Everyone has a spiritual component, but not everyone is religious. A comparison of the two is provided by the Merck Manual: “Religion and spirituality are similar but not identical concepts. Religion is often viewed as more institutionally based, more structured, and more traditional and may be associated with organized, well-established beliefs. Spirituality refers to the intangible and immaterial and thus may be considered a more general term, not associated with a particular group or organization. It can refer to feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors related to the soul or to a search for the sacred (e.g., a Divine Being, Ultimate Reality, Ultimate Truth).” 1
The spiritual need for connection with the divine may be fulfilled in a community church, temple, mosque or other gathering place or a personal relationship with a higher power and may involve prayer, singing, meditation, chanting, fellowship, being alone or other. The main stipulation is that however you accomplish this; it does not harm yourself or others.
The next sections will look closer at connection and meaning, the two parts that make up spiritual wellness.
A definition of Spirituality provided by the University of Minnesota website states: “Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and typically involves a search for meaning in life. As such, it is a universal human experience—something that touches us all. People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred or transcendent or simply a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness.” 2
Spiritual wellness then relates to: developing a personal sense of connection to God and/or a power greater than ourselves and creating meaning in our lives.
Positive inner states of peace, gratitude and hope are indicators that your efforts to find connection and meaning are succeeding.
The second part of spiritual wellness is how we seek and express meaning in our lives. This will differ for each person and change over time as our circumstances do.
Examples of how meaning can be experienced include but are not limited to:
- Religious or personal beliefs and practices that aim at connecting us to God or a higher power.
- Meaningful connection may also be found by spending time in nature, listening to music, artistic pursuits or other activities.
- Relationships with others can give our lives meaning.
- Meaning and direction may be experienced when our individual purpose is clarified and our daily intention, choices and actions are based upon this. Living on purpose will help develop integrity and fulfill our spiritual needs.
“What is your purpose?” is a new age question that is often asked these days and with it comes the notion that it is difficult to define and might require changing the world! For some, changing the lives of others on a large scale may be their life purpose, but for many it will be closer to home and this does take away from its importance or the spiritual benefit.
Our individual purposes will vary. My mother’s revolved around her family, for others it may be their work, or how they practice their faith or a combination of things. What matters is that our purpose is realized and acted upon in whatever form it takes. This gives our life meaning and direction.
Since ancient times the: “Native Americans follow their ancestors’ two purposes of life: to know the self and be of help to others. They vest many of their beliefs and spiritual powers in nature, the land, and animals.” 3 This provided the connection to something larger and is very different from the beliefs of Christianity or other forms of religion. These differences if accepted, are an example of diversity and inclusion within free societies.
The two purposes mentioned above; know the self and be of help to others, combine to underline what authentic purpose is. To move from a self-centered purpose to one that is focused on service to others places us on the spiritual path. What we are talking about in essence, is loving ourselves and others.
Purpose, like wellness, exists on a continuum and is something we grow into where the ultimate goal is to know the self (live with integrity) and be of service to others.
A good place to start, and come back to as our lives change, is reflecting on the big picture questions. Examples of a few questions that I have pondered are listed below. I provided a sample of my answers to illustrate.
Why am I alive?
- Learn to accept myself unconditionally
- Have fun and laugh often
- Cherish each moment and not squander my time while alive
- Grow into my potential and create along the way
- Do the best I can each day
- Practice building bridges to others and helping out if needed
What do I find fulfilling in my life?
- Spending time with family and friends
- Living a wellness lifestyle
- Belonging to a spiritual community that provides connection
- Travelling and experiencing, embracing diversity
Where do I fit in?
- With others who are adventurous and into exploring their potential
- In the helping professions
- As part of the wellness community
Each person may have different answers depending on their spiritual perspective; there are no right or wrong responses. Answers to these or other life purpose questions can ground us and provide a spiritual foundation to build connection, meaning, and purpose upon.
A purpose in life is a feeling of wellbeing that comes from having meaning and direction and knowing that what you do is needed and matters. This is turn will provide guidance and strength along the way.
Work can provide purpose and meaning, and this is especially true if your strengths, interests and values are aligned to how you earn money.
Developing spiritual wellness involves setting our intention and making choices and actions that fulfill our need for connection and meaning.
Health, Longevity and Spiritual Wellness
There are many studies that correlate connection and meaning with health and longevity, an example of these findings follow.
“Medicine has begun to recognize the strong influence of spirituality on health and illness. Studies of cancer patients have shown that those who continuously pursue goals related to living a meaningful life boost the natural killer cell activity in their immune systems.” 4
“Gerontology professionals agree that spirituality is important to older adults towards effective psycho social function and successful aging.” 5
To summarize then, the Spiritual dimension is another aspect of our health that influences our quality of life.
1 Religion and Spirituality in the Elderly
Retrieved from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/geriatrics/social_issues_in_the_elderly/religion_and_spirituality_in_the_elderly.html
2 TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows. What Is Spirituality?
Retrieved from: http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your- wellbeing/purpose/spirituality/what-spirituality
A collaboration between University of Minnesota-Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows renewal center
3 Spirituality and Aging
4 Understanding Wellness
Chapter 1, page number 10 A Wellness Way of Life, 9/edition Gwen Robbins, Ball State University Debbie Powers, Ball State University Sharon Burgess, Ball State University ISBN: 0073523836 Copyright year: 2011
5 Mauk, K. (2006). Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. Sudbury, MA. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.