“What is spiritual health?” I hear you ponder. My definition of spiritual health is having a sense of your purpose in life, knowing your place in the world, having an understanding that you are part of something bigger than yourself.
You do not need to be religious or belong to a particular religious organisation, however feeling that you belong somewhere, to some sort of network or group that supports you and that you contribute to in some way, is an important component of spiritual health.
Spirituality may not be something you have thought much about if you and your family have been well throughout your life. It often becomes a real concept when your health, or the health of a loved one, becomes compromised or threatened. Facing a significant illness, or even death, can strip back your beliefs about life and the world we live in very quickly, back to the bare bones. This leaves you contemplating what really is important in life and what happens when it’s all over.
I have witnessed patients who are faced with their mortality moving through this process of fear, doubt, hope and acceptance. Each individual takes their own path and what I have observed is that those with a strong spiritual foundation, that is, a set of beliefs that give their life meaning, have the capacity to overcome overwhelming challenges of grief and loss and arrive at a place of acceptance, even peace.
The courage and strength that comes with a healthy spiritual self, even when the physical body and emotional health appears to be irreparably broken, can sometimes lead to miraculous recovery against all odds.
So what does it take to build up resilient spiritual health? Like all aspects of physical and emotional health, daily rituals and practices are key. Just like eating healthy food, moving your body and drinking plenty of water are all ingredients for optimal physical and emotional health, there are spiritual practices that you can integrate into your daily routine to enhance your spiritual wellbeing.
1. A contemplative practice.
Contemplation is a process of reflecting on your life purpose, the meaning of your life, and where you fit in the scheme of things. Contemplating your beliefs and whether they are serving you can be a powerful and transformational practice. There are a range of contemplative practices you can try, including meditation, prayer, chanting, journaling, and many more. The Tree of Contemplative Practices is a fantastic resource that I encourage you to take a look at to find some inspiration.
2. Find your tribe.
Being a part of a group or network that brings you joy and a sense of purpose is also vital for good spiritual health. This could be a sporting team, a volunteer group or a church. Connecting with others who share similar values to you allows you to experience that feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself, and this can be very comforting when life isn’t going as planned, which can happen at any moment.
3. Make joy a daily experience.
Finding joy in your day can be very simple, for example, sitting down to enjoy a hot cup of tea in the morning, practising yoga, listening to your favourite song, or taking your dog for a walk in nature. You may also like to choose something exhilarating, like sky-diving, playing in a band or hiking up a mountain. Whatever it is that brings you joy, do it mindfully and with gratitude.
4. Do something kind for another.
Random acts of kindness have been found to increase the wellbeing of those who enact the act of kindness and create a sense of connection, even between strangers. I love The Wake Up Project’s kindness cards, which you can order from their website and they will be delivered to your door, for free! Now that’s an act of kindness. I have sent these kindness cards to my family, friends and my medical students to encourage this spiritual practice and spread the love.
5. Practice forgiveness.
Although this can be the most challenging of daily habits, it is also the most rewarding. Forgiveness requires us to understand that although bad things happen, life goes on, and we can choose to live on in hatred or in love. Forgiveness is about allowing oneself to let go of the pain and resentment that has been caused by another and move forward with strength, courage and compassion, knowing that all humans make mistakes and that we have an opportunity to learn, grow and deepen our love for all beings. I have cared for patients whose inability to forgive someone who has hurt them has contributed significantly to their physical pain and emotional suffering. This is particularly the case at the end of life. If can be very difficult for health practitioners to relieve this sort of pain, because it does not respond to morphine or Valium. It is a deep form of suffering that will only resolve when one is able to let of the resentment and allow forgiveness to occur.
6. Choose a spiritual teacher.
Read and listen to their work often. Allow the wisdom to sit within you and marinate. My favourite spiritual mentors at present are Catherine Ingram and Krista Tippett. I listen to their podcasts weekly and also recommend that you read their books. Their teachings are a source of joy for me and I hope that you enjoy them too.
About the author: Dr Sarah Moore, Chair of the Holistic Health Practitioner Network Inc, is an Integrative GP Obstetrician working in Busselton. You can read more about her work at www.drsarahmoore.com