Doctor Strange, sorcerer supreme, master of black magic, former gifted neurosurgeon brings the “wiz” to “wizard.” Sorry, that was corny, but I couldn’t help myself. Stephen Strange, world-renowned surgeon, lost the use of his hands in a tragic car accident. Seeking salvation, he traverses the Himalayas to seek out a spiritual master. Learning the mystical arts, Stephen Strange transforms into Doctor Strange, one of the most powerful sorcerers on the planet. He possesses many tools in his arsenal, including the Cloak of Levitation, Eye of Agamotto, and the Book of Vishanti. With these powerful tools, Doctor Strange defends this reality from inter-dimensional beings seeking power, dominion and control over Earth.
Okay, that was the flashy highlight reel; let’s get into some more detail. Stephen was born in 1930 to Eugene and Beverly Strange. When Stephen was 8, he was attacked by demons under the control of Karl Mordo. Stephen was rescued by the Ancient One, Earth’s sorcerer supreme at the time. Stephen had two siblings, Donna and Victor. He was the oldest. When he was 11, young Stephen saved his sister’s life. This event was formative. Having saved his sister’s life, Stephen wanted to save others. Therefore, he pursued a medical degree.
Strange entered pre-med. And everything in Strange’s life seemed to look up, but he would soon face a rash of losses that would test him beyond what he could imagine. On a family vacation, Donna suffered a debilitating cramp while swimming and drown. Stephen was the one to find her body. He felt personally responsible for her death. Despite the devastating loss, Stephen progressed through medical school, residency and practice, at an accelerated pace. Strange was extremely gifted and talented. This made him arrogant. Then, his mother Beverly died.
Stephen went into medicine save the lives of others, but the deaths of his sister and mother challenged his idealistic vision. Stephen continued in medicine, but he did so with a cold heart. He didn’t want to get hurt again; consequently, he detached himself from the meaning of his job and only worked for the money and fame it brought him. Soon enough, money and recognition were all he cared about. Then his father grew ill. Afraid to face more grief, Stephen avoided seeing his dad. Victor, Stephen’s younger brother, came to see his brother and demanded to know why he was avoiding their father. They had a disagreement. Victor rushed out of Stephen’s apartment in anger and disappointment, but not watching where he was going. He walked into the path of an oncoming car. Stephen found Victor was near death, so he placed his brother’s body in cold storage. He did this hoping that one-day medical technology would advance to the point where his brother could be saved.
Years later, Strange would encounter another tragedy involving a car. Strange was involved in a tragic car accident that damaged the nerves in his hands. He would never perform surgery again. Not able to accept the loss of functioning hands, Stephen expended every penny he had to find a remedy, but nothing worked. He was desperate and willing to try anything. He hears of an eastern healer, the Ancient One, who may be able to help him. He throws caution to the wind, traversing the Himalayas in search of this eastern master. Upon arriving at the master’s palace, the Ancient One refuses to cure Strange’s hands. Yet, he does allow him to stay.
Mordo, the Ancient One’s apprentice, conspires against his master. Strange learns of the conspiracy and seeks to thwart Mordo. The plan fails and Mordo escapes. Out of anger towards Mordo, a growing sense of allegiance to the Ancient One, and intrigue with magical forces, Strange vows to learn the mystical arts and fight on the side of good. He becomes a master of magic and the mystical arts, eventually becoming the sorcerer supreme, defender of Earth.
Strange’s story, aside from entertaining us, communicates a deep truth: money can’t make you happy. Before the car accident, Stephen was arrogant, materialistic, and indifferent to others. He was all about himself. But the Doctor’s story wasn’t meant to end there; his life was destined for a greater purpose. Through a reversal of the “rags to riches” story, Stephen has it all, then loses everything. Yet, loss was his salvation.
Even though Stephen had every material need met, his spiritual needs went ignored. The damage to the nerves in his hands served as a wakeup call. He could no longer fill his life with material distractions. He had to face his true self. And what he saw, he didn’t like. Coming in contact with the supernatural reality opened his eyes and as a result, he was morally and spiritually transformed.
For many years, the significance of spirituality has been ignored by the medical and mental health fields. However, the psychological and physical benefits of spirituality are now being researched and integrated into healthcare.
Here are the top five characteristics of spiritual people:
- Spiritual people are gracious. Psychology has demonstrated that expressing gratitude is associated with many positive emotions, such as optimism, generosity with time and resources, and overall vitality. Spirituality encourages people to be positive, which may be expressed in many of these life practices.
- Spiritual people are compassionate. Compassion toward others is one the strongest correlates with living a spiritual life. A variety of positive or pro-social emotions have strong links with spiritualism, including the ability to feel good about the little things in life, and to look at the world through empathetic eyes.
- Spiritual people flourish. Spirituality is linked to many important aspects of human functioning–spiritual people are optimistic, and have positive relationships, high self-esteem, meaning and purpose in life.
- Spiritual people self-actualize. Spiritual individuals strive toward a better life and consider personal growth and fulfillment as a central goal. Spirituality is considered a path toward self-actualization, because it requires people to focus on their internal values and work on becoming a better individual.
- Spiritual people take time to savor life experiences. Individuals who value spirituality take the time to reflect on their daily activities and ultimately build lasting memories of their experiences. Because spiritual people are more conscious of small, daily activities, they experience positive emotions associated with the smaller pleasures in life.
So, how did Stephen Strange stack up against these five characteristics of spiritual people? He was not gracious, but selfish. He was not compassionate, he was greedy. He was not flourishing, but floundering, moving forward without direction or purpose. He was not self-actualizing: instead, his personal growth was stalled. And he wasn’t savoring life: he was trying to fill a vacuum in his life with wealth, fame and prestige. Yet, when Strange had a spiritual awakening, his “after” picture looked a lot better. He was kinder, considerate, cared for the plight and suffering of others. He dedicated his life to fighting on the side of good and enjoyed a community of friends—the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, other sorcerers across the globe, and Wong, his best friend. I don’t know about you, but that’s a completely different person to me. That’s an entirely better quality of life. That’s a transformed life.
When reading the story of Stephen Strange, do you find yourself wishing you could have a similar transformation? Is your life lacking in a way that you can’t describe, as if something vital is missing, but you’re not sure what it is? Have you focused so much of your attention on medical, psychological, monetary or pharmacological problems that you’ve neglected your spiritual needs? Your relationships, physical health, career satisfaction impact your mental health, but so does your spiritual life. When was the last time you honestly evaluated your spiritual life?
Let me get at this another way. Do you feel a sense of awe in your life? Do you feel a sense of purpose when you wake up? When you make important decisions, what guides you? Is there meaning to your life? Does your story fit into a larger story, a grand narrative? Are you connected to other people? Do you have a community that supports you? Do you feel compassion and are lead to serve others? What rejuvenates, inspires, convicts and encourages you? If you’re not sure on some or most of these questions, you have a spiritual deficit in your life. Even if you don’t like the religious aspect of spirituality, look into it at least for the psychological and physical benefits. If you are interested in developing your spiritual life here are some straightforward and practical ideas practiced by mentally healthy people:
- Join a Faith Community– Find a group that regularly meets for the purpose of connecting and supporting each other. A group that loves each other connects with a story bigger than their own and wants to do good. Connecting with a group like this is an amazing boost to physical and mental health.
- Pray Every Day– This should not be intimidating, although many are by prayer. Just talk to the divine presence in your life. Share your struggles, victories and needs. It’s that simple.
- Read Scripture– Find a scripture that inspires, convicts, strengthens and encourages you. Read it on a consistent basis. This doesn’t have to be a major commitment. 10-15 minutes is all you need and if you want to read more, then go for it!
- Live Life with a Purpose– Your life is about more than just you. Your story fits into a larger narrative. Align your words, actions and thoughts with that purpose. It will give you a sense of meaning and intention as you go through your day.
- Help Others– There is nothing more powerful than helping another person. People have attested that when going to out to bless another, they, in turn, are blessed. Helping another person can be “big” or “small,” it doesn’t matter. Doing good is always good.
- Count your Blessings– Develop an attitude of gratitude. Many social science studies have supported this notion. When you mentally review the things you are grateful for, your mood improves. Try keeping a journal to record what you are grateful for.
- It is Better to Give– It is true: it is better to give than receive. Giving to another person, cause, organization or charity bestows you with a sense of purpose. It broadens your perspectives. You become aware of lives, stories and needs outside of yourself. Always being self-focused can make corrode your mental health. Altruism is a mental health booster. Instead of buying that thing you don’t really need, give money, food or your time to someone who could use it.
- Notice Beauty– Life is full of beautiful things, yet we tend to only notice the negative. Fight that tendency, because you are missing the most enriching aspects of life. Go to an art museum, take a hike, listen to your favorite piece of music, find and tell someone the funniest joke you’ve ever heard. These may seem like inconsequential things when faced with all the world’s problems, but the beautiful side of life is paramount. It fills us with a sense of awe and humility. And that has inestimable value.
If you’re spiritually out of shape, it may be hard to get into the rhythm. Millions and millions of people every day derive strength, encouragement, value, meaning and purpose from their spiritual life, and you can, too. Stephen Strange’s story, although fictional, is nonetheless true. His story expresses a universal truth. People are spiritual beings. You wouldn’t ignore your need for food, shelter, or community, so why would you ignore your spiritual needs. For some, it may take a catastrophic event, as in the case of Stephen Strange. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a spiritually transformed life now.
****If you liked this blog, be sure to check out Daniel’s upcoming book Even A Superhero Needs Counseling for more insightful analyses of your favorite superheroes and supervillains soon available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
 Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cant-buy-happiness/201302/why-be-spiritual-five-benefits-spirituality. Retrieval: January, 15, 2016.