Monday, 5 September 2011

spirituality and stress

There are endless articles online in praise of the use of spirituality as a stress reliever. The reasons for this are obvious and I don't feel any need to debate them. However, scientific studies on the relationship between spiritual observance and stress actually have mixed results with some indicating that spiritual practice can heighten stress. The widespread attitude that religion restores balance in our lives and offers us focus is well-meaning but it runs the risk of alienating those amongst us who sometimes feel that our spiritual path contributes to stress. Guilt and feelings of failure set in quickly if we allow ourselves to believe that feeling at odds with our spirituality makes us bad Pagans. Just a few of my humble opinions regarding the link between spirituality and stress:

  • I'm a believer in scaling down my level of practice at times when I feel overwhelmed by other responsibilities. I also don't pressure myself into observance when I'm staying with non-Pagan friends or family. In times of stress, if your Paganism becomes 'just one more thing' on your To Do List, it's ok to wait until a time when you can be more reverent and emotionally involved rather than force yourself to go through the motions without any real intent.
  • Pushing your path too hard too fast is liable to take you to Burn Out City. I can't count the amount of times I've read blog posts or watched youtube videos where Pagans address the perils of the pressure to know more and do more. Making some kind of goal list or allocating time for particular avenues of study can reduce this kind of stress, but the bottom line is you simply need to be ok with the fact that you're not magnanimous and that no one can know everything. The path really doesn't have as much to do with powering through reading material at breakneck speed as some would like us to think it does.
  • Comparing yourself to others is such a human thing to do. It piles on the stress like hell! Looking at your path and feeling that it falls short of someone else's achievements or worrying that people judge you as a Pagan can generate serious tension. Look inwards and try not to hold your own spirituality up to other people's so much. Your level of devotion and observance has to be right for you, not for anyone else.
  • Being unable to discuss your spiritual struggles with others can cause stress at times when an honest, open talk might suffice to defuse it. You don't necessarily need to discuss your issues with fellow Pagans. Personally, I've spoken about my spiritual path with Christian and Muslim friends and found myself greatly comforted afterwards. People dedicated to any spiritual path can find common ground when it comes to discussing the difficulties of practice.
  • One size does not fit all. Just because people enjoy praising the connection between spirituality and stress relief doesn't mean you're some kind of freak if you need to scale your own practice down. The differences in how we practice often determine how much stress our path can entail. For example, if you practice strict, regular observance at set times you might find that unexpected schedule changes interfere with that and result in stress. If you practice in a group you might find the duties you have within it are not always easy to cope with. If you work with a particular deity and you feel the relationship is not going well you might wish to take a break from it while you contemplate your direction.
Spirituality offers meaning and order but it also entails obligation and expectation. If we were all at the same point on the path at the same time we'd never be able to learn from the experiences of others. There is no reason to feel ashamed or disappointed if you're in a not-too-great place at some points of the journey. Less action and more thought can be a helpful avenue, and so can a good old fashioned conversation.