6 Markers of Healthy Spirituality for Mental Health

6 Markers of Mentally Healthy Spirituality

What would a Mentally Healthy Spirituality look like? Over my life, I have been involved in many different styles of Christian denominational expression, or Ice Cream flavors as I like to say.

Staid conservative Bible fundamentalism, ‘swinging from the chandeliers’ Pentecostalism, social justice activism, and many other ice cream flavors.

They all have strengths and weaknesses. 

Some aspects of all of them have been helpful to my Mental health while some aspects have been downright destructive.

People often ask me ‘What Church should I go to?’

I suppose I would answer this question with this statement.

‘A Church that keeps you grounded in reality,
connects you with Biblical truth,
is actively part of the local community,
and promotes a healthy spirituality.’


So what does a Healthy Spirituality look like?

( adapted from David Benner [1])

1. Grounded in Reality, seeing things as they are.

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us.

When our life feeds on unreality it must starve and die.

The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality. Thomas Merton

It is the acceptance of what reality can and cannot fulfil that leads to real change because, short of the progressive destruction of illusion and consequent mourning, one cannot discover the world as it is. Donald Winnicott

Reality itself – my limited and sometimes misinterpreted experience -is the revelatory place for God. But for some reason, we prefer fabricated realities to the strong and sensitizing face of what is. The spiritual life begins with accepting and living our reality. Richard Rohr

2. Awareness

The spiritual life is, first of all, a matter of keeping awake. Thomas Merton

We have to accept that we are all sleep walkers. We need to awaken and we need to learn to see. Spirituality is about seeing. Once you see, the rest follows. Jesus tells us that if our eye is healthy our whole body will be full of light. Richard Rohr

3. Hopeful openness

    • To life, to others and to God

The most important question each person has to answer -“is the universe friendly?” Einstein

4. Loving connectedness

    • Connectedness with others, with the earth, with God
    • Interdependency, compared to codependency and independency

5. Transcendent meaningfulness

    • Making sense of personal reality in a way that gives direction and purpose to life
    • Having a framework to make sense of failure and suffering
    • Making suffering sufferable
    • Movement beyond egocentricity and entitlement
    • Capacity for grace and gratitude

6. Capacity for love, work and play

    • Altruistic attitude toward others
    • Sense of vocation
    • Spontaneity and playfulness

Questions to Consider and leave a comment.

  • How would you answer the question ‘What Church should I go to?’
  • What would be the signs for you of a Healthy Spirituality?
  • In what ways can Mental Illness rob you of a Healthy Spirituality?
  • In what ways can Mental Illness actually lead you to a Healthy Spirituality?

Barry Pearman
Photo Credit: Cayusa via Compfight cc

Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human

Listening: A Spiritual Habit for Better Mental Health

How to Develop a Compass for the Brain

How to Develop a Compass for the Brain

I am lost and need a sense of true North. A focal point, a direction, a ‘something’ to aid my progress out of the fog. When the stress loading becomes too much it is very easy to lose your way. What we need is some sort of Thinking Compass.

Mental Illness is one of the worst fog generating experiences you can have.

Your brain can play tricks on you.

Your perceptions can change, sometimes quite dramatically, to being vastly different to everyone else’s.

I well remember someone pointing out to me the ‘Little spacemen in the tree’.

Psychosis was fogging his thinking, he was unwell, but in his mind, he was perfectly well.

Perhaps though the more subtle and less overt effects of mental illness can be more damaging. The thinking habits nurtured over many years in a watery soup of unawareness.

When the stress becomes too much for the fragile brain, we become disoriented, confused, and truly lost.

The fog has closed in and it’s black.

Mental illness often fog’s out a true perception of life. The perspective you have gets fogged by the interpretations you have made about events.

Event + Response = Outcome (E+R=O).

When the Response is affected by an illness then the Outcome can be disastrous.

When the stress loading becomes too much it is very easy to lose your way.

What we need is some sort of Thinking Compass. 

Something that we can refer back to time and time again, and that will always point towards true North. Always to healthy thinking and hope.

We don’t need some huge massive compass, too big to carry, too heavy to bear, and too incomprehensible to take in. When you are unwell you don’t want to be overloaded with information and unrealistic expectations.

Even previous learning experiences can hinder your uptake of new information.

It’s not so much that the client is unable to grasp the info, as he or she is easily discouraged, based on a fund of previous negative experiences in school. C. Scott McMillin

Do you have a compass for your brain? 

I have a handy-dandy little notebook (apologies to Blues Clues fans). It is small enough to fit in my back pocket and easy enough to pull out when I need a sense of direction.

I have a little notebook that is my Thinking Compass. I use a physical book, not an electronic recording device. I just think something quite tangible happens in the brain when you put the pen to paper.

Into this compass goes all sorts of material for me to keep training and coaching my brain.

  • Quotes. These maybe quotes I have gleaned out of books, podcasts, social media etc. Short and pithy, powerful and true.
  • Empowering and Challenging questions. Questions that stop you and make you think and consider some tough choices. e.g. Am I truly taking responsibility for my own life, today? In what ways am I going to help someone else today?
  • Scripture verses. The Bible is full of verses that speak truth in the innermost being. Read it and glean goodness.
  • Counselling insights. If you are getting counselling perhaps your counsellor can write down some the keys insights they want you to think and consider.
The criteria for material getting into my Thinking Compass is that there has to have some sort of ‘ah hah’ moment attached to it. There has to be a ‘light bulb turning on experience’ when I read it.
Basically, my brain needs some sort of new learning experience for it to make a new pathway.
Making new pathways in our thinking is hard work, much like building a rope bridge over a chasm. Many repeated journeys back and forth in the brain will make a new thinking bridge strong and secure.
Going back to the Thinking Compass time and time again is needed.

The thicker the fog, the more times you will have
to refer to the compass.

Question to Consider and leave a Comment.
  • Do you have some favourite verses or quotes that are like a compass to you? Why them and would you like to share them in the comments section?
  • Have you had an experience of a Mental Illness being like a fog around you, disorienting you, affecting your judgements? What helped you?
  • Can you have too much information? How can you discern what is most helpful and disregard the rest?
Barry Pearman

Jamie Street

Dirt + Spit = Mud and 6 Things to Learn about Healing

Dirt + Spit = Mud and 6 Things to Learn about Healing blind man

Dirt, spit, and mud. What a combination that brought medicine to a blind man’s eyes. God works healing in ways we couldn’t imagine.

It was just a typical sort of day.

I was out on the street listening to everyone passing by. Right from birth, I had been blind, but I could hear, smell, and taste. Touch was powerful for me, too, yet nobody wanted to touch me, I was, in a sense, touch-deprived.

Once a blind man, always a blind man.

Then I heard a noise coming up the street: people, lots of them, noise. I could names being said, ‘Jesus.’ Theological arguments being thrown at him. Was this the one that I had heard many talking about? I could smell the dust being stirred up.

Someone was looking at me, I could feel it.

A voice speaks.

“Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

I had carried the burden of this question all my life. Surely it must be someone’s fault that I am like the way I am. Guilt trips, blame games, and the stones of shame had been thrown at my parents and me.

Then I hear a new voice, one of authority and power.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned”

What!!! I had always thought it had to be related to something I had done, or my parents had done. Wow, then I suppose I am blind because …

Jesus spoke again.

“You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” John 9:3-5 (The Message)

Then a sound reached my ears of someone spitting! I could hear the people take a gasp, step back, and mutter amongst themselves.

Dirt, Spit and Mud

Then I felt it on my eyes. Dirt and spit mixed to make mud. He, Jesus, gently smeared it over my eyes. I could feel it getting right into the corners. The mud was sticky and warm, gritty but also strangely smooth and soft.

Jesus then told me to go and wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. Well, I staggered off feeling my way, asking others for help, stumbling now and then.

There was a tingling feeling happening under the eyelids. It wasn’t painful; you just knew that something was happening.

It was a long walk, but eventually, I got there. I reached down to the cool water and began to wash the mud off. Suddenly I realized that I saw things, people, water, the walls of the dark cave. There wasn’t much light in this place, which was good for my new eyes to adjust to. Never the less I could see, I could see, I could see!

People could not believe that I had received my sight.

Some didn’t want to believe. You can read the rest of the story in John 9.

I caused a stir with those religious rule makers! Ha!

Here are some things I want you to take from this story.

Six things to learn about healing

1. Jesus deliberately made sure that everyone knew that the illness wasn’t related to my sin.
We all want to find excuses or reasons for suffering. We must, however, remember that we live in a dusty world where sickness and illness are just part of it’s fallen state. Stop, please stop, dumping guilt on those who are unwell. Stop making quick diagnoses without wisdom to discern the real needs of the person.

2. You don’t have to deal with a person’s spiritual state of sinfulness before healing the physical state.
There is no fixed formula. God does not demand repentance before he is interested in the person. God is in love with everyone in whatever spiritual state they are.

3. Consider the needs of the person.
If you are praying for healing for people with sensory needs such as blindness or deafness, make sure you do it in a place that is quiet or has dim lighting. A public place or out in broad daylight is just not the place for this. This is wise and caring. Jesus knew my needs. He wasn’t interested in the applause of the crowd on the auditorium of the street.

4. Healing can come through very unconventional methods.
Who would have thought a mud pack made from dirt and spit would have been part of a healing process. Jesus knew what was needed. Perhaps the spit mud was there to stop the bright light from getting into my eyes. Maybe there was something chemically in the dirt that stimulated the healing. I don’t know what it was, but it worked!

5. Healing can take a length of time and faith to happen.
It took me quite some time to get that pool. I didn’t know what would be the result, but I went by blind faith (pun intended), and I received sight. Light dispersed the darkness.

6. Get your hands dirty!
We must not wait until we have understood all the mysteries of suffering before we get on with the work of what God has called us to do.

A blind man teaches Mental Health

As I reflect on this story and its role in the healing of Mental Illness, there is much to learn.

  • Healing can take a period of time. We all want the instantaneous, but often I have found that with the brain that it takes to heal, to learn new ways of thinking. For an instant healing, it would possibly mean a complete change of the brain. Too painful, too much change, too much to learn or unlearn. God is gracious and knows what we can handle.
  • Physical elements such as medication can have a role just as much as the mud pack had a role in this story. Too many times, I have heard people want a magic miracle pill, whereas they need medicine to allow a miracle to occur.
  • Healing is not about the healer. Instead, it is about the one with the need, and the God who knows their name. We don’t have to have hype, music, bright, etc. Jesus wants us to be super sensitive to the needs of those he loves.
  • Pray anyway. We don’t have to understand all the components of illness before we can pray. God knows more than any psychiatrist! We call on Jesus to be the great healer.
  • Mental Illness is part of a fallen world. We are dust, imperfect, and prone to illness.

I love this story. There is so much to glean about Jesus and his compassion.

Just imagine you are that blind man. Close your eyes, then feel that wet sticky mud being smeared into your eyes. Reflect in the comments section below your response.

Barry Pearman

Image by ViaMoi Creative commons Flickr

This is part of a series where I am exploring the various stories of healing found in the New Testament. I am gleaning many of my ideas from Jesus’ Healing Works and Ours by Ian Cowie

You really need an Encouragement Journal

You really need an Encouragement Journal


I forget.

Actually, my memory can be pretty bad. I have a ‘forgetta computer’ for a brain as someone has said.

We all have a limited recall and so we need reminding, especially of positive truth.

As someone who periodically struggles with depression, I have found that I especially need my mind to be reminded. To be topped up with a positive truth.

One of the ways I do this is to be a hoarder of encouragements.

The word encouragement has its root in the Latin word cor, which literally means “heart”.
So does the word courage.  To have courage means to have heart.
To encourage – to provide with or give courage – literally means to give others heart.
Encouraging the Heart – A leader’s guide to rewarding and recognizing others” by Kouzes/Posner

Recently I had my 50th birthday.

Ok, thanks, my hearing is still sufficient enough to hear the applause. Moving on, I received lots of lovely cards and some neat presents. Friends and family came for a party.

So what I am going to do is to collect all the cards and photos and save them for a rainy day. A day when the mood and thoughts might be quite black. I will then go to these and read the truth and remind myself.

I have done this in the past with a journal. I would write any little encouragement I had in there and glue cards, notes, photos, and even tickets to sports events.

We so often let the little encouragements, the notes, the expressions of  ‘thank you’ to easily slip through the fingers of our mind.

We need to grab them, glue them, and nail the suckers down to somewhere where we can easily access them.

Ok, so here is what I want you to do.
For today take a note of every encouragement you receive. It might come via an email, a few words someone says, a note, a card, a compliment, a photo. Grab it with both hands and keep it somewhere. Write the date on it and make sure it is accessible.

I have fallen out of the habit of doing this, but I need to get back into it.

Some would call this scrapbooking, which I suppose it is, but I am not into all the fancy stuff of different fonts, colours, borders, yadda yadda yadda.

Nope, just grab the card, letter or compliment and slap it down into a large scrapbook/ journal.

What can you include? Anything, as long as it won’t become a health hazard. Yes, the meal you cooked was fantastic and you should be on Master Chef Uzbekistan, but take a photo of the delicacy and write down peoples comments. You don’t need to include a sample for later.

I know it’s tempting to create an electronic journal, and scan the cards and notes but please don’t. There is something quite powerful that happens in the grey matter when we have a physically tactile version of the encouragement. Hmm, feel the love.

Glean, grab, glue and see what it does for you.

Apology to all poets, one I am not.

Ok, now you can encourage me.

You can subscribe via the little box at the top right of the screen.

You could hit one of the share buttons below such as Facebook. If you discovered this blog via a social network then hit ‘share’ or ‘retweet’. It’s nice to be liked by you but sharing is even better!

You could even be really brave and write a comment below. I may well copy and paste/ glue it into my encouragement journal!

Barry Pearman
Image: How Kira got her mojo back by kira.belle Creative Commons Flickr