Can we apply the same principles the body uses for homeostasis to spiritual living? In this article, I’ll outline why I started asking that question, explain briefly the principles of physical homeostasis, and tell you why I think the answer is yes, all while illustrating how we are naturally inclined toward spiritual homeostasis.
Asking the Question
I am currently enrolled in a massage therapy course at Austin Community College. It’s funny to think that at fifty years old, I am the oldest student in my class. However, being older has its advantages. Although I have to learn anatomy and physiology from scratch, I can connect concepts and ask questions that others may not think about due to my wealth of experience. Additionally, I spend an hour driving to and from school every day, which gives me plenty of time to think. Recently, I learned about the principles of homeostasis and began to wonder if they could also be applied to spiritual living.
Homeostasis: A Refresher
Here’s what you need to know if you need a quick refresher on homeostasis. The human body is an incredible organism that performs thousands of functions every day to keep itself alive. When the body experiences an imbalance, it has two ways of reacting: positive and negative feedback loops. Positive feedback loops increase the imbalance, such as during childbirth when the cervix stretches and the body increases the stretching instead of stopping it. Negative feedback loops are more common and stop the imbalance. For example, when blood pressure rises, the body reacts to bring it back to a stable 120 over 80. These processes occur unconsciously, without the individual being aware of them.
Conscious Spiritual Homeostasis
Applying this principle in broad strokes to our spiritual lives is relatively simple. From the highest standpoint, spiritual homeostasis is a balance between the physical and the ethereal, the world and the spirit, heaven and earth.
Positive Feedback Loop
In a positive feedback loop, we would increase imbalance by moving more strongly toward either the flesh or the soul. On one end, we would become ever more immersed in the world, while on the other, we would retire from the world and stop functioning. Both ways exist, and people choose to live their lives accordingly. There are those individuals who live their lives as if they were purely worldly, and then there are those who withdraw into caves and monasteries to immerse themselves in the spiritual side.
Negative Feedback Loop
In the second scenario, a negative feedback loop implies achieving a balance between being worldly and spiritual. If, for instance, someone becomes overly materialistic, the feedback mechanism restrains that behavior and prompts them to incorporate more spirituality. Similarly, if someone becomes so spiritual that they neglect their basic needs like paying bills or taking care of themselves, the feedback would help them get back on track and focus on earthly responsibilities.
Achieving spiritual balance is challenging, mainly because it requires us to be conscious and mindful. Unlike the body, which automatically maintains homeostasis, we need to be aware of any imbalances in our spiritual life before addressing them. Being mindful and attentive allows us to identify these imbalances and take appropriate measures to restore balance.
Most People Already Do This
Before I took this idea to 30,000 feet—as is my nature—I pondered a simpler balance between drive and relaxation. I realized that if I relax too much, I may not be able to fulfill my basic survival needs. On the other hand, if I constantly push myself and don’t take breaks, I may be setting myself up for an early demise, with all the painful consequences that come along with it. My body-mind always sends me signals I can pick up on if I pay attention.
The same is true for you. Your body-mind is already sending signals about the areas of your life that might be out of balance. You can slow down, listen, and respond to these signals if you choose to do so.
Play With This Idea
On a macro level, spiritual homeostasis means balancing worldly and spiritual pursuits. Practically, though, it involves identifying everyday imbalances that require conscious efforts to restore balance. I already mentioned the tension between drive and relaxation. Off the top of my head, I can think of other competing dualities, such as socializing and aloneness, talking and listening, confidence and humility, attachment and detachment, passion and peace… the list is nearly endless. I urge you to take a moment now and write down the most pressing tensions in your life and think about how you can bring about conscious homeostasis.
No Final Balance
One undeniable fact about life is that everything changes. I have been writing about balance since the turn of the century, and I can safely say that I have only ever experienced brief periods of balance. Just like with peace, all I seem to get are fleeting moments worth cherishing.
However, the yearning for homeostasis, for some balance, is persistent. Just like the body, something in our emotions, mind, and soul yearns for equilibrium. I plan to pay closer attention to that yearning. How about you?
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Relevant books by GB:
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)