By David A. Lichter
In this Vision issue, NACC member Marilyn Williams expresses clearly how wellness programs, for some time, were not as inclusive of the spiritual dimension, and now there is a more concerted effort to make spiritual wellness one of the dimensions of wellness. Marilyn offers a very helpful way of examining “spiritual health.” She also reminds us of the challenge of one of our Conference 2014 plenary speaker, Chris Lowney, that we develop a deeper spirituality of wellness. I appreciate the challenge. Let me just use a couple website samples to make some observations on our theme.
The day I did a Google search on spirituality, I received 112 million results! Spiritual health received 50 million results. Searching “spirituality of wellness,” I got 12.6 million results! Spiritual wellness received “only” 5.7 million results! Of course, these results include all sites that include both of these terms, so the might not tell us much. However, we can learn from reflecting on a spirituality of wellness.
The Psychological Health Program website of the National Guard Bureau names spiritual wellness as one of its five wellness pillars, along with physical, emotional, social, and family. This spiritual wellness was described in a three-dimensional way: contemplating one’s purpose in life and achieving greater mindfulness of one’s impact on the rest of the world; achieving harmony with one’s surroundings and balancing one’s personal needs with the needs of others; and having personal values and beliefs and acting compassionately in accordance with those values.
Its website even offers a description of spirituality as “expressed in many forms, whether tied to a religion, a moral philosophy, or an inherent sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself. In any form, spirituality is always personal.” Specifically describing spiritual wellness, it says that the need “is often downplayed as less important than emotional, physical, or social wellness, but vital to the overall wellness of every Service Member in the National Guard is a sense of hope and belonging – of purpose.”
The University of New Hampshire Health Services website offers eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. And it suggests, “Spiritual wellness may not be something that you think much of, yet its impact on your life is unavoidable.”
It offers its own description of spirituality as “discovering a sense of meaningfulness in your life and coming to know that you have a purpose to fulfill.” It further adds, “Many factors play a part in defining spirituality — religious faith, beliefs, values, ethics, principles and morals. Some gain spirituality by growing in their personal relationships with others, or through being at peace with nature.” Spirituality, it says, “allows us to find the inner calm and peace needed to get through whatever life brings, no matter what one’s beliefs are or where they may be on your spiritual journey.” Then it adds, “If we take care of our spirit, we will be able to experience a sense of peace and purpose even when life deals us a severe blow. A strong spirit helps us to survive and thrive with grace, even in the face of difficulty.”
Let me make two observations about a spirituality of wellness. First, it would be helpful to use the definition of spirituality offered in the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care 3rd Edition, “Spirituality is that aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience connectedness to the moment, self, others, nature, and/or to the significant or sacred.” This definition can be helpful as it offers a two-dimensional understanding of spirituality: meaning/purpose and connectedness. This goes beyond most definitions that simply focus on meaning/purpose, or ones that only connect one to some religion, philosophy, or transcendent connection. This broader definition would allow an approach to a spirituality of wellness that includes all the dimensions of wellness.
This leads to my second point. A spirituality of wellness should look not only at spiritual and emotional wellness but the totality of wellness. It seems many approaches examine only spiritual wellness. However, if we use the definition of spirituality above, then the second half of the definition allows us to connect all the dimensions of wellness together within a spirituality of wellness. Whether it is the five pillars of the National Guard or the eight dimensions of the University of New Hampshire, a spirituality of wellness would help us emphasize the holistic nature of wellness.
I appreciate the challenge to us to develop a deeper spirituality of wellness. What are your thoughts?
Blessings to you,
David A. Lichter, DMin.