The concept of spiritual wellness is a relatively new one for me. I’d certainly heard of “wellness” many times before and always thought that just included physical, mental, and emotional wellness. But I never even considered that wellness could also include the spiritual side of us, because quite frankly, what is spiritual wellness and how does one become spiritually fit anyway?
Many people share a popular idea that yoga or guided meditation can lead to spiritual wellness. In fact, I share that idea too and have tried both myself, with varied results!
I was that guy in the back of the Bikram Yoga studio who wouldn’t take his shirt off and couldn’t handle the heat (so I laid on my back for an hour and a half). And I was that guy in guided meditation class who always nodded off and woke up with a snort, embarrassed, and feeling like I was wasting time (and my small donation).
But I’ve come to understand spiritual wellness differently since then. And it happened quite unexpectedly.
I was trained as a hospital chaplain at a Veterans’ hospital where there are very strict regulations about protecting the vets’ freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The government is so paranoid (rightfully so) of proselytizing, that I was scared to even say the name of Jesus (I am Christian) unless a patient brought him up first for fear of being fired!
So in many cases I had to learn to work with patients as their chaplain from a spiritual perspective that largely left out what I considered “spiritual” at the time (my faith). And so, to start out, I had to learn what spirituality actually is.
I learned from a seasoned chaplain working out of the VA in Portland, OR, a definition of spirituality that really resonated with me: “Spirituality is the way humans seek and express meaning and purpose and the way in which they feel connected to something larger than themselves.” Or, in other words, what gives us meaning and purpose? What do we feel connected to and how do we connect to it?
Learning a completely new understanding of spirituality and then engaging others through it really had an amazing effect on my life. I began wondering all the time—what gives me meaning and purpose? What do I feel connected to? And how am I connecting?
I had never really considered those questions before—ever! And now all I did was consider those questions and ask other people to consider those questions.
And I learned that everyone has a different way of connecting and connects to a gloriously diverse range of things. Some people expressed that they feel connected and are hopeful when they hear or play music. Others reported that their meaning and hope came from their family, their relationships. And still others felt connected and full of hope through their faith in God.
And so what I began to see is that spiritual wellness or being spiritually fit simply means that we keep in front of us people, places, and things that give us meaning and hope and help us to feel connected to something larger than ourselves.
Someone who loves their family and feels a sense of meaning and hope from being connected to their family can really bring themselves a lot of happiness in life by working hard to maintain those relationships.
And someone who finds painting spiritually fulfilling can work towards spiritual wellness by making time and space for the creative and life-giving endeavor of painting.
Spiritual wellness matters because it contributes to an integrated and well-rounded life, just like eating and sleeping well, exercising, and doing meaningful work do as well.
I think it’s just that simple. Are you spiritually fit?