Mental Health and Spirituality

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Pierre Tellhard de Chardin

Man’s search for finding the meaning of spirituality has been continuance since time in memoriam. From Socrates and Aristotle, to Nieche and Santana; philosophers, theologists, and other deep thinkers have pondered and wrote about the subject. What is spirituality? What is man’s relationship with spirituality? What impact does spirituality have on one’s mental health?

The questions have been numerous, and the answers have run a gamut. I came across a definition in the University of Maryland medical journal which I believe has exemplified man in any era is: a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself, a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values.

Spirituality is a part of our selves which searches for meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in one’s life.

The article went on to explain that acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism and the experience of inner peace are all characteristics of spirituality.

Often when we talk about spirituality people assume that we are talking about religion. Spirituality is not religion, though religion may play a part in the roots of ones spirituality.

It has long been my theory and contention that human beings are endowed with four selves, all “residing” within us; not just one “self.”

There is our physical self, psychological (mental) self, social self, and spiritual self. Our physical self entails our body and all of its parts. Our psychological self entails our thoughts and feelings. Our social self involves interaction with other human beings. Most important of all of our “selves” is our spiritual self; our values, attitudes, beliefs, and meaning in our lives.

Our physical selves are nourished by food, drink, exercise…with particular aims at maintaining our health lest we become ill. Our psychological self is maintained by keeping balance between our thoughts and feelings. Our social selves are nourished by meaningful interaction with other people. Our spiritual selves are nourished by having, faith, hope, and most importantly, through love. All of our selves, although autonomous, work in interconnection with each other to maintain homeostasis, balance, to insure that we function as a wholistic person.

Our spiritual self seeks to discover who we are and our relationship to our universe. It entails challenges to reach beyond our limits and give us direction, meaning, and purpose in our life.

Spirituality involves love and compassion, forgiveness, and prayer and meditation.

Religious tenets and religious services are very important in supporting our spiritual selves by espousing love of neighbor, family values, self-awareness, prayer and meditation, forgiveness, etc. Religions nourish our spiritual selves.

“Whoa, Dr. Jones,” you say, “I do not go to church. Are you telling me I have to go to church to have spiritual values?” Not in the least. As a Professional Counselor and Psychologist it is beyond me to be judgmental. One may develop and nurture their spiritual selves in many different ways. I once had a good friend who was agnostic, believing in something greater than himself, but not defining just what that was. He did not attend a church or any religious services. He practiced all of the components of his spiritual self on a daily basis, and was one of the most caring and loving persons I have ever known. He found meaning and purpose in life.

“So how do I nourish my spiritual self?” you may ask. Probably the first a foremost way is to practice having a positive attitude. Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who was interned in concentration camp during WWII, wrote in his book, “Mans Search for meaning,” “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose ones’ attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” George “Bud” Day, our most decorated military man in history, survived almost 7 years of extremely brutal torture in the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War through daily practice of maintaining his positive attitude through hope and faith.

He wrote of his ordeals in the concentration camps in his books “Return with Honor,” and “American Patriot.” An additional book that I may recommend on the subject is “Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” by Laura Hillenbrand. While struggling with my 21 year history with Cancer, having endured many surgeries and chemo’s, and been on the verge of death many times, my daughter gave me this book. I have returned to it often to strengthen my resolve in recovery. This book details the survival of the famous Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini: his aircraft being shot down in the pacific, his capture, and subsequent internment in Japanese concentration camps and the brutal torture he experienced, his enduring positive attitude, his enduring hope and faith, and his going on after the war to help others in life with their spiritual lives.

Despite physical injuries to their bodies by their captors which would be with them for life, Both Louis Zamperini and Colonel Day lived to the age of 92…Their spirit could not be broken.

People must have hope, for without hope one may become depressed or experience other mental and emotional maladies. Hope is optimism…even in the face of great suffering.

Having a close network of family and friends helps to strengthen our spiritual selves. They provide the love and emotional support we often require as nourishment to our spiritual selves.

One should practice forgiveness. Forgiveness releases feelings of hostility and aggression which weaken our spiritual selves and are detrimental to our mental health. It has been well documented that individuals who practice forgiveness are more hopeful, less angry, and better able to deal with emotions.

The acts of finding inner peace and an interconnection with a power greater than themselves are accomplished through prayer and meditation. Most people in the United States believe that prayer is an important part of daily life. Most medical doctors, as well as other physical and mental health care providers believe that prayer helps patients in healing their illnesses and in recovery; resulting in less complications and even fewer deaths.

Yes, Spirituality plays a paramount role in maintaining our mental health. It must be well tended and nourished to maintain good mental health. Our very survival is dependent on it. Stay healthy my friends!