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Posted: August 06, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Forsaking the Myth of Health

The Twentieth Century may become known, among many other things, as the age of psychology. We have studied human behavior in detail and have tried to control it. We have charted so-called emotional problems and have developed systems of diagnosis and treatment according to our classifications. We have crowded the popular press with advice and the latest reports from the laboratories.

This materialistic approach to the human experience shrinks our view of what a person is ? or a family or a community. We imagine ourselves on the mechanical model of a car or computer, and think of happiness as good-functioning and difficulties in life as an alarm calling for repair. We have developed a healing philosophy of life, an attitude that affects the way we eat, play, raise our children and care for our elderly. Above all else we want to be healthy, in body and soul.

What is wrong with this new model, this myth of therapy that lies unconsciously at the base of our values? The chief problem with it is that it seals us off from our potential depths and heights. We don?t listen attentively to the specific meanings of our sadness and despair, but rather look for a medication or a way to simply get rid of the annoyance. We don?t work our way though a marriage and its challenges but rather look for an expert to help us keep the relationship tranquil.

If we give any attention to our dreams and fantasies, we take them as symbols to be decoded and used as tools for self-improvement ? the myth of therapy.

Today, we have easy access to the world?s literature, including philosophy, theology, drama, poetry and fiction, all of it exploring in detail the subtleties of human experience.

This literature deepens us as people, gives us inspiring vision, and guides us toward meaning and compassionate values. This literature shows human struggle as the means of honing our humanity and not as medicine for healthy living. Our pills and our healing techniques can make us tranquil as corpses, but they don?t make us persons of vision and compassion.

When we feel empty, heavy, aimless, lonely, sad and confused, the problem may not rest in our childhood experiences or in our genes or chemistries. The problem may be that we are out of touch with our very substance. The issue may not be psychological at all, but spiritual or religious. We may need a more humanizing myth, a deeper vision of what it means to be a person.

To get back on the spiritual journey and engaged with our deepest yearnings and struggles may lead more directly to the satisfaction we crave than turning to the salve offered by the healing society.

It may be time to let go of the myth of the healthy life. Health could return to the pack of values that deserve our attention but not our preoccupation. We might realize that our problems may fade as we leave the vanity in that myth behind and think about making sense of our lives by contributing to society. We might become less fussy in demanding the perfect marriage and robot-calm emotions. We might devote ourselves to the refinement of individuals rather than mechanical parts of an economic machine.

It is time to set aside yet another magazine article that feeds our self-important anxieties, and instead pick up an inspired, substantive poem or novel, sit for a moment in the quiet of a church or temple, and spend some time with the children and other family around us who need our companionship.

Contemplative reading worthy of our attention, a spiritual practice suited to our intelligence and our temperament, and generous service to our community ? this is a prescription that has little to do with health but could make our lives worth living.


Thomas Moore is the best-selling author of Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life; Soul Mates: A Guide to Cultivating Life as an Act of Love, and The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. His latest book is The Soul of Sex: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationships. He is a former Catholic monk and practicing psychotherapist.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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