Recently, I took the opportunity to undergo one of those tests that we all should do when we get older. Of course, there are ranges of these tests that are good for older folks to do. There are a number of good reasons for us to do these things, but probably the key issue is called self-interest! The problem here however, it sometimes does not seem to be in our self-interest. In all honesty I had no interest at all in doing it! And I could come up with ten reasons why I “really did not need to do it….not now anyway.”
To follow my own “logic” here would only prove my stupidity. I know there are other ways I opted to be stupid, but most of the time when it comes to my health, I sacrifice stupidity and go with safety. Throughout the process I am always intrigued by the guile and gravity of my mind. It is one creative, tricky little dude! Sometimes I don’t even think it is my mind.
There are tests that only women do and ones that only men do. And there are many more that are not gender specific. Women and men both have hearts, livers, kidneys, colons, etc. If we live long enough and have even a modicum of care, we will go through one or more of these tests. The smart ones among us go through a few of them a number of times, because that means we are doing some preventative care.
As I ponder it, preventative care requires some intentionality and a little discipline. Perhaps that explains why so many of us don’t bother. And if we don’t bother, then it does not much matter the excuse or reason we use to “explain” why we are not doing it. Those of us who do bother know in our heads that only two good things can come out of it: either there is no problem and that is great news or, secondly, there is a problem and we have caught it early and have the best chance to do something about the problem, which is also great news.
So in spite of not wanting to do it and all the compelling stupid logic why it was not necessary, I let my intentionality trump stupidity and I went to do the procedure. I had the discipline to sit in the waiting room until my name was called and I would disappear into the throes of the thing. Waiting is difficult, because I am so creative I could come up with any number of reasons why I should get up and immediately leave. I could create a momentary crisis and “explain” to the receptionist that I had to rush off to do something more important. Sometimes I can laugh at myself!
Then it occurred to me. If there is preventative health care, I am sure the same thing can be said about preventative spirituality. I don’t recall ever hearing that word and may be subconsciously stealing it, but the idea makes perfect sense to me. And the parallels between preventative health care and spirituality seem pretty extensive. What can be said about one can likely be said about the other.
Of course, the most important word is “preventative.” Literally that word means, “that which comes before (pre).” In the case of health care and spiritual care that means doing something before something bigger or worse comes along. It is tempting to think that spirituality does not have to worry about real issues like cancer, heart attacks, etc. However, that may be shortsighted.
Would you want a healthy heart and live without meaning and purpose for decades? Despair for a healthy person is not much better than despair for a sick person! How about being cancer-free and feeling no self-worth? I bet that is not much fun! Physical health does not guarantee much at all about emotional or spiritual health. I argue we need to practice preventative spirituality.
There are basic things to do here, just like in preventative health care. Prayer is a time-honored discipline. Meditation is a good one, because it crosses the lines of religious traditions---Christians, Buddhists and other do it. Learning to live contemplatively has been an important practice in preventative spirituality for me. Learning to live contemplatively does not automatically control my blood pressure or make me perfect. But it does enable me to deal with these and all the other human issues in a much saner, holistic way.
There are the less obvious preventative spiritual measures. Another key one for me is having some key, close, cool relationships---most of these I call friendships. A corollary of this is community. Probably one of the best things spiritually any of us can do for ourselves is to become an active, contributing part of a community. It might be a church, synagogue or mosque community. It might include a group that does yoga or similar physical-spiritual endeavors. It probably has less to do with what it is and more to do with the fact that you belong.
It helps me to write out this stuff. It helps because it reinforces my intentionality and gives hope to my discipline to engage what I know is good, healthy and rewarding. And often it is both a relief to have done it---the check-up or the spiritual check-up. And in many cases, it is fun. And if I can keep my friends and community, they will help me not be stupid!