“This work…was designed, developed, and produced by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.”
-Introductory Disclaimer, the Assassin’s Creed video game series
I have said, referring to my loss of 200 pounds, that “I could not have become half the man I was without the power and refreshing of God,” in the article Moving Toward Gold After the Finish Line. I meant every word of it, though at the time I could not unpack it to the degree it deserved within an article on attaining balance following a positive life change.
I speak of a health just as important as physical or mental health, though less publicized; Spiritual Health. I can see this issue from multiple sides because, though I am now a Christian, I have spent years as an Atheist, an Agnostic and was born and raised both a Jew and a Catholic. I find in my present life, that spiritual health is the vital glue which holds the mental and physical health together, and I am not alone.
“At least two-thirds of Americans say that religion is important in their daily lives,” according to the findings of the Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. However, the pursuit of spiritual health is not nearly as public as the pursuit of weight loss, though it is nearly as well studied in medical school, again according to Duke. “In a survey we did recently of medical school deans at 115 of the 122 U.S. schools,” said Harold G. Koenig, MD, MHSc., Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center; considered one of the world’s top experts on religion and health, “we found that 90% of schools had courses on spirituality and health or at least taught something on this topic in related courses.” Yet a doctor would never suggest faith to a patient, nor would I as a psychotherapist. Legality and ethics have created a wall around faith, only to be breached by the patient or clergy, and then tap-danced into if the patient does ask for faith advice.
Dr. Koenig, a frequent writer for the Catholic Exchange, sees this as an increasingly large problem. “The present ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy is not good for patients, physicians, or the health care system,” he said, “because it leads to misunderstanding, conflict, excessive use of needless healthcare resources,” while overlooking the spiritual battery which resides in each one of us, just waiting to help power our healing. (Koenig, 2013)
What is Spirit, Anyway?
“We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit, how about you?”
–Cheerleader Pep-rally favorite
It is distinguished from the word anima which in Latin means “soul,” though it also derives from an Indo-European root meaning “to breathe.” In Greek, Arabic and Hebrew there is a continued theme of “breath” which is separate from soul.
Therefore, I offer this functional definition; Spirit is the breathing soul, the living soul; the soul in action. This definition also touches on the Aloha Spirit from Living in the Aloha State, “breathing in the moment and joyfully sharing life-energy in the present.” Breathing fuels soul activity like breathing feeds physical activity.
Increasing soul activity through this requires the intake of energy from a Higher Power (as you define it—I would never attempt that) and the release of energy in the form of positive outcome; work, growth or empowerment of yourself, others or even the world. Though it sounds complex—yes, maybe a little corny—increasing your soul activity level is just as simple, normal and wholesome as increasing your physical or mental activity level. It’s just less Americanized.
How Does This Help Me?
“… only religion can answer the question of the purpose of life.”
– Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Our breathing keeps our body functioning, our mind sharp and our life full of activity and connection to our world. To be spiritual is to employ connection with our higher power in this breathing relationship to keep our soul functioning, our spirit sharp and our life full of activity and connection to our world, but on a level that gives our lives deeper purpose.
Purpose: This is the first benefit of a healthy spiritual life. It is this spiritually powered purpose that “Jewish psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl,” noted when he “attributed his own and others’ survival in the camps to the power of having a sense of purpose that kept their eyes on meaningful goals ahead.” In this way being spiritual has a real-world function and Koenig proudly reported that not only had the Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health discovered that “93 percent” of studies they surveyed found “…those who were more religious experienced significantly greater purpose and meaning in life,” but that in “the studies with the best research designs, 100 percent reported this finding – every single one.” (Koenig, 2011)
Power: As you may recall from Moving Toward Gold After The Finish Line, Buddhist Doctor Arkawa is a big proponent of the second benefit. “The benefit of a spiritual practice…is to refresh our confidence that our lives inherently have the power and unlimited capacity of a mighty river.” (Arkawa, 2007)
Professional and Personal Joy. “Although many marketeers will claim that the ‘secret’ and other magical books can save you time and energy for success, the truth is far from it,” said Australian Outdoorsman, Author, consultant and professional speaker Chris Walker. He is “considered a leader in the field of human potential and lifestyles for success.” He would be the first to detail his years of spiritless, disingenuous corporate life, seeking only the bottom line. “In fact, if you want fast, money based success, learn to lie. If you want a healthy heart, a happy soul and success, it’s the slow boat, but it’s the most joyful.” (Walker, 2010)
Perseverance. “Serious or chronic illness almost always raises spiritual issues,” Dr. Koenig reported. “Spiritual needs…are likely affecting not only patients’ ability to cope with their illness but also influencing patients’ physiological responses to medical treatments.” The converse is also true; feed those spiritual needs and you will thrive honestly, feel it cleanly and heal. Dr. Arkara would add that “continual [spiritual] effort is consistent with research at UCLA, ‘that those who maintain a learning or process approach to intelligence…are better able to withstand the storms of life.” (Arkawa, 2007; Koenig, 2011)
Can I Even Become More Spiritual?
“Let’s just say I was testing the bounds of reality.”
-Jim Morrison, The Doors (movie)
“Jebus, Buddha; I love you all…!”
-Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
There was a time in my life when I felt I didn’t have it in me to be spiritual. I was analytical and I had thought the two did not mix. It’s either logic or soul, I told myself. You may be telling yourself that right now.
Becoming more spiritual begins with openness. Remember your childish curiosity and let it be your guide. Openness to the idea that there is something greater than ourselves that orders or balances life. I was a much closed person who thought that nothing was greater than me in my life. I could tell you many of the milestones that God put in my life to open me up to Him and His power—and I would love to privately, just ask via our many methods here—but they wouldn’t be personal to you, so there’s no sense in doing so now. I will say this; not only is it possible that openness will lead you to your Higher Power, it is probable. I will also reiterate that I could have accomplished none of my life, family, website, let alone a 200 pound weight loss without a soul-active spiritual relationship with God.
Many of the Duke University studies have shown that the majority of people believe and feel that “…there is something very deep within us that says there is more to life than any of these, that there is something very great and meaningful that we are here for,” and if you are one of those people—if you seek those benefits above in your life—then you are not alone. In fact, you’re one of many on the path. Openness is the first part of becoming soul-active and letting your spirit breathe, simple as opening your lungs for air. The rest involves “continual effort” and seeking to connect with God. And reading. Give honor to the seekers that have come before you; they’ll have some insight. But please be careful. There are many waiting to fleece a sheep. Be a sheep once you find a safe shepherd. Until then be a savvy seeker and evaluate what you are told as to weather it is healthy and wholesome. (Koenig, 2011)
Chris Walker turned away from the life of money-seeking which he had built so that he could seek a spiritual success. He, I and maybe you—right now—share that turning point. “The spirituality of success really does involve the harder road,” he confided, but along with true joy, he said “Life becomes a process of gifting others, not self-gratification.” (Walker, 2010)
That is the intent of this article; a gift. A gift of spiritual health to balance and bind the mental and physical health with which we, as Americans, are so comfortable.
I encourage you to get one step past that comfort zone. Stretch. Seek. Live with your soul in action and your spirit breathing and you will thrive.
Arakawa, D. (2007) Living a Balanced Life. Positive Psychology News Daily. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/dana-arakawa/20070814368
Koenig, H. (2013) RX: Religion? Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. Retrieved from: http://www.spiritualityandhealth.duke.edu/resources/pdfs/RX%20Religion%20Jun%2028.pdf
Koenig, H. (2011) The Meaning of Life. The Catholic Exchange.com. Retrieved from: http://catholicexchange.com/the-meaning-of-life-3/
Walker, C. (2010). The Spirituality of Success. Ezine Articles.com. Retrieved from: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Spirituality-of-Success&id=5186891