Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/19/2011

Health Care Reform and Spirituality?

(In which I try to force my understanding of the reading of several weeks into 1200 words and fail.)

Yesterday morning (Friday) I opened the bottle of my anti-seizure medication to discover enough pills for only one day. I was sure I had another bottle because I still have a month’s supply of my other medication. I had ordered both meds on the same day. They arrived on the same day, so if I had a supply of one, I must have a supply of the other. Wrong. What I didn’t remember was I had a month’s supply of the second on hand when I ordered the two three months ago.

I called the insurance company to order meds and pay extra to have it delivered overnight. Oops! My employee benefits have changed. Our prescription insurance is with a new company. I panicked and called Human Resources. They told me what I needed to do to get enough meds to last me until I set up my account with the new company. My neurologist called my local pharmacy. Certain disaster was averted. It cost me only $174 for a 30-day supply instead of the $40 for a 90-day supply through mail order. (Without insurance it would be $600 every thirty days.)

Much about this little vignette (which took all day) is worth noting. First. At one time I knew about the insurance change. The forms to fill out were sitting on the shelf virtually next to the pill bottles. Second. If I had put my pills into the daily pill dispenser a week ago as I intended, I would have discovered the problem in time to fix it. Third. One of the purposes of the pills is to keep me living in the present, mitigating against the neurological detachment that allows me to go blissfully through life not noticing such details. Fourth. If this had happened today instead of yesterday, I would be up the creek—HR persons and doctors do not work on Saturdays.

I have a problem with what psychologists call “attachment,” both to people and to the tangible world. I certainly these days have a problem with attachment to “God” (1). I don’t attach very well in many respects. In some I do. Sorting that out is not my purpose here.

This little vignette raises two totally different but related questions. First.  If we had a people-centered healthcare system in this country instead of our profit-driven capitalist system (why should healthcare be any different from any other part of our lives—why should people matter to healthcare?), would my difficulty living in the tangible world of human society be any less or more a problem? Would I have better care, or would my detachment be the same? Of course, you say in deafening unison, my problem would be the same. It’s my problem, not the healthcare system’s. An argument for a later time

Second. Is my being spared a weekend of seizures and total dissociation and agony, in spite of my inability to stay “on top of things,” attributable to the intervention of any power greater than myself—evidence of the intervention of (or my getting in tune with) some spiritual force?

Since the object of all contemplation is the production of that state of intimate communion in which the mystics declare that the self is “in God and God is in her,” it might be supposed that the orison of union represented the end of mystical activity, in so far as it is concerned with the attainment of a transitory but exalted consciousness of “oneness with the Absolute” (2).

Two of the “thirteen conceptual components” of the academic/psychological definition of “spirituality” I wrote about on February 4 are

Transcendence: recognition of a transcendent dimension to life, and

Non-materiality: opposition of the spiritual to the material (3).

I don’t claim to know if those whom Cook quotes would agree that their “recognition of a transcendent dimension to life” and their “opposition of the spiritual to the material” has anything to do with “mystical activity,” that is, Underwood’s “exalted consciousness of ‘oneness with the Absolute.’” I, however, wonder what it’s like to attain even a transitory “consciousness of ‘oneness with the Absolute.’” I also wonder if Timothy Geithner or Barbara Bradley Hagarty, or Michael R. Francis or Pete Sessions has ever wondered what it’s like. That’s ridiculous—and that I even pose the question is evidence that I have no such consciousness. What business of mine is it whether or not those people have ever had a “recognition of a transcendent dimension to life?” None, of course.

I’m just curious how widespread the desire for, the belief in, the accomplishment of some kind of “spiritual” understanding is. My wondering about that was prompted by reading an article by Richard Falk, Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University.

In the West, the modern age is drawing to an end, along with its core assumptions: that science and reason will ensure the progress of human society; that religion and spirituality are essentially superfluous in the public order; and that such secular ideas as political boundaries, sovereignty, territorial supremacy, and the rule of law provide solid grounds for optimism about human destiny. Increasingly, none of these assumptions now holds firmly. . .(4)

I’m not sure that any of the assumptions Falk describes are at the core of Western society. I’m much too cynical. I am also a mere onlooker to the hard work of history, economics, and such disciplines. It seems to me, however, that the core is the opposition of the material to the spiritual as most clearly evidenced in the absolute dominance of capitalism. As I often quote Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers” (William Wordsworth, 1806). The fault isn’t, I suppose, with capitalism (it was hardly the all-devouring force when Wordsworth wrote that is now). It’s simply the inability to detach ourselves from “getting and spending.”

Spirituality is not, as I used to think—even though I do not know, and no one I’ve asked, can make it clear to me, what that word means—the way to detach myself .  Rudolf Otto’s oft-quoted explanation of the idea of the “numinous,” the experience of transcendence that cannot be explained, used to fascinate me. In fact, I used to hope that some day I would have an experience of the numinous. It obviously has nothing to do with getting and spending. It may not have anything to do with spirituality because

a numinous experience cannot induce progressive change or enrichment of the ego, for, although an encounter with the numinous is overwhelming, it is without purpose; only in an experience of the holy can the ego be reborn into Selfhood (5).

My understanding of Huskinson is certainly simplistic. This passage is from her discussion of Carl Jung’s misunderstanding of Otto—much too complex for me. She says spirituality is pointless. What is important is an experience of the holy that is so overwhelming that one’s entire person is changed by it. Underwood says the experience is the “attainment of a transitory but exalted consciousness.” Transitory. One is not spiritual. One experiences the numinous and is forever changed.

So now I can answer the second of the questions my little experience yesterday raised. No.
(1) Hall, Todd W., Annie Fujikawa, Sarah R. Halcrow, Peter C. Hill and Harold Delaney. “Attachment To God and Implicit Spirituality: Clarifying Correspondence and Compensation Models.” Journal Of Psychology And Theology 37.4 (2009): 227-242.
(2) Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. (The Preeminent study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness). Forward by Ira Progroff. New York: Image Books: 1990, 358.
(3) Cook, Christopher C. H. “Addiction and spirituality.” Addiction 99.5 (2004): 539-551.
(4) Falk, Richard. “Politically Engaged Spirituality in an Emerging Global Civil Society.” ReVision 25.4 (2003): 2-10.
(5) Huskinson, Lucy. “Holy, Holy, Holy: the Misappropriation of the Numinous in Jung.” In The Idea of the Numinous, Contemporary Jungian and Psychoanalytic Perspectives. eds. Ann Casement & David Tacey. Hove: Routledge, 2006.  Quoted in: MacKenna, Christopher. “From the numinous to the sacred.” Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2009, 54, 167–182


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