For many of us, spirituality brings comfort and peace in times of trouble. Our belief systems support us and hold us up when things get rough. But can the same be said for our society as a whole? Can faith and love win in a highly anxious, depressed and tribalistic culture? In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with best-selling author, respected spiritual leader and global activist Bishop T.D. Jakes about mental health and spirituality, the power of rest, why boundaries help us be better people, racism and the Church’s shortcomings, and what we can all do to bring about change and make our society a more enriching place for all people.
For many people, spirituality and mental health go together. Our belief systems can provide a place to unload our worries, grounding us and letting us know that we don’t have to carry our cares alone. We are made for love, and spirituality is a way of accessing this love—the deepest, most intrinsic part of our consciousness. It allows us to dig into who we really are, the inner most parts of our mind.
As Bishop Jakes points out, faith can also help us focus on our internal life, which is a critical component to mental wellbeing. We are always thinking—we can’t live without thinking, but we rarely take the time to switch off and take a good look at what is going on in our minds! This is why rest is so powerful, and why it forms the basis of Bishop Jakes’ daily mental health regimen:
1. Turn down the external noise.
Remember to switch off the news, get off social media and turn off the TV. Don’t spend most of your time listening to things you cannot control.
2. Vent your thoughts.
Prayer, meditation, journaling and talking to people you trust about your cares can help ease some of the mental pressure and give you perspective.
3. Have a hobby.
A hobby like cooking or painting helps discipline the thought process and gives the brain a rest—it is a constructive break, taking the mind away from the cares of life for a bit.
Physical exercise is a great way to destress, ease the fight/flight response and calm the mind. It is also a great way to give you hope! Recent research has shown how exercise releases molecules that make us happier and more hopeful for the future, which makes movement an integral part of any mental health regimen. For more on exercise, mental health and hope see my recent blog and podcast (episode #139).
Our faith can also help us overcome personal and professional obstacles and be better members of our community. As Bishop Jakes notes, spirituality can help us recognize:
1. The difference between what we can and cannot change:
One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to recognize what you can change, and what you cannot change. Don’t allow yourself to worry about the things you can’t change; focus on what you can change now. This can be as simple as going for a walk instead of sitting and ruminating on bad thought. Give yourself permission to change your life!
2. The power of saying NO:
Learn the art of saying NO. This is the only sustainable way to live, because you are not an unlimited resource. Saying no helps you become a better person, enabling you to say “yes” more effectively and avoid burnout. Remember, you cannot please everyone. Focus on what you ought to do, not what you can do. Boundaries give yourself room to grow and evolve…to become who you were created to be. If you are not well, you cannot really be there for others, so love people enough to take care of you.
3. The need for 360 thinking:
In all your relationships, try to see things from all sides and grow in wisdom, even if you don’t always agree. Be solution-orientated and say things like “let me hear what you are saying”. As humans, we have a tendency to latch onto the comfortable and known, especially these days, and its affecting us all. We are creating a society that promotes mental distress, not love. We are all too snug in our reality bubbles. Our thinking has become “bloated” and distorted because we are not willing to see things differently or learn.
Being spiritual means not giving into the current tribalistic, polarized atmosphere. It means loving your neighbor. It means stepping off the road we know and being okay with the unfamiliar. Too often we have too much grace for ourselves and not enough for people that are different to us—spirituality can teach us to have grace and compassion for people who do not think, speak or act like us.
The ability to see things from a different perspective and the desire to learn and grow are needed now more than ever. Our world is going through so many crises at once, from a global pandemic and recession to the recognition that systematic racism is still affecting the lives of so many people. Because so many normal daily activities have come to a halt, we can no longer ignore, (collectively and individually) the many issues that our society needs to address—and this can be a good thing! We all need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, in our relationships, in our community and in ourselves. We need to face what we find troublesome, because our issues are not going anywhere until we see them for what they really are.
This is especially true when it comes to dealing with racism in our world today. Racism is about power. It is about who we give it to and how we hold them accountable. Too much power without accountability creates a tyrant. How are we holding those in power to account? How are you using our own power? Are we making tyrants or change agents? The uncomfortable, painful conversations about race we are having right now are good! Willful blindness is the dark heart of privilege. It is only when the people who were willfully blind start marching that true change happens.
We need to stop fighting about semantics and start solving problems. People of color are dying right now…they are suffering while many of us are talking and fighting about the correct way to say something. This is not about semantics. It is important that we hear what the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to say. As Bishop Jakes says, you may not like the mailman, but the mail is still good. Don’t shut down everything if you don’t believe in something. Don’t use excuses to alleviate yourself of the responsibility of changing.
The Church needs to hear this message as well. As Bishop Jakes points out, unity in the Church is often a buzzword for suppression. Too often, Christians have not wanted to bring up an uncomfortable thing like racism, because that would mean that the Church must be held accountable for its own participation in reinforcing injustices. But, as mentioned above, you can’t have resolution without confrontation. We need to be careful of being too comfortable: too often we want the truth to be the story we want told, not what is really happening.
Facing our issues is the only way we can start building a society based on enhancement rather than suppression. Life is not a zero-sum game; we need to use our powers and talents to enhance, not bring down, others. As Jakes notes, lifting someone up doesn’t bring us down. The more we educate people, and the more we allow different people to participate in society, the more we enhance our community.
In fact, when we work on ourselves and when we hold ourselves accountable, we will naturally want to listen to others. Self-awareness creates a learning mindset. If we can begin to have these kinds of tough conversations and reckonings, then we can begin to change our thinking and our world. We can start celebrating our differences and build an inclusive, just society.
Although this may sound like an impossible thing, a dream or utopia, it can happen. And it starts with us:
1. Stop only talking to people that agree with you. Make friends with someone who is different to you—go beyond your comfort zone. Remember, we grow together. As Bishop Jakes says, “the kingdom of god advances among friends”.
2. Take the risk of asking something or saying something, even if you get called out. Good people and reasonable people need to speak up, otherwise we will only hear the unreasonable people. Stop fearing the conversation!
3. Remember that listening is NUMBER ONE. Listen with a sense of curiosity, which increases wisdom and learning. Don’t talk “at” someone. When you have a conversation, listen to understand.
4. Make a noise. Write to or call your elected officials about the issues; hold them accountable and ask them what their plans are.
5. Vote. Look at all the candidates. Don’t just focus on a narrow spectrum of issues. Think about who has the best strategy for more equality for all people.
6. Stop saying you are color blind. Stop treating color like a mistake or something you need to excuse. You are meant to see color.
7. Be an answer, not a problem. Take action, ask questions, think of ways you can change, and how you can start changing your community. Don’t be afraid to be curious. Educate yourself. Start addressing the fundamental inequalities and injustices in our society today, not just the cosmetics of racism. What are the roots? How can we change these roots? Think of things like fixing the education system, getting rid of unqualified immunity, the injustices perpetuated by the police unions, healthcare disparities, biases in the education system, unfair lending practices and so on. What can we do to bring about specific, concrete change?
For more on spirituality, mental health, racism, the Church and how we can start changing society, listen to my podcast with Bishop T.D. Jakes (episode #180), and see his website and books. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
3:16 How can having a strong spiritual life improve our mental health?
6:38 How T.D. Jakes manages his mental health
10:15 How to overcome personal and professional obstacles
23:00 The problem with tribalism and how it affects our mental health
28:30 Racism in our world today
34:30, 56:40 What is the Church getting wrong?
52:00 Why we need to acknowledge that black lives matter
1:10:23 What can you start doing today to bring about change?
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