By Lance Woodley, LSW, MSW, Th.M – Clinical Chaplain
To understand what it means to stay spiritually healthy, we must first understand what it means to be spiritual. Spirituality is a broad term with intricate nuances based on individual or communal conceptions and not owned by the religious or the non-religious. All humans are spiritual, whether believing or unbelieving. Therefore, a broad, robust but workable definition is necessary to incorporate and adequately care for people of various traditions.
We define and understand spirituality as a way of life, reflected by our thinking, feelings, and behaviors towards others, self, and a higher power. This definition reveals that relationships are vital to human flourishing. Things that prevent healthy relationships/connections to self, others, and our higher power (often capitalized if referring to God) are unhealthy for the soul.
Connection with Self
Connection with self is one of the most difficult tasks for us to accomplish because we are so busy. Some may say, “I like and know myself, and I am a good person.” My response is that being connected to the self is more than liking oneself. It is the mystery that encourages a deeper look within. Our motivations and desires are more complex than we think. Our awareness teaches us that our desires drive us toward something much greater than we ever could think or imagine. Knowing oneself is a lifelong journey. Daily reflections and meditative exercises are essential aspects of connecting healthily with the self.
Connections with Others
Relationships are vital to human development. Analytic psychologists argue that a child’s earliest relationships affect how they interact with the rest of the world. Science teaches us that as infants, our brain development is affected by our attachment to our parents. As adults, continuous brain development results from seeking support from meaningful relationships.
Brain cells known as mirror neurons are believed to help individuals feel empathy toward others in a way that mirrors the other person’s emotions. Due to the brain’s plasticity, seeking out healthy and meaningful connections creates new neural pathways. Social relationships can help heal our brain when we connect in meaningful ways to others. Trauma studies suggest that children with traumatic experiences who have supportive relationships tend to recover faster than children who do not.
Connections with a Power Greater than Ourselves
The phrase “higher power” is often loaded and may preclude connection with the non-believing community. But the term can also refer to a power outside of oneself that drives, motivates, and gives purpose to one’s existence, sometimes resulting in a change in behavior and emotions. For example, we may make more time for dinner with our family if our sobriety is influenced by a higher power motivating us to change our behavior and values.
In contrast, those who subscribe to the belief in a spiritual deity or the consciousness of the universe often practice activities that foster positive faith connections through religious traditions and rituals of prayer, chant, meditations, reading of sacred texts, and more. For the spiritually religious, finding time to commune with the transcendent Higher Power is a vital part of human flourishing. These individuals seek direction and make behavioral and professional modifications based on faith and the guidance of their Higher Power.
Staying Spiritually Healthy
To stay healthy in all of these categories, we must understand one simple thing. We must not separate the spiritual aspect of humans from the physical and the psychic. Healing the spirit must take a connected, bio-psycho-spiritual approach. It is difficult to be spiritually healthy if one is not physically or emotionally healthy. Exercising, eating healthy, doing activities we enjoy, investing in meaningful relationships, practicing prayer and meditation, and spending time in silence are critical elements of staying healthy.
Actualizing these activities is difficult due to the everyday hustle and bustle of life’s demands. Finding time to connect in meaningful ways is paramount. Lack of connection with oneself, others, and their higher power will lead to hopelessness as life feels mundane and insignificant.
Make time to connect by holding a newborn baby while looking in their eyes. Or take a meditative walk before your day starts or before sleep at night and notice something that you never saw before. Or try sitting in a room with someone you care about without talking or having entertainment as a distraction. Simply analyze your emotions and your bodily sensations.
For those who are open to a personal and transcendent Higher Power, identify what you need this Higher Power to be in your life. Then, have a conversation as you would with a close friend. Express whatever is in your heart. The first few times, do this in private because it may feel uncomfortable and might lose its sacredness in public. Whatever the conversation’s focus, be it spiritual guidance, emotional healing, or sobriety, make a conscious choice to surrender the issue to your Higher Power. Stay open to the various ways your Higher Power may communicate with you through people, intuition, nature, or dreams.
Finally, whether you are a believer or non-believer, recognize that universal laws govern the stabilization of the universe and that Earth is uniquely situated for complex life forms. How our planet and we came into existence and developed is wonderous. May we each dare to think we are intentional and part of an eternal flow of connection, meaning, motivation, and drive. May we look beyond spiritually to find ourselves mirrored in the beauty and mystery of the unknown.
Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting recovery.
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