When we use the word ”wellness” in health conversations, we typically refer to comprehensive ideas about being healthy: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. Most people tend to agree that there is a cross-functional benefit to having a balanced state and maintaining health in all five areas to achieve overall ”wellness.” We also tend to associate the idea of ”self care” with wellness, and trendy topics abound for these goals from diets to skincare and alone time. For today, I’m going to focus on spiritual habits – good and bad ones – and their relationship with wellness.
As a little girl, I loved brushing my teeth. As I got older, brushing my teeth was a habit I had developed into a bit of an obsession. By the time I was a young woman in college, dealing with mental health challenges and substance abuse habits, I would brush my teeth about three times before I left home each morning. I carried mouthwash and disposable brushes everywhere. My great oral hygiene habit went from a healthy self care routine to a toxic coping mechanism that began to wear off my natural enamel, dulling my teeth of their natural shine.
Too much of a good thing is just as bad as too little of the same good thing.
When it comes to wellness, spirituality can be like toothbrushing, a big component of self care. It can be a good routine on autopilot for many who are deeply religious or deeply spiritual in their lifestyles. For others, it can be something they rarely consider as worthy of their time due to disbelief dynamics. Somewhere in between, there is a balanced idea about spirituality that truly serves individual self care needs and isn’t simply a case of ”toothbrush spirituality.” When spiritual practices become a mindless routine, the habit stops being mindful, and without conscious mindfulness about your spiritual needs, are you really providing yourself with self care for your overall wellness?
I used to ask myself this question years ago as a teenager. At the time, I was very involved in my Roman Catholic parish community and it was a mainstay of my social wellness. From being a church musician to reading scriptures at Mass, being a youth leader, organizing spiritual retreats and much more, I had my religious routines down to a packed schedule. I barely thought about them in terms of mindfulness – they were ”a part of who I am.” Well, ain’t that just beautiful and peachy? They were indeed a natural part of my day, much like brushing my teeth incessantly. Perhaps, in hindsight, religious expression became a sort of coping mechanism for me, too.
It took me a few years to find a balance between mindful religious practices in my specific faith and my personal spiritual needs. For me, anything that felt routine and habitual did not serve me as self care, if it was mindlessly done. You see, like toothbrushing, religion can serve up a sense of obligation. ”This must be done this way.” And we do it – Daily, weekly, monthly, annually – whatever the case is for each type of organized faith community. Without thinking, religion can become a part of our lives without actually becoming a part of ourselves or even making us do a conscious examination of its spiritual impact.
In college and in my early 20s, I began to explore my spiritual self care needs more. I identified my favorite aspects of my religion and learned about the common denominators it has with spirituality from other walks of faith. Today, I still brush my teeth and I am still a practicing Roman Catholic. I do both without extremes, without sycophantic tendencies, and with a lot of mindfulness about what I choose to express for my spiritual wellness. For me, believing in God and enjoying Roman Catholic traditions with my family are part of my personal wellness. They’re an active part of my self care, not an obligation.
How many times do you brush your teeth in a day?
How many times do you address your spiritual hygiene in a day?
Which one happens more often?
In my personal journey, I try to mindfully address my spiritual needs along the lines of my oral hygiene. I know that sound silly or weird, but It makes sense for me. I’m able to meditate and pray in the mornings and before bed, and I’m able to take one or two more moments throughout the day to give my soul a ”rinse” of whatever spiritual tool works for me. Because – why would I treat my teeth better than my soul?
Toothbrush spirituality is a thing. We see it online often. Groupthink and obligation isn’t exactly the same thing as a personal spiritual journey. If you find that you’re scrubbing your soul out mindlessly to the point where you’re wearing out your own ”shine” with habits, maybe it’s time to examine what you’re doing and why. Or, what you are not doing and why not. The ”why” matters. Knowing the ”why” is the mindfulness, and it makes the difference between toothbrush spirituality and authentic spiritual wellness.
Happy “brushing,” everyone!