How Wide is your Spiritual Moat? – an holistic approach to emotional sobriety

Anamnesis (from the Greek word meaning “reminiscence”) is a liturgical statement in which the Church refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist (thanks-giving). It has its origin in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”

In a wider sense, Anamnesis is a key concept in the liturgical theology: in worship the faithful recall God’s saving deeds. This memorial aspect is not simply a passive process but one by which the Christian can actually enter into the Paschal mystery.

So, if amnesia means “to forget,” then an-amnesis means “not to forget.” We recall, then, why we simply must be thankful. And we do so prayerfully.

As they say, a family that prays together, stays together. So, too, psychologically, modern medicine has discovered that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Religion means to re-ligate or “tie back together.”

All of this taken together suggests that our spiritual survival requires a vigorous hygiene and rigorous practice of “not forgetting to give thanks.

Phillipians 4:8 reminds us: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—keep thinking about THESE things.

From a properly holistic perspective, this spiritual hygiene of anamnesis thus plays an indispensable role in maintaining one’s emotional equilibrium. The more seriously compromised one’s emotional homeostasis has been, especially over protracted periods of time, the more vigilant one must be to stand guard over one’s thoughts, the more rigorous must be the practice of anamnesis and the more integral must be one’s assault against any and all threats posed to one’s psychological defenses.

Anamnesis – a suggestion:


1) 5 most stimulating intellectual curiosities that once captured your imagination

2) 5 most wholesome and emotionally satisfying moments that you can still recall with great relish

3) 5 most morally courageous commitments you undertook together with others

4) 5 most satisying practical accomplishments from your academic, athletic or work life

5) 5 most wholesome and rewarding social engagements you’ve enjoyed

6) 10 most wholesome and grace-filled familial memories, persons, events

7) 5 most spiritually rewarding divine encounters and the persons who shared or mediated them, whether personally, through books or media, etc and 5 holy places where such encounters were gifted.

Commit the above inventory to memory and recite it daily. Recite it once. Or recite it 70 times. Recite it in the place of other tapes that have been playing in your head, perhaps for decades.

Go to this place of gratitude. It will become your sacred, safe place. It not only represents but constitutes your reality. It WILL rewire your brain. Neurons that fire together will wire together. Others that cease firing will eventually lose their wiring. I did this over 30 years ago and it rescued me. I refer to my Litany of Dayenu.

Dayenu (Hebrew:דַּיֵּנוּ‬) is a song that is part of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The word “Dayenu” means approximately “it would have been enough”, “it would have been sufficient”, or “it would have sufficed” (day in Hebrew is “enough”, and -enu the first person plural suffix, “to us”). This traditional up-beat Passover song is over one thousand years old.

Later, I listened to a Melody Beattie audiobook and she prescribed a similar daily inventory of gratitude and I better understood how and why my old spiritual hygiene had worked. Finally, my spouse came into this type of practice from yet another spiritual resource group and I witnessed its transformative influence on her, too.

In January 2003, I published the following: “How Wide Is Your Moat? – our holistic moat

The mutual fund industry has popularized the moat metaphor, a moat being that deep and wide trench around the rampart of a castle, that is usually filled with water. There are even pinball games, like Medieval Madness , in which players use different strategies to breach the castle’s defenses, such as the moat, the drawbridge, the gate, the wall. Sometimes the madness is not so medieval but very much contemporary, within our own psychological castle walls.

I have often thought of the analogy of the moat in other than economic terms. It might also be a useful image in considering a person’s general well being. Like a castle with its multiple layers of defenses, one’s general well being is also bolstered by its own moats and walls and gatekeepers and can be breached by many different types of attacks. There are times in our lives when we know our well being will have to do battle, when we need to both widen and deepen our psychological moats and pull up the drawbridges of our physical ramparts. The size of such bulwarks must be determined by many factors.

Let’s consider some examples of the types of battles we must all fight and of the kinds of defenses we might need to put in place to fortify our general well being. When we are healthy, physically, emotionally and mentally, and under no significant stress, in other words are not under attack physically or psychologically, the size of our holistic moat doesn’t matter much, seemingly.

I’m going to call this moat the holistic moat because its depth and width is determined by many factors which, I will argue, all need to be considered as a whole. Ignore any given factor and our defenses will be breached , which is to suggest that sometimes we don’t have a very wide margin of error to work with because our moat is both shallow and narrow. What are some of the things that fill up our moat and seriously jeopardize our castle of well being?

Well, certainly anything which can affect us emotionally, such as trauma due to grief, terror or physical injury, such as chronic or acute illness, addictions, broken relationships, financial difficulty, employment and career setbacks, academic and professional failure, damage to one’s reputation whether unjust or from a personal failure, and so forth.

The effects of aging or of a chronic debilitating illness, the propensity toward chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters, and other insults to our general well being, all of these things and more, can lower our defenses and increase our vulnerabilities to where we spiral down into near or total dysfunction and immobilization.

The return to any normalcy and full functionality can be difficult, near impossible. In such desperation, we can approach the point where we even lose the will to go on, despite our loved ones, and, assuredly, when the blessings of those relationships no longer weigh heavily enough in the balance against the pain of a truly tormented existence, the castle has been most seriously breached; our physical well being drawbridge is down; our emotional gate has been battered; our mental gatekeeper defeated.

Our spirit has thus retreated to the most inner recesses of our being and, though still sharing immanently with its Beloved in these innermost chambers, there is no felt sense of communion, neither with God nor with the castle cohort, that indwelling and abiding relating to family and friends, and most definitely not with the outer world of strangers.

What are some of the kinds of defenses we might need to put in place to fortify our general well being?

When our moat is narrowed and shallowed by any of the insults to our well being we have considered, we have no room to maneuver and have little margin of error. We cannot afford any mistakes and must move aggressively on all fronts.

If one’s castle is especially vulnerable, either chronically or acutely, one cannot take a casual approach to defending the castle.

One must proactively work to widen the moat! Like the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River, one must continuously dredge because the silt is being deposited 24/365 when we suffer from chemical imbalances or are otherwise in the midst of trauma, grief, anxiety or depression.

Physically, we cannot afford to miss out on proper diet, sufficient rest and good exercise. Our diet must be substantial and routine and not made up of the four mainstays of the 4 Cajun Foodgroups , which are sugar, salt, fat and alcohol .

Rest and exercise are essential, too, for manifold reasons documented elsewhere.

Medically , we must seek out pharmaceutical aids to help us through the acute phase of any substantial psychological crises with antidepressants or antianxiety prescriptions and maybe even sleep-aids or other therapeutic regimens.

Emotionally , we must force ourselves to interact with family and friends, with outdoors and nature, acting ourselves into a new way of thinking , unable to think ourseleves into a new way of acting.

Mentally , we may need ongoing psychological counseling and, perhaps, even that in combination with specialized trauma counseling or social welfare assistance and counseling.

Specialized support groups can be most efficacious in assisting and advising on all of the fronts under consideration here and can be an emotional lifeline. They can also make us feel a little less alone by being in the empathetic company of others who don’t know and will never know your tears but who have cried tears for similar reasons.

We should seek to stimulate and enrich our minds with good reading materials, uplifting movies and music, and engaging hobbies.

Spiritually , we may need spiritual direction, either formally or informally, with a director-directee relationship, or in a spiritual companioning mode with a fellow pilgrim with whom we may share a special spiritual kinship.

The life of prayer, no matter how arid or desolate, must be maintained with perseverance and discipline, privately and communally, perhaps augmented by small group participation but most definitely sharing as well in at-large community worship services.

Ideally, one can likely not implement the entire holistic regimen because the very exigencies and contingencies of life, which press in on us and lower our defenses, such as employment and parenting responsibilities, such as financial and physical constraints, also get in our way during the rebuilding efforts. However, one must aggressively and vigilantly attend to all of the factors within one’s means and to the fullest extent possible, notwithstanding constraints on one’s time and resources, and make these efforts a priority, because spiralling down to the lowest ebb of life will most assuredly defeat everything else one is trying to accomplish and deprive one of the vibrancy in one’s relationships, with God and others, that makes anything else worthwhile.

Our road to healing must be holistic and I emphasize this multifaceted approach because I have seen healing stratgeies sabotaged by approaches that don’t take the whole castle into account.

What good is it to deepen or widen a moat if one leaves the drawbridge down?

The attempt to make it through significant crises only pharmaceutically can backfire and bring on even more substance abuse. The temptation to self-medicate with over the counter stimulants or sedatives can simiarly cause problems. To take pills but not eat and rest properly is self-defeating.

Confusing psychological counseling and spiritual direction can be a problem; they are distinctly different enterprises, however related.

If one’s castle is especially vulnerable, either chronically or acutely, one cannot take a casual approach to defending the castle. One must proactively widen the moat!

Neglect of one’s spiritual life, in my opinion, represents the first shallowing of the holistic moat because the spiritual life, a life of prayer, is the climbing into the watchtower of our castle, lifting our hearts and minds to God, aligning our wills with His, and, whereby through ongoing self-examen and discernment, we can vigilantly gaze out over all of our defenses and remain on guard for those attacks that no castle avoids.

All of this we do as we await that Kingdom which is to come while living as safely as we can within that one which is already within us but constantly under siege.

It may be, that what I have outlined above can be viewed not merely as a defensive maneuver against life, but rather as one’s offensive strategy for looking to make one’s mark on the world. These are the very same things I’d suggest as New Year’s Resolutions, to anyone serious about deepening their relationship with God or their relationships with loved ones, to anyone interested in advancing on one’s academic or career path, etc

There is a great unity of purpose in the spiritual life, to a holistically informed lifestyle. When God is first in our lives, everything else falls into place and we will be about the same tasks in life whether our castle is under siege or not. Mark my words, however, it is best not to wait.

For all of my emphasis on remembering, I resonate fully with and heartily commend Fr Aidan Kimel’s Remembering and Forgetting, Depression, and the Healing of Memories @EOrthodoxy