What is spiritual health?
Spiritual health is broad and rich and deep and almost impossible to define. Ask ten people what spirituality is and you’ll get ten different responses. To some, spirituality implies a connection to a higher power, a universal consciousness. To others it’s intertwined with religion. And to many people, a spiritual life is nothing otherworldly but simply living with a sense of purpose, belonging, and wholeness. In practice, spirituality has very little to do with who or what you believe in and is instead about how conscious you are and whether you are living in line with your values.
Our understanding of spirituality is personal to each of us and this understanding unfolds very slowly. This is partly because spirituality has been largely ignored in Western culture. But also because we fear the transformation spirituality will bring to our lives. The way it opens our eyes to another way of seeing – a simpler, more peaceful way of being alive that is no longer driven by our ego and its constant pursuit of more.
The word itself, ‘spirit’, comes from the Latin, ‘spiritus’, meaning ‘breath’. In this way, the spirit is the breath of life – our lifeforce, our inner power, our creative passion, a miraculous loving force that exists beyond the boundaries of our ego. So, when we cleave off this part of ourselves, when we neglect our spiritual health for fear of being seen as ‘hippie’ or ‘woo-woo’, we are left with a void , an emptiness, a longing for wholeness.
Many of us live in spiritual poverty. Saint Mother Teresa famously said that poverty in the West was not one of physical hunger, but a hunger for love, a hunger for God – not a religious, supernatural God necessarily, but an inner God, an inner peace, an inner freedom, an unconditional love that lives inside every single one of us – our spirit.
One of the reasons many of us overlook our spiritual health is because we don’t really know what it is or how to nourish it. But, as the link between spirituality and physical and mental wellbeing has become impossible to ignore, science has begun to explore it. And while, at its essence, spirituality is an inner experience – an embodied knowledge – and therefore cannot be put into words, this more conceptual, psychological understanding allows each of us to care for our spiritual health in a way that doesn’t feel so bewildering or overwhelming.
Modern spirituality is composed of three components: self-evolution, self-actualisation and transcendence. Self-evolution is a way of being where we are continually growing, deepening and becoming more conscious. Self-actualisation is a state in which we are aware and awake, we know our values and our purpose, and we respond to people, situations and life as a whole from that place of deep meaning. Transcendence is the experience of wholeness, an acceptance and integration of all parts of ourselves – even the parts that are difficult to love. It is a way of being in which, underneath the everyday traumas and pains of life, we live with a deep, inner joy because we feel connected to and trust in something greater than ourselves. It is a way of living in which we treat ourselves, and each other, as sacred.
There are several practices we can do to nourish our spiritual health, each focussing on the spiritual determinants of health – the underlying aspects that cultivate the connection and wholeness we all long for. These include introspection, creativity, honesty, empathy, courage, philanthropy, humour, appreciating beauty, questioning injustice, purpose, compassion, selfless action, and having faith in a power greater than ourselves.
What humbles me again and again on my own spiritual journey is how very human it all is. Once upon a time I thought spirituality was something ethereal and otherworldly, but what I’m discovering is how spirituality is deeply rooted in this body, on this earth, in day to day moments that look a lot like ordinary life. Ultimately, spiritual health is nurtured by connection and intimacy with all of life – our body, our purpose, our pain, our hopes, our fears, each other and the natural world. And therefore, anything that spreads love, connection, healing, forgiveness and acceptance is both the spiritual work we must do and, at the same time, our source of deep, meaningful spiritual joy.
As a Student Spiritual Counsellor, I have a limited number of spaces to see clients for free at LOVING GROUND, my practice in Hove. If you are interested and can commit to 12 fortnightly sessions, then please get in touch.