09/20/2011 02:25 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2011

Self Realization and the Pursuit of Mental Health

What is a painter without their brush or a sculptor without their stone? And what is enlightenment without mental health? Self-realization does best when we are mentally healthy. Avoiding or minimizing the issues of the ego can lead to lives being half lived, cults being formed and opportunities for love squandered. The pursuit of enlightenment without the focus, purpose and balance of a mentally healthy life is like a river that has lost its ocean.

Someone asked me the other day how my spiritual life was going. I answered, "Perfect." They were taken aback. I continued, "My spiritual life is perfect, always has been, always will be, but my psychological life, now that's another story."

And so it is for all of us -- each an eternal, blissful perfection, compassionate consciousness, experiencing life through a relatively high functioning primate's sensory system and brain. We have a brain so creative and powerful it can create a personality capable of both expressing the compassion and perfection we are, while meeting the needs, wants and desires of our species, blending it all into a beautiful symphony of a full human life.

Or our time and energy can be hijacked to support a myriad of obsessions and compulsions of an ego that is living without being grounded in its eternal perfection. Ah, the mystery of carbon and spirit, water and consciousness -- that's you and me, a wonderful mystery.

If you want to pursue self-realization then be sure to pursue mental health as well. The World Health Organization in a 2001 paper attempted a global definition of mental health -- "... a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."

Let me re-phrase the World Health Organization definition of mental health as a series of very fundamental questions to ask yourself:

1. Am I realizing my own abilities?
2. Can I cope with the normal stresses of life?
3. Can I work productively and fruitfully?
4. Am I making a contribution to my community?

Use these questions to help keep you on track in developing and maintaining a healthy ego in your life. Such an ego will be the friend and ally of your self-realization and fulfillment.

In our last blog we considered the skill of being aware without discursive thought, proposing this as a foundational practice for the pursuit of enlightenment. We can now add the pursuit of mental health as our second foundational practice supportive of self-realization.

Our goal is ambitious -- to create a spiritual path open and available to everyone, where each foundational practice is as free as possible of cultural bias and accident. Here's what we have so far:

1. Practice periods of awareness without discursive thought.
2. Develop and maintain a mentally healthy life.

Until next time, may your way be simple and clear, may your love and compassion flourish.