Mental Spring Cleaning
By: Sarah Thompson
With the recent warm weather, it feels like Chicago spring is finally here. The energy and joy of new life surrounds us as the trees and flowers bloom and the joyful music of migrating birds early morning songs return. People seem to reflect that same change as well. Research tells us with the change of weather and an increased time outside, our mood, memory, and cognitive abilities improve. It is a time where we step out of a stagnant and enclosed mindset into an improved state of mind. As we put away our boots and gloves and bring out the sandals, it’s also a good time to focus the things we want to personally rid ourselves of moving forward. I like to call it mental spring cleaning. Like a favorite closet, our mind needs to be cleaned up and reorganized every once in a while. Information we thought we could use or that seemed important at one time become disorganized clutter, keeping us from finding what we want and need. Over time, ideas, memories, and concerns accumulate because they seem significant at the time. As we accumulate experiences the original value, importance, or interest often changes, and the closet of our mind can get overwhelming. Every time we avoid dealing with something we chip away at our self-respect. We might feel relieved in the short run when we put something off, but our self-esteem takes a hit over time. This is because part of our psyche knows we are avoiding our responsibility, and that usually adds wear and tear to the soul. When we deal directly with issues, even the unpleasant items, we typically feel better. But more often than not we toss things in the back of the closet of our mind to avoid them, and tell ourselves we’ll get to them later. Later never comes, and when too much builds up, we clog our soul. Self-care is an essential element of spiritual vitality. To neglect one’s own needs is not a sign of Christian piety, but rather a show of disregard for the very temple of God. In today’s Gospel, the command to love others as we love ourselves presupposes an adequate love of self. Self-love or self-care is not self-centered or selfish; they are Biblical prerequisites for loving and caring for others. We cannot give what we do not first possess; we cannot hold new wine in old wineskins of spiritual malaise, physical lethargy, and unresolved emotional issues. The human being is a complex amalgam of spirit, mind, and body; none of which operate independently from the rest. In order to adequately care for ourselves, a holistic approach is necessary. Proper diet and exercise benefit the body but also help keep our emotions balanced. Healthy spirituality involving regular prayer and worship feeds the spirit and also keeps us emotionally healthy. Caring for our emotional needs in turn opens our spirits to soar to the places to which God has called us. In Pope Francis’s landmark document “Amoris Laetitia” he asks us to meet people where they are. If we clean out our negative thoughts, our judgmental views of those different from us, we will be more open to understanding our fellow human beings in all their complexities and be more compassionate, open, and supportive of others. In combination with healthy spiritual disciplines and physical fitness, mental and emotional fitness is an essential component of a holistic and Biblical approach to self-care. Ultimately, finding the appropriate balance of these facets of self-care can improve our ability to reach out to others effectively and with the love of God. As Jesus tells us through today’s gospel, John 13:33-35 “Where I go you cannot come, so now I say it to you. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” For us to effectively carry out this commandment, we should first make sure we are on the journey to finding peace within ourselves. Sarah Thompson is the Parish Counselor at Old St. Pat’s.