The Slippery Slope of Spiritual Poverty

I know that when my physical and mental states are in poverty that I fall easily into the trap of spiritual poverty. It is hard to avoid. No matter how excellent the mental health care one receives is, mental health care does not provide any type of spiritual support. There is a small movement, in its infancy, which seeks to change the current model of mental health care to add more spiritual and family support, but it is a long way from any type of implementation.

When my mental illness is at its worst it compels a withdrawal from ordinary social contact, so the I withdraw from my church and my spiritual elders and this begins the cycle of spiritual poverty. When I can not afford to purchase appropriate offerings for my Gods, I lose faith in the simple offerings than I am able to afford, and I cease making offerings at all. When I can not make offerings, I feel ashamed to approach my altars, so they go untended. Without access to my altars, I fall out of the practice of prayer, and I become divorced from my spiritual practices. This separation from spiritual practice is the ugly face of spiritual poverty.

The Orisha calm me on sad days
Obatala from NacionYoruba.com

Living in a state of spiritual poverty removes a lot of joy and wonder from my life, and when this is paired with depression, hearing voices, seeing things that are not there, shame, humiliation, and anxiety I tend to spiral downward rapidly. This pattern of spiritual poverty has been the hardest of my patterns to break. I usually can not break it until I can once again afford to make appropriate offerings. Then I slowly can reclaim my spiritual life, and with my spiritual life restored, gradually the depression will lift. When I am less depressed the anxiety and the schizophrenia will lessen.

And I know this from repeated downward spirals. I know that if I can cling to my spiritual practice that I will not fall so far so fast. And yet I still lose my religion as soon as the spiraling begins. Currently, I have a job that pays decently, so I am beginning to do better. Most of my pay is spent on bills and the things I need to succeed in my new job, so I still can not afford really good offerings, but I can afford small appropriate offerings, so my altars are being tended, I have gotten back into the practice of praying, and I feel that connection with my religion once again.

But we have these patterns so we can learn from them. And I am struggling to learn from this pattern so I do not need to repeat it.

I am coming to accept that if I am going to break this pattern I need to seek help outside of myself. But asking for help does not come easily to me. I have decided that I need to begin praying to my Gods that I don’t get lost from them when things get bad. I have decided that I need to tell my therapist that staying on a spiritually even keel needs to be a major goal of therapy. But these two decisions are going to be complex. I feel very shy of asking my Gods to keep me from getting lost, I fear that losing my Gods shows poor character on my part, and my religion ever strives toward good character. I really don’t want my Gods to think poorly of me. And any discussion of spiritual matters with my therapist is getting into dangerous water. Because schizophrenia often causes inappropriate religious fixations, treatment for schizophrenia tends to be very leery of spiritual matters.

But I must overcome my fears, both the real fears and the imagined ones. I must remember that my Gods love me warts and all. I must remember that my therapist and I have been working together for several months, and that she knows that I do not have inappropriate religious fixations, and that she can help me to find ways to stay spiritually balanced.

Spiritual poverty is a destructive force in my life, and I must use all of the tools that I have to break its hold on me. My life, when it is good, is a spiritually rich place, and when I live in awareness of my spiritual wealth, my life is a joy. When I am in a state of spiritual poverty, my life is a burden, my life is something I no longer want.

I do not pretend to know how spiritual wealth and poverty effect anyone but me, but it is very clear to me that, for me, choosing spiritual wealth is a matter of life or death.