Health, Well-being and Spirituality
There is a very strong relationship between our health and our spirituality or spiritual life. Attending to our spiritual life has a powerful affect on our well-being – physical, mental, emotional, relational and spiritual.
Research increasingly demonstrates the significant affect our mental, emotional and spiritual states have on our physical health. The mind and body are not separate, but are powerfully and directly linked. How can taking care of our spirituality help? Before we look at that we first need to be sure we are all talking about the same thing.
Spirituality? What it is and what it is not.
Spirit: Inner Wisdom – Your Essence – your core self – your soul, the non-material part of you that is who you truly are and where the spirit dwells in you.
Spirituality: Personal views and behaviours that express your connection to your core self and between your core self and a transcendent dimension, or to something greater than self. Spirituality has to do with that which relates to or affects the human soul an spirit, as opposed to material or physical things. Spirituality touches that part of you that is not dependant on material things or physical comforts and exists whether a person is religious or not.
Religion: Beliefs and practices agreed upon by a group of people for the purpose of expressing their faith.
So spirituality has to do with connecting with and nurturing your non-material being. Let’s look at what spiritual well-being looks like.
Characteristics of Spiritual Well-being
- The sense that one’s own life and /or human life, including suffering and death, have meaning or purpose. Life has meaning and purpose even during times of suffering and death.
- Faith in a belief system – religious or not, which enables you to connect with your essence.
- A sense of connectedness to others and to the world.
- The experience of the transcendent which can give life purpose and meaning.
There has been a significant rise in medical interest in Spiritual well-being. I work in the field of palliative care, a field where there is a great deal of research being done. We have learned that you cannot over-estimate the role of spirituality in palliative care. Research supports the importance of spiritual care and stresses that people want to have their spiritual needs addressed when they are suffering and dying. Spiritual care is an important factor in coping with suffering. The form spirituality takes varies greatly.
The essence of the framework for understanding spirituality derives from the most basic of human needs – the need to find meaning. As human beings we need to experience meaning in life, death and suffering. Attending to our spiritual needs is the most powerful way to meet this need.
We find meaning through:
- being connected with our essence, our non-material self
- through not feeling alone
- through being in relationship, through authentic, meaningful connection,
- through being validated through experience of that which transcends our physical selves
Spirituality helps people cope with:
- the uncertainty of life
- instils hope
- brings acceptance, comfort and peace
- and supports and resolves existential concerns especially around the fear of death
Spirituality allows us to care for ourselves and each other even when cure is not possible. Many of us live our lives from our head, our brain, our logical mind and that is only part of who we are. For many of us, the more stressed and frightened we are the more we are stuck in our rational mind. However, that is only a part of who we are. It is so important to learn how to get out of our heads and connect with the rest of ourselves. One of the most effective ways to do this is to be connected with your body – to consciously put our awareness in our body, not just in our thinking place. ”We are the most sane when we are in our body. Our life’s work is to integrate our head and heart.“ (Paul Salzman – Prom Night in Mississippi). When we learn to be in our bodies, and our hearts we are able to feel another reality that our rational mind cannot give us. When we learn to be in our bodies we are able to access a wealth of inner resources not available through our intellect. The most important of these is …
Compassion is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.
Compassion is a quality of loving kindness that is the tender acceptance of even that which might be otherwise unacceptable. It is the respectful, kind understanding of suffering, a soft, gentle appreciation of suffering. If includes a sense of accompaniment for as long as it takes. It is enduring and includes a sense of mutuality.
Compassion is a human ability we can use to relate to pain and suffering. It is more vigorous than empathy. The showing of compassion is an act, and a powerful act that contributes to the easing and transformation of suffering.
Compassion comes from the HEART, not the head.
One of the greatest ways you can take care of yourself is to strengthen your connection to your heart and relate to yourself and others from your head and your heart.
In order to manifest effective compassion for others it is first of all necessary to be able to experience and fully appreciate one’s own suffering and to have, as a consequence, compassion for oneself. The Buddha is reported to have said, "It is possible to travel the whole world in search of one who is more worthy of compassion than oneself. No such person can be found.”
Spiritual Care Practices
The key to any spiritual care practice is that is provides a way to shift our awareness from our usual space, which is identified with our rational, logical, intellectual mind, to a different part of ourselves – to the BEING part of ourselves – the part where we can connect with our essence.
Here are a number of effective Spiritual Care Practices:
Meditation: any reflective or contemplative practice that shifts your awareness from the rational mind and the external world, to the realm of your essence, to your essence or to the transcendent. There are many styles of meditation – and many ways to learn to meditate including classes, CD’s, books, groups. Meditation is a time-proven technique for expanding your awareness and connecting with your deeper being.
Guided imagery: a particular type of meditation practice using the power of the imagination
Mindfulness: meditation practices which originate in Buddhism, designed to strengthen your pure awareness and the place in you from which you can observe, without attachment or judgment. There are many excellent books and classes to help you learn the basic techniques of mindfulness, a powerful and effective way to nurture your spirituality.
Gratitude: the practice of being thankful, has the power to shift your usual patterns of thinking and reacting and open you to another level of awareness and experience which connects you with the deeper part of you and life
Art: in its many forms. In order to create we do shift into a slightly altered state and the experience of being in that state changes us, connecting us with something other than our logical, rational mind, with which most of us are identified, most of the time.
Music: creating or listening to music can shift us out of our logical mind, and connect us with something greater,
Time in nature: if we are quiet, appreciative, aware, reflective, can open us to beauty, the powers of creation, the cycles of life, and the transcendent.
Journaling: is a wonderful tool for reflection, for quieting ourselves so that we can hear other parts of ourselves, for slowing down, for awareness
Spiritual direction: working with a spiritual director can be a helpful way to explore beliefs, questions, doubts, and, to find tools and resources to nurture our spirituality.
Pastoral counselling: working with a pastoral counsellor can be especially helpful in dealing with grief, loss, spiritual questions which arise during times of change, suffering and loss
Religious ritual including reading sacred texts: ritual is a powerful spiritual practice. A ritual is a series of specific acts which are filled with symbolic content, and reflect and express the feelings of the participants. Rituals around death have been used by human beings for thousands of years. Rituals allow us ways to share significant events with others. They bring us together and allow us to connect, and through connection find support and meaning.
Rituals provide the opportunity for mutual recognition of what has happened, strengthen social relationships, helps us face reality, instruct us, interpret events and help us integrate what has happened in a larger context.
Attending worship: for many, attending familiar worship services provides an opportunity to connect with the transcendent, to connect with their spirit, to be transported by music and prayer, to connect with others.
Prayer is the most common spiritual ritual across all faiths. Prayer is the most common method of pain management after medications and is the most common non-drug method of pain management. Prayer is an effective method of relaxation. Prayer can take many forms and can be formal or very informal. >