In my life, I have spent time focusing on the mental aspects and responsibilities of life, while neglecting or postponing self-care: both physical and spiritual. The reasons for this were many. My upbringing was in a fundamentalist Christian community that followed a small group of preachers that were deemed the only true servants of God in a world of apostasy. In this environment, one needed to be perfect in order to be “saved” from the physical urges that lead to sin. All the while, a blind eye was turned to child abuse in the name of forgiveness to perpetrators. As I grew up, the endless guilt and sense of anger I carried deep inside led me to emphatically and aggressively remove myself from Christianity.
I eventually wound up being a materialist. A clumsy way of explaining this is that the only acceptable truths were those that could be found in a test-tube. I was furious at those that believed without evidence. Eventually, I found my way to a version of Buddhism divorced from the religious beliefs, endorsing the science of mindfulness. This was a way of finding some spiritual self-care that was far-enough removed for me to participate in this practice without the anger I carried towards religion.
Ignoring my body’s signals in the name of avoiding temptation to eat the wrong foods or have sexual thoughts, I became at war with my physical nature. This led me to see the body and mind as two separate things. I could ignore my physical health and focus purely on mental projects through schooling. I did have a LOT of schooling. I wound up over the years becoming a medical doctor. As I went from medical school through residency, working sometimes over 100 hours a week, I always told myself that once I finish residency, once I get settled into my job, then I would work on my health. Honestly, this was how I was able to survive the crazy job of being a medical resident. To complicate things, it turns out that I had undiagnosed and untreated major depression and anxiety. (I would fully appreciate this later on after finishing my residency.)
The funny thing is that the mindset of putting off self-care becomes eternal. There was always something to do that was more important. That’s the way it goes in life — on autopilot, priorities rarely change. My meditation was sparse. I was sedentary and obese, not connected with my body’s sensations on when I was hungry or full. I felt terrible. It’s been a little over two years now when it all came crashing down. My health was very poor; I lost multiple members of my family, including my mother to a terrible neurodegenerative disease. My mental and physical health were at a breaking point. I became suicidal. I put on an act at work, while taking care of patients that were depressed and suicidal themselves, patients addicted to opiate medication screaming at me to prescribe them pills, patients dying of cancer and other chronic diseases. At the same time, I was planning my own death. My body and soul would not let me push through or squash things down any longer. Scared at the dark thoughts I was having, I sought medical help and wound up on a medical leave. It was very strange to be a patient, a helpless place, unable to ignore or postpone my physical and spiritual health any longer.
As part of my treatment, my mental health professional suggested that I spend time outside. So, trying to be a good patient, I planted a row of honeysuckles in memory of my mother. This became a living memorial to her. From that project came many other projects in my yard, planting trees, digging up river rock to make new walkways in the yard, clearing out brush and debris to clear a path down to the river that runs behind our property. Something about having my hands in the dirt was very healing, the smell of the earth, the moist gritty soil, the cool smooth texture of the river rock. I wound up sitting by the river one evening looking up at the stars. I felt the grandeur of it all, that there was an immense power, an energy. I imagined my ancestors, all the humans throughout time that looked up at these stars. There was a sense of wonder, of something huge and profound, but I was unable to put it into words. There was a growing sense of emptiness in my materialistic world-view.
As I began to research spiritual paths, I was surprised to learn of neopagans. My hatred rooted in my experience of Christianity drove me to click on a website that discussed neopagan paths. I was introduced to “nature spirituality.” There were many paths, such Wiccan traditions (of which there are many), heathenism, hermeticism, ceremonial magic, druidry. It was very overwhelming. As I read many books and listened to a plethora of YouTube videos that are available, I became introduced to a way in which to describe the energy and immense power I feel in nature in terms of the Goddess and God of Wicca. From there, I explored deity in different ways, such as pantheism and polytheism. They view deity in a different light than the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-perfect God of the monotheist religions. I came to know deity as both masculine and feminine, both tender and full of fury, flawed and full of passion, in harmony with the reality of nature and ourselves, seen in many forms. In my search, I discovered druidry as my personal path, a path that emphasizes a sense of grounding in the physical world and integration with the otherworld (I clumsily explain this as the world of spirit), an acceptance of the carnality of human existence, an integration of masculine and feminine parts of my being, of my drive and passion with the mental, emotional and practical physical qualities of my nature, a path that sees life and spirit in nature all around us, that provides a connection with the spirits of the land, sea/river and sky, a path that makes us part of nature and not separate from it. The integration of my self, of my spirit, soul, mind, heart and body, and the integration of this self with the living Earth, has been grounding and healing. It has provided a connection with the universe that I never knew was possible. This path has felt like coming home to a home I never knew I had.
I suspect there are many meandering journeys that those on Wiccan, heathen, druid, and other paths could share, and it was very cathartic and meaningful for me to put word to webpage as I reflect on my path. I hope it is interesting.
One other thing to share. If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call the national suicide hotline which is available 24/7.
The national suicide hotline: 800-273-8255