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Ten sources of our inner "dis-ease"

"What lies behind you and what lies in front of you

pales in comparison to what lies within you."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week, I’ll put the right brain (nested meditation) first and the left brain (prose) second. Here’s an attempt from Now is Where God Lives to address the tension between finite realities and infinite longings that lies within us all:

I am at peace.

I am at peace

with not being at peace.

I am at peace

with not being at peace.

I am content.

I am at peace

with not being at peace.

I am content

with Divine discontent.

The diagnostic bible of my profession, the DSM-V, describes approximately four hundred diagnoses pertaining to mental, emotional, or behavioral issues. What it does not discuss anywhere in its nearly one thousand pages is spiritual (or existential) sources of suffering. One healing component of individual or group therapy is what psychologists call universality—the awareness that I am not alone in my suffering. So after thirty-four years of listening to people, here in no particular order is a list of ten universal spiritual/existential sources of our inner "dis-ease" and how a daily practice of mindfulness can help us with them:

1. Reactivity: We respond to stressful situations and to other people, including those we love most, with quick and habituated emotions or behaviors. Such reactivity makes us live on auto-pilot and blocks us from our larger self. A daily practice of mindfulness allows us to put a gap between stimulus and response and move toward a better version of ourselves.

2. Denial of finitude: We experience our lives in this world as limited, yet we long for the infinite. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur said the human dilemma is that we are “finite beings with infinite longings.” Various addictions can be understood as our misguided attempts to reach for the infinite. Perfectionism, too, is a denial of finitude that makes us like swiss cheese perpetually hoping not to be full of holes! A daily practice of mindfulness can help us accept finitude even as we continue to be aware of and accept our infinite longings. Surrounding the finite/infinite dilemma with gentle acceptance makes us less likely to unwisely strive for infinite longings in ways that harm our finite lives.

3. Self-criticism or self-judgment: We do not talk to ourselves when we are struggling with as much gentleness and non-judgment as we would offer to a good friend. When we judge ourselves harshly, we are prone to judging others that way too. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice self-judging and surround it with gentle acceptance—both of ourselves and of our tendency to judge ourselves.

4. Lack of sacred-self awareness: We live as if the stressed, reactive, wounded, ego-self is all there is to us. Our highest capacities for awe, joy, compassion, and peace remain mostly untapped. We live from the small self (i) most of the time and don’t come to know the large self (I) that “lives and moves and has its being” (St. Paul) in God. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us quiet the small self and get what I call “I-contact”—glimpses of the larger Self that help us begin to live more consistently from higher energies.

5. Greasy-wheel bias: I made up this phrase to describe how we naturally attend far more to what’s wrong in our lives than to what’s right. A thousand things can be going smoothly in our body, but one chronic pain can outcompete them all for our attention. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice the upsets in our lives, accept that they are here, and re-ground ourselves in gratitude.

6. Habituation: Once we are past childhood, we lose much of our capacity for amazement and awe. We are prone to sleepwalking through life and to turning to harmful things (e.g., addictions) to keep life interesting. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us tune into each moment’s uniqueness and discover that the world is overflowing with grace when we are attuned to it.

7. Fear: We are aware that the physical world is a dangerous place. We hear about terrible things every day and fear that such things could touch our own lives. In addition, fear of failure or what others might think inhibits our willingness to live with authenticity. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice fear’s frequent presence and release from it by choosing to accept life’s difficulties and by continually recommitting to living the best life we can in our circumstances.

8. Detachment distress: We want to be securely connected (“attached” in psychological jargon) to those we love. We want to know we are liked and loved, that we matter, that we are worth other people’s time, that our relationships are safe and supportive. When we perceive that someone has slighted us, we feel “detachment distress” (actually called “attachment distress” by psychologists, but the distress is actually about detachment). A daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice when detachment distress comes up in us and avoid reacting too quickly from habitual small-self thoughts or emotions.

9. Overload/underload: We have a “Goldilocks” problem with how much we take on in life. Too much and we feel stressed and burdened; too little and we feel our lives lack purpose. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice when we feel overloaded or underloaded. In the quiet pause of mindfulness practice, we can sense that we have choices to deal with overload or underload. We can also sense a larger energy or wisdom that can help us make those choices.

10. Conformity: We are afraid to be different. We tend to take our cues for how to live from what everyone else is doing. We fear people might think of us as wild dreamers or failures, so we are prone to holding back on what excites us most in life. A daily practice of mindfulness can help us be more aware of our conforming tendencies and our longing to live authentically. It can continually renew our connection to the larger self that is all about giving our best life to the world.


Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and speaker who lives in the Toledo, Ohio area. His latest book Now is Where God Lives: Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul is available at Amazon or

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