Many spiritual disciplines encourage periodic spiritual check-ups. These are times of introspection, of self-examination, of trying to discern whether the soul is well or ill, whether it requires any particular treatment, whether some spiritual illness is waiting in line ready to become manifest.
The components of a spiritual examination are similar to those of a physical examination. What does the scale say about you? The stethoscope? Is your heart hardened? Here are nine common experiences of a physical medical exam, transposed for a spiritual exam:
Standing naked before a mirror in an examining room, there are no garments to hide behind. Similarly, a spiritual examination begins with a confrontation with the naked truth of who we really are, with what our spiritual profile looks like, with how the results of our deeds have shaped and altered the contours of our spiritual physique. A spiritual checkup begins with seeing ourselves stripped of our pretensions, of our vanities, of the accoutrements we tactically employ to look good to others.
Toward the beginning of most physical check-ups, we stand on a scale to record our weight. But there is another scale, and that is the scale of our deeds. On one side are the deeds of which we are proud, deeds of virtue, deeds that help make our life a work of art. On the other side of the scale are those deeds of which we are not proud, the memory of which makes us queasy, the recollection of which leads us to reconsider how we have behaved at certain times, to certain people, in certain circumstances. Awareness of our faults, recognition of our having missed the mark, is a critical step in the process of spiritual healing.
In a spiritual examination, one should ask oneself: Is my pressure too high-not only the pressure in me, but the pressure on me? Or is my pressure too low? Am I listless due to lack of adequate stimulation, because I am not challenged enough by the tasks with which I am confronted? Is what I am doing important; is it meaningful; does it matter?
The Examining Table
Here, the first question often asked is: Do you have pains anywhere? Like physical pain, so emotional pain, psychological pain, spiritual discomfort may be a signal, a warning that something is really wrong with us or is about the become really wrong with us, and that it must be treated before it worsens and causes lasting damage.
Exam of the Mouth, Ears, and Tongue
In a spiritual examination, we should illuminate and reflect upon what we have done with our ears, our mouths, our tongues. We are encouraged to recall the times we refused to hear, to listen, as well as the times we only allowed ourselves to her what we wanted to hear.
Testing Your Reflexes
It is important to learn better how to control some of our responses to people and to situations-for instance, how to control our anger, especially when losing our temper hurts those whom we love; when speaking without without first thinking inflicts a wound on one whom we hold dear.
We worry a lot about hardening arteries, but not enough about hardening hearts. We worry little about arterial sclerosis of the mind, about a hardened mind, closed to new ideas, new experiences, new learning, new joys, new relationships, new possibilities.
Are you hungry for love, friendship, justice, beauty, and meaning?
Are we spiritually anemic? Is our love and compassion too low, and our hate and hostility too high?
Adapted from Crafting the Soul, by Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin, Ph.D. (Park Street Press, 1998). Copyright (c) 1998 by Byron L. Sherwin. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from Crafting the Soul, by Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin, Ph.D. (Park Street Press, 1998).