Strengthening Your Spiritual Immune System
by Wayne Ren-Cheng
Sometime during our lives each of us are sure experience illnesses that attack the body. Fortunately the body employs an apparatus to ward off bacterias, viruses, nasty bugs and even poisons . . . an amazing immune system. Immunity is an internal defense mechanism that keeps things from causing you harm, sort of a Pure Precept of anatomy – cease things that do harm. When the body is attacked the immune system arises to defend the body from things that may harm it. White blood cells go on the defense and antibodies on the offense. People do all sorts of things to strengthen their physical immunity. There are proponents of better nutrition, less stress, more sleep, a better social life, exercise and even some herbs they say are avenues toward a stronger bodily immune system. Experience has led many to believe these factors can aid the immune system. You know that there is an immune system that continually protects you from what can cause your bodily health to suffer and you see the value in strenghtening it.
You will also suffer psychoemotional maladies that a high white blood count and antibodies can’t help you with. Feelings and thoughts can arise that question whether you are the right path or any path at all. You may begin to experience disconnection from the world around you and the people that populate it. Death, loss and confrontation are experiences all human beings share during their lives. This is when negative reactions like anxiety, fear, anger and hatred get the opportunity to not only arise but to become driving factors in how you deal with life. There are certain to be periods of life when nothing is going wrong and you begin to believe it will always be times of joy, times of inflated ego and sky-high esteem. Whether you find yourself in the depths of despair or the mountain top of ego these can be viewed as “spiritual illness”. Like you recognize the value of strengthening the bodily immune system you should equally value the strengthening of your spiritual immunity.
Spiritual immunity is a state whereby emotional highs and lows are less likely to cause you suffering. It provides protection from debilitating psychoemotional states like depression and loneliness, inflated self-worth and greed. It is an internal defense of the bodymind. There are people who are contented and serene even in the midst of the most negative situations or plateaus of greatness. These are folks with a strong spiritual immune system.
How many of you are thinking at this moment . . . “immunity from bad stuff I want more of but I don’t want to be immune from the good stuff”? Spiritual immunity isn’t a mode of protection from the action or experience, it is protection from your inappropriate reaction to whatever the situation may be. Therein lies its value. It gives you the strength to not over-react but to react appropriately to life’s situations; to act in ways that promote harmony, happiness and health. You create and maintain spirituality immunity by developing a deep realization through your practice of how you and the causal Universe work together. Meditation, mindfulness of dispositions and habits, awareness of causality and impermanence, and sitting with the sangha are major components in the creation of your spiritual worldview and the foundation for your spiritual immunity.
We’ve talked before about the how and why of spirituality; that spirituality IS when it presents itself as a result of our personal trigger. You want to mindful of what your trigger is . . . keeping in mind that there are likely multiple triggers. Only you can create a clear mental picture of just what spirituality looks and feels like to you. It is dependent on the who, how, why and when the question is asked. Spirituality may be best defined not by words but by experiences. Views of spirituality are so wide-ranging that spirituality is best described as a state of being that is intensely personal and intensely experienced. You strengthen spiritual immunity by being aware of what activities, thoughts and experiences cause an arising of your spiritual nature. When situations arise that tax your spiritual strength you engage in the activities that renew that strength. This is the personal aspect of that immunity.
The realization of causality and impermanence can protect you from the psychoemotional pains of loss and change. Acceptance of the Four Ennobling Truths of suffering provides a foundation for a deep and realistic understanding that while suffering is real, a path to its alleviation is also real. These ideals are the basis for spiritual immunity that you add to by finding the path to your own “spiritual medicine”. What triggers feelings of spirituality for you? What recharges your spiritual immunity?
The Engaged Dharma (EDIG) sangha at the Buddha Center on Second Life revealed how unique each experience and response to spirituality is.
Triggers for spiritual experiences and the mechanisms for recharging spritual immunity commonly revolved around the same activities. Whether as a passive observer or active participant these activities strengthened their awareness of connections with people and their interconnections with the whole of the causal Universe. I’ll list them: art, family, religion (including, but not limited to Buddhist sangha), music, books (both reading and writing),gardening, food (growing, preparing and eating), being with friends, and making new friends.
I add to this as a way to recharge spiritual immunity, volunteer work that directly impacts the well-being of other living beings.
Taking a deep look at each activity you’ll come to realize that each is a unique way of connection and interconnection, ways to experience the interdependence with people and the causal Universe. Perhaps that is one way to creatively describe spirituality and a modality for recharging spiritual immunity.