I currently work at an agency that serves people with pretty serious mental health and addiction concerns. In addition to seeing clients individually, I facilitate a group that is a free form discussion about spirituality. During both the one-on-one sessions and the group interactions I am continually struck by the deep sense of spirituality in the clients and in the sanity that resides within people who are almost always and all too easily seen and labeled strictly within the limiting and limited context of their mental health or addiction issues. I have also struck by how they can compartmentalize their inner worlds, one minute with deep sincerity and conviction speaking from an authentic spiritual place and not an hour later acting in ways that might be easily seen as totally unspiritual and that they later regret.
Since working with this population, I have become increasingly aware of the “insanity” that resides within my own quite strongly held onto but errant self-perception of “sanity.” (The Buddha repeatedly said that we are all delusional and perhaps the biggest delusion of all is that we think we are not delusional.) I've become increasingly aware of the tricks my mind plays on me in terms of the thoughts that become so compelling but are completely fictitious, habitual, reactive (as opposed to responsive) - only barely and occasionally lifting their presence above the sea level of awareness. I am beginning to see how my spirituality, which I like to believe is sincere, having conviction, and authentic, can be tossed out the door with the snap of a finger when I am triggered by some event or interaction. I am beginning to comprehend how this triggering can easily prompt me to pursue my own addictive behaviours, whether they are addictions to food, the internet, shutting down into a nap, watching T.V. etc. And I'm starting to understand how I very easily can point to the clients as “them” and to myself as “us,” safely and self assuringly convincing myself that I am somehow better than and removed from “them” when in fact we are all in this together, struggling with histories and biologies and assumptions and expectations and disappointments and at times utterly overwhelming events or personal inclinations to act against our own true and lasting best interest and that of others.
So, to return again and again to awareness, just like in the instruction of mindfulness meditation, and to bring with that return a pervasive sense of self acceptance that is an integrated expression of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity toward the events both out there in the world and arising within my own mind. There is a saying that I have one of my spiritual mentors, Dr. Rina Sircar, say numerous times during meditation retreats as part of the loving-kindness meditation, “Taking care of ourselves, we take care of others. Taking care of others we take care of ourselves.” In my experience of spiritual care and with all of my known and unknown imperfections, this 'taking care' is founded upon these sublime abodes: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.