnessing, experiencing, and/or participating in prolonged and repeated mass killings and maiming during wartime. In other words, a happy, outgoing individual may leave for war, but returns without his soul, and with very observable behavioral and personality changes that reflect his inability, worn down or lack of sufficient ability to cope with his traumatic combat experiences.
3) Definition of a spiritual guide: someone who helps others understand and cope better with the paradoxes and mysteries of life. However, in a paradoxical way, most people perceive him as a mystery because his presence and skills are outside of conventional people’s own life experiences. Most people have never encountered a spiritual guide and thus have difficulty understanding him, and in fact, many persons may not even be able to recognize him for who he is – a spiritual guide, who has deep, profound understanding and mastery of both spiritual issues and a wide range of practical life experiences, and thus has the uncanny capacity to mysteriously guide a derailed person back onto the spiritual path.
4) It is a rather universal phenomenon, whether we realize it or not, for us to lose, one way or another, our authenticity/spirituality at some point in our lives, and then we consciously or unconsciously struggle fanatically to find it again. Some of us are derailed as a young child (and thus do not remember and are usually not consciously aware of our spiritual derailment), while others lose our way as an adult, but it’s important for us to realize and accept that we are not alone in this problem.
5) We’re all tested by the numerous adversities in life, and thus virtually all of us have at times hoped and yearned for, and sought out an authentic spiritual guide to help us during our critical times of need – or at least wished for a spiritual guide to magically come along and help us get back on the right track.
6) Unfortunately, we must beware of the fact that most self-proclaimed spiritual guides or healers are fraudulent in that they have not resolved their own inner conflicts, past traumatic events, etc., i.e. they have not yet healed themselves, but they go around pretending to be healed and constantly trying to heal others, but are actually interfering in other people’s healing process. And some spiritual guides are plain fraudulent in that they are con-artists, i.e. they consciously and knowingly lack any special training or natural skills, but pretend to “heal” others and have the underlying primary motive of monetary gain. Authentic spiritual guides walking the talk are truly rare.
7) It is very easy to use our 5 senses to focus on and experience the “external” world, but most of us do not want to face our inner selves and delve deep into the process of honest introspection. Even when we look inside ourselves, many of us use a variety of techniques/defense mechanisms to deceive ourselves (self-deception) and avoid seeing what we do not like about other people are exactly what’s inside of us (hypocrisy). Thus, some of us may be paradoxically aggressive toward and attack other people with the similar traits that we have and want to keep hidden within. We tend to have strong defense mechanisms to mask our true selves and avoid “facing the music”.
Therefore, authentic and gifted spiritual guides are uncommon. This author is using the term “authentic” to refer to the soul, i.e. an authentic person is walking the spiritual path, whereas unauthentic refers to a broken spirit, darkness, loss soul, or derailed off the spiritual path. An authentic spiritual guide recognizes those who have fallen into darkness due to some sort of disconnect with themselves, often after experiencing a traumatic event(s) or perhaps prolonged exposure to physical harm/threats and emotional trauma. An authentic spiritual guide then tries to help the derailed individuals to slay their inner demon(s), in order to come back into the light.
8) In contrast to unauthentic spiritual healers who are foremost driven by money, egotism, and/or misled by idealism, authentic spiritual guides are selfless and altruistic, giving of themselves without the desire or expectation of receiving anything back in return for their effort, time, and own money that are often required to heal others in the almost impossible-to-see emotional and spiritual planes of life. Authentic spiritual guides are like unrecognized ninjas who slip in and out of people’s lives, hopefully leaving them in a better emotional and spiritual place. And to be frank, health insurance companies do not recognize nor reimburse spiritual guides for their humanitarian/emotional and spiritual health services.
Hope this helps you to recognize genuine authentic spiritual guides and differentiate them from all the other fraudulent spiritual healers, who are quite common, write all sorts of self-help books, create an online presence with websites and through various social media during our current technological explosion, act nice in public, and fail to follow the same advice that they so passionately and avidly give to others, but often copy and try to imitate the authentic spiritual guides.
9) One last tip: unauthentic spiritual guides are unlikely to independently recognize an authentic spiritual guide because…to borrow a popular phrase: “It takes one to know one”. Unauthentic spiritual healers imitate authentic spiritual guides not because they recognize them, but rather because they see or sense others honor, respect, and seek out authentic spiritual guides for their effectiveness and success in helping others.
Happy Holidays and hope to see you next week for lesson #3: perhaps I will share the perspective and some vital secrets of an authentic spiritual guide.
Tobey Leung, MD