In my journey towards understanding and decolonizing mental health, I have battled with the notion of spirituality. You see as an African it’s as if it’s a default to believe there’s more to reality than what is physical or can be counted and measured.
I grew up as a Christian, and it’s values were what governed my morality. However, as I became older, I realized most of the adults in my life were saying one thing and doing the opposite. I also realized the harshness with which you would be judged by the church depended on a lot of factors and the more the proximity to the powers the lesser or mild the consequences of going against it’s principles. This contradictions were heavy on my heart, and as a result set me on a path of discovery to try and resolve them.
As I went along doing my research, I discovered a lot of studies that linked spirituality to mental wellness. I also discovered African authors who had done a lot of decolonization work on mental health had at the core of their works a consensus that spirituality is central to the overall well being of Africans, because it was a lifestyle. It was embedded into every mundane aspect of being; from eating, to sleeping, to working and to how one relates with everyone. Therefore with this in mind, it serves to regulate one’s behavior because God is in all and everything. So the goal is to strive to be just and right, in other words living a life of Ma’at.
My understanding of spirituality therefore shifted from an external set of laws that need to be followed to an internal compass. This compass is regulated by study as well as self work (or doing shadow work), that is, striving every day to be a better version of yourself.
There are studies now that can show us some benefits, for example, of meditation on the brain among other practices that seek to train the brain to better self regulate. My experience as a therapist as well show a better outcome with clients who subscribe to a form spirituality, for example when it comes to dealing with issues of loss and grief.
There’s an elder I consulted once who told me that spirituality is not something that can be taught. It’s a journey that one must travel and discover for themselves. Belief is a personal matter because it’s not something that others can disprove or prove since it’s a very subjective encounter. However we share our stories not to make believers but to encourage and strengthen each other especially with those who can resonate with our stories. As the great teacher Ram Dass said we all are really walking each other and this is one way to do that.
What good then is spirituality? I leave that to the reader to decide.
Please use this for information purposes only. It is not a substitute for seeking out professional help. The views expressed here in are from my personal experiences as well as from those I have interacted with. And while one may resonate with what is shared, it’s not a substitute for appreciating your own unique personal experience. Always do your own research on any topic to guard against being hoodwinked.