Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Friends Writing Good Books: N.S. Xavier

Promoting Wholeness and Wellness in Print and Film

Dr. N.S. Xavier is a unique person who for many years has focused upon religious understanding, psychological well-being, and spiritual wholeness. He has practiced psychiatry in Birmingham, Alabama for over 30 years. Wisdom and spirituality play a significant role in his practice, and he has been steadily writing for a number of years. 

His first book, The Two Faces of Religion, outlines very effectively the the nature of healthy vs. unhealthy religion. His second book, The Holy Region: A Wonder of  World Religions in Harmony, is a book about the Kerala region in India where people of different faiths have learned to live together in peace. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness is his latest.

Dr. Xavier's latest endeavor is the production of a remarkable documentary, The World's Most Enlightening Region. With this documentary, he takes us to the region of Kerala that he wrote about in his second book. This fascinating film brings the wisdom of all three of his books together as he tours an ancient region where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews have lived together in harmony, even sharing in some of their celebrations.  (To see the actual documentary on YouTube, go here)

 Celebrating the Examined Life (a book review)

I should note that the following review first appeared in Christian Ethics Today as a review of Fulfilling Heart & Soul: Meeting Psychological and Spiritual Needs with Conscience. The present work is a modified and expanded version of the earlier work. 

Fulfillment Using Real Conscience
Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness
By N.S. Xavier, M.D.
AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN   276 p

The unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates famously stated.  Dr. N. S. Xavier has a remedy. He has given us a delightful book which can serve as a primer for healthy examination leading to a full and meaningful life. I had an “aha moment” right from the beginning as I read the introduction of Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness.  The author explains the difference between conscience and the superego. The conscience uses reason, fairness, and compassion in guiding the individual toward right thinking and right actions. The superego, on the other hand, is that inner guide that is shaped by family and society. There are times when the superego may actually be in conflict with the conscience if it arises from an unhealthy family or social system. Racism and fanaticism are two examples of unhealthy prompts from a superego shaped by unhealthy societal and religions traits.

Legalism vs. Compassion

The illumination continues with the opening chapter where Dr. Xavier demonstrates how Jesus helped others to get past their superego to make use of their conscience. In the case where some men brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus demanding that she be stoned, Jesus was able to calmly diffuse the situation to allow the men to cease from their unthinking legalistic reaction. He showed them how to use their conscience to bring fairness to the situation.

Dr. N. S. Xavier is from India and has practiced psychiatry in Birmingham for over 30 years. He writes from a deep understanding of religion and spirituality and presents a well-articulated view of healthy psychology. In Fulfillment Using Real Conscience, he draws upon examples from literature, various religious traditions, and historical figures as well as from his own experiences as a psychiatrist to illustrate healthy ways of meeting needs and finding fulfillment. We can gain insight from the likes of Lao-tze, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Boris Pasternak, Albert Camus, Jesus and the Buddha as we learn how to stop self-defeating habits and move toward a healthy identity.  There is also an intriguing story of the ancient king Asoka who reassessed his life and legacy.  King Asoka was able to transform himself and his society to one of equity and fairness by embracing Buddhism and its principles. 

A Practical Guide for Living

Writing with humor and clarity, the author provides us with a practical guide for using the conscience in making right choices and enjoying the healthy pleasures of life. We are given psychological insight that is accessible to the layperson in matters ranging from self-esteem, relationships, and sexuality to freedom and identity. Stick-on tabs may come in handy to mark particularly useful pages. There is a page that lists ways to improve self-esteem and another that lists traits of self-actualizing people. One chapter has a table that compares healthy guilt vs. unhealthy guilt and another table contrasts authentic individuality with egocentrism and dependency.  We are reminded also of the benefits of pleasure and the healthiness of laughter. For those interested in spiritual practice, an appendix includes introductory information on meditation and centering prayer.

There is advice in the book for integrating past experiences in beneficial ways rather than being trapped in unhealthy cycles. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience provides means for achieving forgiveness and reconciliation as well as methods for finding hope. The author consistently demonstrates how conscience can raise self-esteem in cases where the superego may be causing unhealthy guilt. Of course, professional help is recommended for anyone with issues or problems that are beyond the scope of self-examination.

For the Modern Spiritual Pilgrim

In the search for deeper meaning, there is guidance for those in religious traditions as well as for those who are more secular in their orientation. The modern spiritual pilgrim will find affirmation in the concept of using conscience to integrate scientific knowledge with spiritual life. Whether we are religious or secular in our orientation, we can live lives of superficiality or we can find a deeper purpose. Self-examination and conscience can help us to remove some of the spiritual and psychological defenses that often keep us from living at a deeper level.

Sigmund Freud gave us the concept of the superego. N.S. Xavier has liberated the conscience from the superego to give us method of examination for individual growth and societal development. He writes with a frankness and honesty not often seen in books on spirituality, and offers a practical application of spiritual values not always evident in self-help guides. We are shown how to better understand our own needs as well as others’ needs, and then how to go about meeting those needs in a healthy way. Fulfillment Using Real Conscience is a groundbreaking work of insight that will encourage the individual reader. It would also be a dynamic tool for small group study or for courses in counseling, ethics, or spirituality/religion.


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