Spiritual Work

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For thousands of years, mind-body and spiritual practices have been an integral part of worldwide healing traditions. When you open up to spirituality, things may happen that do not seem logical or rational. Paying attention to these occurrences can help us tune into our lives and our healing. Each person has his or her own spiritual journey—the type of journey one practices is less important than the fact that it works for you and allows you to continue growing.

Each person has his or her own spiritual journey—the type of journey one practices is less important than the fact that it works for you and allows you to continue growing.

Our modern medical system focuses on understanding the chemistry and physical components of the body. Modern medicine as taught and practiced in the United States frequently regards physical health as a combination of parts. If we know enough about the individual parts, we can “fix” the whole. We have one set of healthcare providers to care for the mind and another to care for the body. So fixed is this division in our medical system that insurance will not reimburse providers if they provide treatment for or use diagnostic codes from the other’s domain.

As limitations of this way of engaging in caring for people have become more evident, many providers and consumers are advocating for a more holistic medical system that integrates treating disease and maximizing wellness. As the field of integrative medicine evolves, it is clearer that the goals of “fighting disease” and promoting a great quality of life, regardless of specific disease diagnosis, are not at odds.

When discussing spirituality, frequently the concepts of religion and prayer come to mind. Religion includes activities that people engage in as a group. Those activities may be organized to promote spiritual or social goals. The two most commonly described prayer forms include petitionary (to ask for oneself) and intercessory (to ask something for others). Many other types of prayer, such as confession or expressions of gratitude, exist and this complicates the process of studying the effects of prayer. In a large survey of U.S. adults that asked about their use of different complementary medicine practices (CM), only petitionary or intercessory forms of prayer were asked about. Prayer was the most common practice used of all the CM techniques that were asked about. Forty-three percent of the people interviewed had prayed for their own health, almost 25 % had asked others to pray for them, and nearly 10% had participated in a prayer group.

However, it is important that we respect each individual’s connection with the source of healing and work to honor their vocabulary and concept of what that is—not all individuals take part in an organized religion or believe in prayer. So for our purposes, spirituality is simply defined as the unique connection between an individual and what they define as the source of healing.

In the United States, there is sometimes a danger of equating mental/emotional or spiritual health with a disease-free physical body. There may be an unstated judgment, by self or others, that if people would just fix something within themselves their disease would go away; clinical observation does not support this belief. Many people of great mental, emotional, and spiritual health suffer from long-term disease or experience traumatic accidents. On the other hand, we all are familiar with a fair share of people who abuse the body through consumption of nicotine, excess food or alcohol, and who live to be healthy elders.

With everyone, there is some mystery as to exactly why they have a combination of symptoms and what path will best lead to the removal of obstacles to best allow an individual’s healing to occur.

ProvanceIt is through a regular spiritual practice that many people may return to a state of unknowing or connection with something grander than themselves. In finding or returning to that state, important healing perspectives are gained. One purpose for engaging in a practice is to gain a different perspective about everyday life activities.

A spiritual practice can be spending time in nature, being of service to others, reading poetry or inspirational literature, communing with ancestors, meditating, choosing to practice harmlessness.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), defines spirituality as a mind-body practice; this area has been granted significantly more attention by NCCIH within the last few years. Some of the office’s initial efforts were focused on determining the efficacy of prayer. In response to criticism that it is inappropriate for NCCIH to fund studies of religion, the research focus is shifting from prayer and spirituality to positive meaning and personal growth. According to the NCCIH, the advantage of focusing our research on positive psychological states, such as positive meaning, is that people can be trained to increase these states, and the subsequent effects on well-being and health can be directly measured. By advancing the focus of research from prayer and spirituality to positive meaning and personal growth, NCCIH will be in a far better position to apply scientific rigor to this domain and to make discoveries that will be applicable to the widest range of people.