When I met with Process managing partner, Justin Etling, to explore the topic of soul sickness, he readily attributed the term to Executive Director, Nicole White, who uses it to describe the “mania” of becoming disconnected from self. Although Justin refused to take credit, he was more than willing to share his interpretation of soul sickness, which he directly linked to the concept of “seeking”.
Soul Sickness: Justin’s Perspective
“One of the reasons I think we have soul sickness,” I began, “is because we have this desire for certainty in a world that is not certain, and never will be certain”.
“Exactly,” Justin agreed. “I think that, in layman’s terms, we’re a left-brained society living in our analytical mind, and we’ve created a controlled system that makes us feel safe: ‘If I do x and y, I’m going to get z’. Sometimes ‘x’ and ‘y’ don’t equal ‘z’, and it causes mental stress. Sometimes you push through the mental stress and you finally get to z, and you’re okay. But in getting to ‘z’, the joy was not in the journey. You didn’t find meaning in the journey because you were lost in trying to control it. You might get to your destination but you don’t understand, ‘what was the meaning in going there?’ Really, everything that we’re doing is supposed to help us evolve. But if we just continue in patterns of ‘push, push, push,’ ‘get, get, get,’ the meaning of everything loses its essence. It just becomes about accomplishing. It becomes about creating desired outcomes instead of being in the flow of creation”.
“I would say, personally, even having an understanding of that, I still struggle with it. It’s a deeply ingrained belief system that we’ve incorporated into ourselves. It’s very difficult to break. As you start to break it, you break the safety net of what makes you feel okay. So, you actually feel less okay. But in feeling less okay, it forces you to operate more in effortlessness, faith, belief that everything is going to turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to…better than it’s supposed to”.
“I think that’s what we see societally,” I reflected. “People are seeking. We are these seeking missiles – seeking anything”.
“Your mind is a powerful tool but be careful what you feed it,” Justin warned. “If you feed it the proper stuff, it can turn into a gateway. If you don’t feed it the proper stuff, you’ll get stuck. We live in a society of filling our minds with whatever: Facebook. Consumerism. Our minds are programmed at this point. It’s a learned behavior: ‘Give me something. Give me something. Give me something. Let me look at my phone. Give me something’. But you’re seeking in all that behavior”.
“In spiritual circles,” I mused, “people always talk about being seekers. I would almost challenge that terminology”.
“I would agree with you,” Justin affirmed. “Most of our terminology is geared toward us driving the bus”.
“Or looking outside of ourselves versus within,” I added.
“I would say seeking in the spiritual sense isn’t necessarily a bad context,” Justin reconsidered. “Seeking spiritually – you are seeking within. You’re not seeking outside. You’re looking within for the answers. Even seeking within – there’s an “I” involved in that. That’s the thing: You can start to go within, but is it you trying to ‘fix’ yourself? Or is it you trying to understand and heal yourself? There’s a big difference… and it becomes so delicate. I struggle with, ‘I want to fix myself. I want to be better. I want to be deeper’. All the seeking I’m doing – is it really benefiting me if I am seeking too much?”
“Maybe the harder we look, the less we find,” I pondered.
“Exactly,” Justin agreed. “You’re not in a state of being when you’re looking. You’re seeking, so you are in control. It’s ‘me, me, me’. This is something, in my journey over the last couple years, I’ve had to see, and I’ve had to deal with. At the end of the day, what we’re talking about here is the power that everybody has within. The people who are willing to be less in control are further along”.
“I’m trying to figure this out for myself, because I do know that part of my path is giving people knowledge, even though knowledge isn’t necessarily the gateway to enlightenment. It’s being. It can become self-serving”.
“About what I know versus who I am,” I summarized.
“I want to be what I know” Justin admitted. “Yeah, cool, I can be engaging. I can be a good speaker. In ways, I can serve my ego with that. I can become what I know and not who I am. So, I think I have been doing a better job with that, but to say that I don’t sometimes go there, or sometimes get really excited about information and want to share it – I do”.
“I deliver information with energy. Since it has energy behind it, it resonates, but it resonates in an intellectual capacity. I’m really not supposed to be engaging mind energy, I’m supposed to be engaging spiritual energy. There’s a difference. Your mind does have energy…but so does the spirit. We live in a society where we run off of mind energy. We get high off of mind energy. We get high off of life circumstances and things that are happening. That’s not really the energy off which you want to be running. It works. It serves a purpose, but it serves a purpose that is driven by ego. Instantly, as you start to feed your mind, it gives you a sense of power, ‘Oh yeah, this is good’. The next instinct is, ‘I feel great because…’ Why are you in ‘because’? The outcome piece: “I feel great because now I’m predicting outcomes, and I’m high off the outcome I’m going to get”.
“How do we live more from spirit?” I wondered. “How do we get out of that mind piece? How do we combat the soul sickness?”
“Meditate,” Justin emphasized. “You meditate. Do more healthy things that get you more grounded or in touch with yourself. A lot of people do nature stuff. Nature stuff is supposed to get you more grounded. You do stuff that serves you in being in the moment”.
“It doesn’t have to look like the meditation you see in the yoga magazines.” I remarked. “What would you say to the person who refuses to sit?”
“One of the things I would suggest to people who refuse to sit is, number one, lay down,” Justin stressed. “Don’t sit. Get comfortable. Don’t make it this uncomfortable chore. I’m not saying sitting doesn’t have benefits. I know that it does. I know your back being straight and some other things do help you to tune in a little bit, but I do think you can tune in lying down. I know this to be a fact. I feel like there are a lot of people who think that you have to sit. I don’t sit. It’s very rare that I sit for meditation. Most of my meditations are lying down. I go back and forth between different meditation techniques and different things I listen to. But it’s not a practice of uncomfortableness. It’s a practice of, ‘let’s just relax here for a few minutes’.
“Can you be in motion?” I asked.
“You can definitely be in motion” Justin maintained. “There’s no doubt about it. I think it’s why a lot of people take walks. It’s clearing your mind. ‘I’m going to take a walk and clear my mind,’ is a statement people use. Guess what mind you are clearing? Your analytical mind. You’re trying to take the hamster off the wheel…but it’s a complex thing to get off the wheel. We are literally ingrained in the wheel in our society. Even when you think, ‘Now I’m stepping off the wheel,’ you’re still on the wheel in ways. But I don’t think that meditation is always supposed to be devoid of thought. I really don’t think that”.
“Can you explain what you mean by that?” I pushed. “I think that’s where so many people get stuck”.
“It’s a misteaching,” Justin asserted. “I think that it’s about getting out of your stressful thoughts and your analytical mind: ‘I’ve got this going on, I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that’. I would suggest people listen to binaural meditations. They’ve actually been proven to slow your mind down. It helps you get out of all the craziness”.
“So, that’s when you’re better able to tap into your intuitive mind?” I inquired.
“Your right brain is more creative. Your right brain thinks a little slower,” Justin explained. “What happens when you get creative? What comes behind that? Feelings. Inspiration. When you’re in your analytical mind, I’m not saying you can’t have inspirational feelings. That’s where it gets tricky. Normally, when you’re high on mind energy, it’s because outcomes are starting to turn out the way you want them to, and it makes your mind race. I think that we live in a society that promotes that in ways”.
“It’s like yin and yang,” I mused. “When you’re in one mind state, there’s always going to be that small circle that exists from the other state. Even if you slow your mind down, it doesn’t take much to pull you back onto the hamster wheel”.
“How do you get more in touch with your intuitive self?” Justin continued. “You get more out of your analytical mind. How do you know you’re more in your soul? (Soul, life force, universal energy, whatever you want to call it.) I would say you’re more in the moment, you feel more okay, you have more gratitude. You have a knowing about things that you want to do. You have ideas. It’s essentially kind of like happy bliss. It’s being truly in the moment. Everybody has experienced that – truly being in the moment. ‘This is amazing. I’m so grateful to be here’. But it doesn’t happen a ton. It’s fleeting… but it doesn’t need to be fleeting. You can kind of be in that state most of the time if you quiet yourself to live from there, and not seek all the time”.
“Do you think people try to reproduce that sort of bliss or nirvana with drugs?” I probed.
“Without a doubt,” Justin acknowledged. “I think we try to reproduce it with seeking anything outside of ourselves. The truth is, it does work for what you’re asking it to work for – you do get dopamine released in your brain – but what we’re talking about is not of that nature”.
“The truth is – you’ve got to be careful. It’s not terrible to want. It’s the manner in which you go about getting things that matters. Are you living in a state of control, trying to dictate outcomes to get stuff? Or are you living in abundance? Sometimes even your wanting is there to teach you lessons that you need to learn”.
“I run up against a wall,” I admitted, “because I tend to be very heavily influenced by Buddhism, and a lot of the passages are about contentment”.
“This goes back to this or that theology,” Justin reminded me. “You get back to the theology of ‘this is the right way’. All of it is the right way. It’s what translates for you. If that’s a knowing for you, then I would say one hundred percent pursue that. I would say that’s not everybody’s path. If that was everybody’s path, then what would the earth be?”
“The Universe is teaching everyone. There’s a fabric to it that’s far beyond our understanding. It’s our ego that wants to compare, ‘This is the way it is. This is better than that’. Back to wants – the second you start to translate what’s right and what’s wrong, you’re not in a state of abundance. Things might not come to you because…“
“I’m stuck on one thing and I’m not open to anything else!” I interrupted.
“Exactly,” Justin concurred. “The second we’re in that mind frame, we’re not in flow with the Universe. At the end of the day, everybody gets to decide what their abundance is, and as long as you believe your abundance to be a true expression of who you are, and you’re open to everybody else’s abundance, and supporting their abundance, I would say you’re more in the flow”.
“I know what my pathway is,” I concluded. “It doesn’t make it right or wrong. It just is”.
“Everything is right. There is nothing that’s wrong,” Justin sagely declared. “Even the ‘wrong’ is part of the fabric. People who are doing wrong are learning. Your mistakes create who you are. Everything is right. Even travesty”.
“People don’t realize this is their journey. You can be too focused on others and not yourself. And then you’re not even in your journey. It’s so complex”.
“How do we live more in love?” I asked. “I think however you define soul sickness, the opposite is love”.
“One of the best ways we can do that is trying to incorporate a spiritual element that’s applicable to everyone,” Justin advocated. “When we say spiritual, we’re talking about defining meaning and purpose in every individual’s life, which empowers people to support each other, love each other, and connect. The definition of spirituality applies to everyone”.
“Even when we talk about the darkness, that type of stuff connects us all. The mind is the piece that wants to separate us. We fundamentally have a connection as part of the human species but, beyond the human species, we have a struggle with something. We’re in the spiritual dilemma of who are we and how we express ourselves”.
“If you’re trying to be perfect – if you’re trying to dictate an outcome – then you’re in left brain. Embrace the not-perfectness. Embrace what’s wrong with you. Embrace sharing darkness, sharing deeply, and the spiritual realm. You’re in who you are, you’re not in what you are”.
Justin Etling/ Contributor
Autumn Khavari/ Contributor