The first 2 steps of the 12-step programme for addiction are helpful when thinking about sanity and spiritual sanity:
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
In step 2 this isn’t a restoration to the so-called sanity of the world but rather to a state of mind informed by spiritual values. It is a true sanity which is about becoming the person that we are meant to be, or as R. D. Laing put it becoming who you are. This sort of sanity is the understanding of inner experience both psychological and spiritual and often held within a theological frame.
It includes a sense of authenticity, the recognition of the true self through a creative act of genuine understanding born of experience. This is the move from being just like a person to being a person, or as Laing describes it as not acting human but being human. Laing also thought that there is little conjunction of truth and social ‘reality’. He writes, ‘Around us are pseudo-events, to which we adjust with a false consciousness, adapted to see these events as true and real’, he continues ‘we are strangers to our true selves, to one another, and to the spiritual and material world’. His words echo Merton’s writing on this ‘liturgy of pseudo-events’ where through the ‘mental snake-handling’ of those in charge (including in the church) society enters a realm where, ‘the whole meaning of truth and falsity’ takes on an entirely new logic: ‘one must follow on from one irrationality to the next in a demonic consistency dictated by machines’.
Whether for the individual or at the societal level the creative act requires a move from the pretend state to the authentic state. The spiritual sanity or ‘true sanity’ is about a reunion with divine creative power. This involves understanding what is happening experientially and as a result acting freely within that.
The second aspect of spiritual sanity is the realisation that humanity applies to everyone, everyone is in the image of God. The awareness leads to acknowledgement of our interdependence on each other and with all of God’s creation.
This third aspect of spiritual sanity involves recognition of the false gods that we create and the centrality of the true God and this is linked to a deepening of our relationship with God, where we may glimpse something beyond this duality. The experience of contemplation is the experience of God’s life and presence within us not as an object, but as the transcendent source of our own subjectivity. This is spiritual sanity.
Below a photo of a new wood planted in Oxfordshire by the Woodland Trust and called Merton Woood