Updated: May 22
I've spent the past week in quiet reflection trying to decide how to best present this particular dimension of wellness. The word "spiritual" generally sets off alarm bells with people. In U.S. society we are taught to avoid topics such as religion and politics like the plague. Either of those terms generally engages our defense mechanism causing our ears to close, our mouths to open, and the arguments to fly. Spiritual is something deeply personal to each of us causing defensiveness and wanting to defend our positions. However, for the purposes of this article, we must define what we mean by spiritual.
Many of us confuse spirituality with religion. Now granted, the two do have some overlap. However, religion generally encompasses some dogmatic adherence to beliefs regarding the worship of a superhuman power or powers. Some may refer to this as a God or gods. Some other religions may also include goddesses. The hallmark of religion is organization, structure, rules. Whereas spirituality focuses on the connection to something larger than ourselves. It does not necessarily mean to supernatural being. Spirituality has to do with the way we seek meaning, purpose, and connectedness to ourselves, to others, and to nature. It breaks free of restriction and rigid structure. There isn't a focus on external rules but focuses on our individual paths of self-discovery and inner knowing.
Spiritual wellness then can be defined as our coming to know that we have a purpose to fulfill and then engages in activities that assist is with living in alignment with that purpose. When we are spiritually well, we stop focusing on doing and start focusing on being. Spiritual wellness can look like participating in organized religion. Spiritual wellness can look like walks in nature. Spiritual wellness can look like quiet, reflective moments. When we utilize spiritual practices that lead to spiritual wellness, it helps us to reduce stress and depression; minimize anxiety; reduce blood pressure; boost immune functioning; and increase concentration, memory, and cognition.
There are signs that we are on the right track in our spiritual wellness journey. We find that we have a sense of purpose in life. We regularly seek opportunity to spend time alone in quiet reflection. We evaluate the meaning of life and life events. We have a clear sense of right and wrong and strive to live in harmony with these ideals. We are able to explain why we believe what we believe. We practice forgiveness and compassion and look for opportunities to care for others. Spiritual wellness does not come automatic, and we must routinely practice just as we would with physical wellness. Below, I will suggest 7 ways to help you increase your spiritual wellness.
Connect with Nature
Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Spend time outdoors taking walks and breathing in the fresh air. If you live near a beach, go stick your toes in the water. If you like camping, go sleep under the stars. As much as possible, bring bits of nature into you living and working space by adding a house plant or other fresh flowers.
Appreciate Art and all things Beautiful
After appreciating the art and beauty that is our natural world (picturesque meadows, mountain ranges, beaches, lakes, flowers, sunsets and sunrises), take in art made by your fellow humans. Take a trip to the nearest art museum. Decorate your living and working space with works of art (paintings or sculptures) that you find beautiful and evoke a sense of calm and relaxation in you.
There is something to be said about doing good for others. In fact, there is a term coined to describe the sense of wellbeing and flood of good feelings that comes from pouring into others, "helpers high." Helping others activates the same areas of the brain involved in the dopamine release in response to food and sex. Helping people one on one by providing knowledge, providing encouragement, or providing resources not only helps the mentee but helps you by improving your communication skills, reinforcing your own knowledge, and flooding your system with feel good hormones.
Learn Empathy and Compassion
Empathy and compassion are sometimes used interchangeably but are two very different experiences. Empathy is our ability to feel what others feel. Compassion is our understanding of what others feel and respond to them in love and kindness. Each requires us to go outside of ourselves and connect with others. When we connect with others in this way, we lessen our own feelings of isolation and loneliness.
When we forgive we have to give something up or let something go. Our inability to forgive can cause us to hold a grudge and increase our sense of resentment. When we are caught in the crosshairs of being resentful, we become trapped in this toxic loop where we ruminate on the wrong that was done to us; this in turn zaps our joy. Forgiveness is not easy; often times because we equate forgiving with making what they did okay. However, forgiveness isn't condoning the action taken against you. Those who have wrong you will have to deal with the consequences of their behavior. This is universal law that none of us can escape. We forgive to release ourselves from the nursing the emotional hurt. As cliche as it sounds, forgiveness truly is for us more so than for them.
Bask in the Silence
Silence can be deafeningly loud for those of us who find it difficult and awkward to sit quietly. I often wonder if this is why libraries are so difficult to tolerate; the expectations of quiet. In our day to day lives, many of us have to fill the void with noise (a TV, a radio, a fan). I remember my great aunt once telling me, "You have two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk." Looking back, I see the wisdom in this old expression. When you are quiet, you are able to listen and learn from others thus increasing your knowledge bank. Silence also has another purpose. When we make determined effort to take sacred moments to sit with ourselves we increase our self-awareness and wellbeing. Silence helps us appreciate the world around us and allows space for us to reflect on what we want and need out of life. PsychCentral article, "The Hidden Benefits of Silence," points out that silence also helps us physically because it helps lower blood pressure, boost immune system, lower blood cortisol thus decreasing stress, promotes good hormone regulation, and prevent plaque formation in arteries.
When we show gratitude, we are acknowledging the goodness in our own lives. It enables us to live without taking for granted the gifts and blessings that we receive. When we practice gratitude it causes us to change our perspective on life. When we intentionally become aware of what we are grateful for, the domino effect is we find ourselves finding more and more things to be grateful for.
With today's fast paced technological world, it is so easy to overlook the importance of spiritual wellness. Spiritual wellness is a practice that requires us to slow down, be mindful, and observe the world around us; to be rather than just do. When we put into practice a spiritual wellness program, it enables us to experience peace and purpose and realize that life itself is bigger than just us, but it is also amazing because of us.
I hope in reviewing this article, you have found something useful and may have added new ideas on ways to bolster your spiritual wellness. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. And remember, wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.
"There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub." ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
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