Archbishop's Message

MENTAL IMMUNITY

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into our private and public discourse, in an unprecedented way, the topic of strengthening our ‘immune system’ against the Covid-19 virus and against all other hazardous viruses and bacteria. The global vaccination drive is a move in this direction, probably never before witnessed in the history of the world.
Equally, if not more, important however is ‘mental immunity’ for a healthy life of body-mind-spirit. This is what all religions purport to teach and what Christ Our Lord has taught us par excellence as the core of the Gospel.
Very recently, while reading a book The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams (Hutchinson, London, 2016) I came across the concept of ‘mental immunity’ put forth by these two spiritual giants in their 7-day meeting with each other at Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh in April 2015. The concept emerges in the context of their dialogue on ‘obstacles to joy’.
Just as we try our utmost to cure and prevent our physical diseases by keeping our physical immunity strong, so also, we need to develop our ‘mental immunity’ to discover joy in the face of suffering because “so much of our unhappiness originates within our own mind and heart – in how we react to events in our life” (p. 83).
According to the Dalai Lama, mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones. He says, first we must understand the different states of our mind – the diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis. Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing. The former cause much disturbance and mental pain but the latter bring us true joyfulness.
Just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects our body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, so too mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings. If our health is strong, when viruses come, they will not make us sick. If our overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for us. Similarly, if our mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, we will have some distress but quickly recover; but if our mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause us much pain and suffering. We will have much fear and worry , much anxiety and pain, much anger, sadness and even despair.
The Dalai Lama recalls how once the Vice-President of the USA, Mr. Al Gore, had spoken to him about his many problems and difficulties that were causing him a great deal of anxiety. The Dalai Lama in response spoke to him about the ability human beings have of making a distinction between the rational level and the emotional level. At the rational level, we accept that the problem we have to deal with is serious, but at the deeper, emotional level, we are able to keep calm – like the ocean that has many waves on the surface but deep down is calm. This is possible only if we know how to develop ‘mental immunity’.
Archbishop Tutu also makes a very important point in the discourse on mental immunity: the negative thoughts and feelings are ‘natural’ and one should not get annoyed with oneself that one is prone to such states of the mind. It is very important that “we accept ourselves as we are” (p. 85) and “grow” towards acquiring the ‘mental immunity’ the Dalai Lama speaks of. We are human, therefore we need not be ashamed or guilty that we have these thoughts, f eelings and emotions but we need to recognize that we have them and be aware of the source that triggers them. Then only we will progress towards change and transformation.
The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostolic teachings that flow from there are our bedrock of ‘mental immunity’ that belongs to God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ and offered to the whole of humanity. It is not just a psychological technique acquired through practice on one’s own efforts but a grace of God freely bestowed by God on hearts that are repentant and seek the Lord in humility and childlike trust. ‘Mental immunity’ results from our being anointed in the Holy Spirit and living a life of communion in the Holy Trinity. This is the truly Christian understanding of mental immunity as taught by Christ and which is the hallmark of our discipleship. It stands for God’s Kingdom and its triumph.
Our life in the Holy Spirit will manifest itself in our behaviour as laid down in the Gospel of Christ: living the Beatitudes, giving first place to reconciliation, not resisting the one who is evil but turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, forgiving from the heart, humbling oneself like a little child, being ready to serve rather than be served, loving one another as Chri st has loved us, being ready to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Jesus, seeing Christ in the fac e of the poor and needy, following Christ in his poverty, being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Thi s behaviour is a sign that the infection of hatred, vindictiveness, jealousy, envy, anger, violence etc. has not caught us but has been kept at bay. In short, the evil one has not had power over us.
The Apostolic teachings are a treasure house of what constitutes ‘mental immunity’:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:9-13).
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep… Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave to to the wrath of God…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:14-21).
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends”. (1Cor. 12:4-8).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:22-24).
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil”. (Eph. 4:26-27).
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”. (Eph. 4:30-32).
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has for given you, so you also must forgive”. (Phil.3:12-13).
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in you r hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Phil. 3:12-15).
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil.4:4).
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2).
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:16-18).
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1Pet. 3:8-9).
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Any one who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1Jn. 4:7-8).
Both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu agree that ‘mental immunity’ keeps away from us stress, anguish, anxiety, frustration, anger and the many other obstacle to true ‘joy’ which are part of our daily life. We can be joyful in the midst of intense suffering and pain. It depends on our attitude.
Ultimately, we realize that ‘mental immunity’ is more important than physical immunity because to be sound in mind and spirit greatly influences our physical health individually and collectively. Therefore, it is not without reason that Our Lord said: “Which is easier, to say ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – he said to the man who was paralyzed – ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home’” (Lk. 5:23-24).


Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi