Spiritual but not religious

By David Joel Miller

What exactly does “Spiritual but not religious” mean?

Spirituality

Spirituality.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Bill David Brooks)

A very large number of people here in America are describing themselves as “Spiritual not religious.” There is a growing disconnect between religion and people’s day-to-day life.

As a result of this disconnect we are gaining some things, I hope, such as a wider appreciation of our differences, but we are also losing some things.

In secular programs, those run by government agencies, we try to accommodate people of all faiths and those with no faith. Sometimes this is a challenge. We have to ask people what their religious or spiritual belief is without implying that they need to have one or that the belief they have is not acceptable to the agency.

An example of accommodating faiths and other spiritual beliefs

There are a whole lot of people who are vegetarians, do not eat meat variety vegetarians, not because of religious or health reasons but because they view the killing animals for human food as morally wrong.

Our society seems to be doing a better job of accommodating this particular moral belief. More events are offering vegetarian meals.

It gets harder when we take into account that some faiths do not eat pork, some decline beef and some require particular diets as in kosher.

Beyond dietary restrictions it gets progressively more difficult to accommodate other spiritual beliefs within our increasingly multicultural society.

During intake processes we are supposed to ask about client’s race or ethnicity. An increasing number of clients are finding it difficult to answer that question. Some people are reporting 5 or more different ethnicities in their background.

When talking with clients I try to make it a practice to ask about their spiritual or religious beliefs.

Say the client reports that they are African-American. This tells me nothing about their spiritual beliefs. We need to try to stay open to all manner of possibilities.

More and more people are finding it impossible to answer questions about their faith. We have to tread lightly here. I do not want to imply that they need to have a faith or that any particular faith is preferred, but I do not want to completely disregard their spiritual practices in designing their treatment.

Those few who do answer are resorting to one of two responses. I am a Christian or Spiritual But Not Religious. Most who say Christian do not self-identify with any particular denomination. They are not Catholic; they are not Protestant and so on. Some few report attending Non-denominational churches.

Most who self-describe as Christians are reporting, at least in my experience that they do not attend any particular church.

A very large number are reporting as Spiritual but not religious.

So why does all this matter? From a practical standpoint those who self-identify as believing something do better in treatment than those who have no faith. This benefit includes those who self-identify as Atheists if they also report some particular higher law or principle, say right and wrong, that helps them guide their life and is reassuring in times of stress.

One of the gains from this spirituality moment has been sets of values that people take with them day by day in all areas of their lives. I am suspicious of any faith that requires you to be a believer for a couple of hours each week, while in a particular building, but you are free to spend the rest of the week on raping, pillaging and burning.

One of the things we are losing as a result of this increased emphasis on spirituality and the disconnect from religion, is the loss of meaningful shared rituals.

Rituals give meaning to things which would otherwise be everyday actions.

Rituals are not solely the providence of the religious world. Court proceeding, with that robe, the bailiff and the ritualized language make the whole process seem more meaningful and as a result are intended to increase respect for the law and the workings of the court. The ritual gives the process meaning. Occasionally the system debases the meaning when they do not follow the principles of justice these rituals imply.

Graduation ceremonies are a ritual we can all share to make the transition to another life stage. Marriages used to be a way to make the transition from being two separate dating people; to one committed couple. We still have the ritual despite the loss of meaning that a wedding has after having the parties have several children.

Funerals are also a ritual we all share that helps us negotiate the loss of a person who had some meaning in our life.

In places where there is one dominant faith, rituals are shared by virtue of people’s participation in that faith. With the decline of active participation in a particular religion and an increase in self-identified Spiritual But Not Religious, what has been missing are the rituals that used to accompany life events.

Creating new rituals.

People in recovery have resorted to creating new rituals that may help them to share the emotions and resolve the changes in status without invoking a particular religion.

Addicts may write a “Goodbye Letter” to their drug of choice. There are traditions of sponsorship that may replace the “rite” of confession in certain religions. People celebrate the anniversary of their embarking on the road of recovery.

One remaining challenges has been how to create meaningful shared rituals that do not impinge on people’s particular religious faith and allow full participation in the ritual.

Whatever your spiritual or religious tradition, here is wishing you the best possible life.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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Tranquility

By David Joel Miller

Tranquility: free of any disturbance or commotion, free from or showing no signs of anxiety or agitation.

Tranquility

Tranquility Photo courtesy of Flickr (minacchi)

“A lonely day is God’s way of saying that he wants to spend some quality time with you.” 
― Criss Jami

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137)” 
― Swami SatchidanandaThe Yoga Sutras

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.” 
― Elder Thaddeus of VitovnicaOur Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

“The very secret of life for me, I believed, was to maintain in the midst of rushing events an inner tranquility.” 
― Margaret Bourke-WhitePortrait of Myself

Quotes from GoodReads 

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at http://www.counselorfresno.com/recommended-books/

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Higher Power Listening Skills

By David Joel Miller

So you pray, but do you listen for an answer?

Meditation Flower

Meditation Flower
Photo courtesy of Flickr (melbee16)

We read lots of things about the power and value of prayer. As far as I know every religion out there has a practice that looks like that thing we would call prayer. While these various styles of praying have their differences, most have at their core a person making a request of their higher power.

What I do not see much written about is – how exactly is this Higher Power supposed to get back to you with an answer?

Seems to me, that a lot of people are placing their prayer requests the same way they place their online merchandise orders. Give me one of those in blue and ship by Friday. Here is my credit card number, or a reminder of the good deeds I have done that entitle me to priority shipping on my request.

What I do not hear people talking about is how they leave their email addresses so that this Higher Power guy or gal can get back to them.

Meditation?

A few people have mentioned the values of a practice called meditation. This is supposed to allow that higher power of yours to get back to you on those requests and also allows responses to those rare times when you leave an online 5 star rating of the Higher Powers fabulous success in filling your order speedily and with just the right size.

Mention mediation to most western religions and you get a negative response, something to the effect that mediation is some Pinko-hippy-freak-subversive practice. Now while I am not convinced that being a “Pinko-hippy-freak-subversive” is a bad thing, still I know that calling meditation by some derisive term turns a lot of the faithful away from that practice.

So the question remains, you ask for things in prayer, how does God or your Higher Power get a chance to say anything back?

Back a while, religious people, and that includes some of these “old time Christians” had a practice they called “listening for that still small voice.” Not sure that Higher power always uses his small indoor voice, but I think we would all be benefited by spending some time listening for “Knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”

Frankly if you do all the talking and God never gets a chance to say anything that is not much of a conversation is it?

However you do it, sometimes it just might pay to turn of the entertainment center, put the Angry Birds to bed and sit a spell and listen to see what that Higher Power of yours is trying to tell you.

If the term mediation bothers you, try “thinking on it” a spell and see what God may be trying to tell you.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Safe use of your Spiritual – Prayer tool

By David Joel Miller

The Prayer Tool.

Prayer Tool

Prayer Tool.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (familymwr)

People in recovery need to use all their tools. Spiritual tools are important just as professional and social ones are. Tools work best when they are used in a safe manner and in my opinion that includes spiritual tools also.

Power tools come with instruction books and with safety guides. There is always some person (fool?) out there who takes off the safety guard and misuses the tool. Sometimes they cut off a finger. Sometimes they hurt others.

They have neglected to read the instructions or follow the safety warnings. They results are not what they wanted. I am told, and I tend to agree with this, that there are safe and there are unsafe ways to use this prayer tool of yours.

This is the brief abstracted version of the prayer tool instructions. It is based on the use of the 12 step prayer model but will work when used with most similar prayer models. For more complete instructions consult the 12 step book of your choice or your religious instruction manual.

Here are the tips.

Use Prayer to communicate not as a request list.

Most of us pray like the greedy little children we really are, waiting for a big haul at Christmas time.

“Please God send me a new better paying job, a new car, a better looking spouse and I need that by Friday before the big class reunion.”

Twelve-steppers are taught to pray to their higher power, “Only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”

What we learn is that our Higher Power can help with our needs, which that Power already knows. But our wants may not be the best thing for us.

You Higher Power is not limited to only one response.

Lots of people say prayer does not work because they say that God does not answer their prayers. The reason they think that are either they haven’t tried it very often or they don’t recognize the answers when they get them.

Your higher power may say “yes”, or “no” or “not just yet you need to wait a while.” My particular Higher Power seems to have a sense of humor. Sometimes I have gotten the answer “you want what?” Then I get what I asked for and find it is not what I had in mind.

I am learning more and more to just ask for that knowledge of his will for me and stop making dumb requests. I said learning not that I had perfected this.

Do not try to use this tool to force God to do what you already wanted to do.

You pray for rain. You get it. You want to take on the responsibility for the flooding?

I was told – in no uncertain terms “There is a God – And you’re not him.” It works better when I stop trying to do his job and just stick to mine.

Prayer should not be a one-sided conversation.

Ever talked to someone and they did all the talking? Was that a satisfying conversation? Really?

Your conversations with the Higher Power need to be two-way conversations. So you pray, which means you talk. So how does this higher power communicate back?

Careful here. You need to learn to tell the difference between the Higher Powers comments and the lies that some of those unruly nerve cells in your brain may be telling you.

The meditation tool.

That brings us to another Spiritual tool for your recovery tool kit. Meditation – listening for your Higher Powers voice.

Wait – don’t leave just yet. Meditation, it turns out is nothing like that cartoon version you see in the media.

P.S. – By saying Higher Power, God or Him- I am not meaning to exclude any of your for whom that spiritual being is a Her, Them, force or so on. Just English is such a problematic language in that regard. So if you understand your Higher Power as some other entity, make the necessary translations.

Next time – Higher Power Listening skills.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Spiritual recovery tools- The religion, spirituality divorce

By David Joel Miller

Spiritual recovery tools need to be a part of your tool kit.

 

Spirituality

Spirituality.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Bill David Brooks)

In a recent post we looked at how we all need the right tools for our recoveries, recoveries from whatever things you define as your particular issue. In that post I left out spiritual recovery tools, partly because of space and partly because this area is so important we needed to look at it separately.

There are two reasons to talk specifically about spiritual recovery tools. Some people need spiritual tools to recover and some people are in recovery from spiritual issues.

If you hang out around recovery tables, or in therapists offices, as I do these days, you will heard a lot of troubling things.

There are a lot of people these days who describe themselves as “Recovering Catholics”, “Recovering Baptists” and so on. Over time I have found that you could fill in that Recovering —- blank — with most any religion or denomination.

You will also hear a lot about how people in recovery give credit to their “Higher Power.”

A key reason why some people are able to use their belief system to aid their recovery and others are in recovery has been the long-term separation between Religion and Spirituality. In this millennium it would appear that those two entities – religion and spirituality have finally gotten their divorce decree.

There are also more and more people who report being believers in “God” or spirituality, but do not self-describe as being a member of any particular religion.

Here in America there are a whole lot of people who describe themselves as “Christians” but are emphatic about not being a member of any particular denomination.

While all across the globe various religious sects are at war killing each other, there continues to exist this search for a spiritual connection to something beyond our selves. In a previous post I described this as a Spiritual Famine.

What is the difference between Religion and Spirituality?

For me there is a significant difference

Religion is about culture, the forms of worship that we as a group practice. Do we worship in a small chapel or a mega-church?  At what point in the proceedings do we stand up, sit down or wave our arms in the air?

Does the church serve Wine, Grape Juice or Water for their Communion, Sacrament etc. service?

Often Religion has spent way too much time in bed with Politicians and governments and as a result has become more of an instrument of social or political control rather than any expression of belief or spiritual connection.

Religious leaders have often used their power and control in a highly abusive manner. They are prone to say something to the effect that if you were really a —– (fill in name of religious demonation here) you would do or say this or that. Mostly this involves giving them money and obedience.

All the while they are demanding that everyone agree with them or else, they are free to take liberty to steal from the elderly and molest the young. This is not a new phenomenon, for an early example of this see the Book of Jude in the Christian Bible.

Spirituality is another case. It asks only that the person have some form of relationship with a higher power. Most people chose to call this power God. Since this is a close personal relationship there is no need to insist that others form precisely the same relationship as you may have.

That choice is of course between them and their higher power.

This is scaring some of you, I can tell. What is to stop any person from deciding on their own standard of right and wrong? What if their beliefs are mistaken? Some of you are even thinking that if that person does not change their beliefs and think the right way (the way you do) then that other person is going straight to hell and you are duty bound to force them the go the right way thereby saving their soul.

I am unconvinced that any Higher Power will chalk up any righteous behavior to anyone’s credit when it is coerced at the point of a gun, bomb, sword or other lethal weapon. We may be able to make laws prohibiting murder, even though those laws have not worked all that well so far. We still seem unable to pass laws that require people to love each other.

On suggestion made in recovery groups is that in the process of trying to grow your connection with this higher power, you check out your thoughts or beliefs and see what others in the recovery group or your spiritual adviser have to say.

While this getting a second spiritual opinion does not rule out the possibility of the other people’s biases and it does not absolve you of the responsibility to work on that relationship with your higher power it may keep you from jumping to some wrong beliefs.

As we saw elsewhere, sometimes the voices in your head are not God speaking, sometimes the voices lie. Also you should not believe everything you think. More is likely to be revealed.

So what are these spiritual tools you might want to add to your recovery tool kit?

Prayer, meditation and a conscious contact with your higher power would be good tools to start with. Also throw in some action. Not works. That is just doing the motions. Action is things you do because of your beliefs and values. Not things you do to pay off you fines for past bad behavior.

So there you have it. I have explained the difference between Religion and Spirituality and tried to sell you on a set of shiny new spiritual tools. But I didn’t include any instruction manual for those spiritual tools.

In future posts, maybe on some Sundays to come, I will try to get back to a discussion on the safe and proper use of spiritual tools.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Therapists have therapists – Who do pastors and priests see?

By David Joel Miller.

Who is helping the helpers?

Religious Place

Religious Place.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Therapists are encouraged to go for their own therapy. Rather than being a sign that there is something wrong with this professional, having someone you can talk to about your problems is recommended practice, and for good reason.

This got me thinking, wondering, which professionals who help others are encouraged to get help for themselves and which are to embarrassed, ashamed or arrogant to get help for themselves.

Counselors need to have counselors. 

First let’s talk about the counselor or therapist who goes for therapy and then we will inquire about other professions.

Beginning counselors are encouraged to see another professional both as a part of the training process and ongoing after they are licensed. Being a helper is a stressful job and you would have to be pretty arrogant to think that once you become a professional you will not need to see someone for your own stuff.

Clients sometimes ask about this. I see it in the search terms from time to time. There is no reason to avoid a therapist who is going for personal counseling and in fact we think this is a good think. Many licensing boards feel it is so important that the counselor work on their own stuff that they allow us to count a certain number of hours of personal counseling towards licensure. This process is so important there is even a bonus of extra credit for some hours of personal therapy.

Many schools require counselors in training to go for their own counseling. Doctors see other doctors. Teachers take classes from other professionals and it just makes sense to take good care of yourself.

Drug counselors need help staying sober.

Substance Abuse counselors have recognized this for a long time. They are at high risk of relapse by virtue of spending all day talking about drugs with their clients. Sponsors should have sponsors and therapists need to see another mental health professional.

In substance abuse counseling it is common, almost universal for the counselor to be in recovery and often they are still attending meetings.

Mental health staff need self care also.

What we do not hear nearly enough about is the number of mental health professionals who are in some form of mental health recovery. Our professional schools are still too under the influence of those Freudian’s who never self-disclose anything to anyone. But a whole bunch of mental health professionals have told me privately that they have struggled with or are in recovery from some mental illness or other. If not them then they have a relative or friend who has that issue.

Why else would you want to work in this field if you or someone you knew had not had to overcome an issue?

Incredibly that mental health professional who entered the field because someone helped them create a happy life, once they are in the field, becomes too embarrassed to talk about their own issues. Some have even been threatened with loss of job or friends if they self-disclose this item. Peer counselors and members of self-help groups are at special risk to think that having “fixed” themselves they can now stop working on themselves and just help others. This is a relapse waiting to happen.

If you work in this field, as a professional, a peer or even a volunteer, you need to stay connected to a support system that can help your recovery and that may mean you need to continue to go to meetings or see a professional.

So what about other professions self care?

It is Sunday, I wrote this on another day and scheduled it to appear later, but it is being posted on a Sunday. Which brings up the question – who – mostly works on Sundays?

First thing that comes to mind is what about religious leaders?

One way of understanding churches and similar institutions is that they are hospitals for the spiritually sick. Many recovery programs include spirituality or religion as parts of the life that need to be included in your recovery plan.

So do religious leaders, pastors, priests, rabbis, Imam and so forth ever need spiritual guidance or are those guys and gals that close to spiritual perfection? Far as I know there are relatively few perfect people on earth and the ones who think they are there, that they have arrived at perfection, they are at the highest risk of taking a wrong turn into thinking that they need to take over and do the job of being God.

Does anyone out there know – do pastors see other pastors? They can’t very well go to church can they, what with having to work every single Sunday.

I know that some denominations have a hierarchy and that the local pastor or priest has to report to a superior. Mostly that looks like running a business. How many viewers did your sermon get and how much was in the collection? What about real spiritual guidance?

Given the number of cases of child sexual abuse and the affairs of the clergy one has to wonder. Pastors and priest do, for the record, end up in rehab. We can’t tell you which ones. That is about confidentiality. It would appear that religious leaders have the same prohibition on self-disclosure therapists are encouraged to observe. They just seem able to hide it better than depressed psychotherapists.

What is up with us not wanting to admit that the care giver sometimes needs help and that needing help sometimes does not disqualify you from being of service to others?

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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