You eat well. You work out. You find ways to de-stress. You consider yourself “healthy.” But when was the last time you thought about your spiritual health? This part of your well-being may not be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, but it’s an essential component of the integrative approach to wellness (which also includes your physical, mental and emotional health).
“It’s a holistic model of health. We feel that all of its parts need to be looked at and that they’re all equally important and connected to one another,” explains Jessica Swift, MPS, Spiritual Wellness Provider at Canyon Ranch Tucson. “Taking care of your physical health is connected with your spiritual health, just as taking care of your spiritual health has a positive effect on the health of your body.”
Spirituality isn’t something you can precisely measure, like cholesterol or blood pressure, of course. But you can gauge how spiritually healthy you are, and taking the time to do so can help put a spotlight on new ways to nurture yourself. Swift suggests these as good indicators:
- You have a clear sense of purpose.
- You can appreciate others’ perspectives, even if they might be very different from your own; you don’t judge others.
- You think positively, even in the face of a challenge.
- Fear doesn’t hold you back.
- You can appreciate the mysteries of life.
- You know you can’t always be in control.
- You release “victim thinking” and are responsible for your choices and your life.
- You are open and sincerely want to learn.
- You often ask the deeper questions and ponder what really matters in life.
Though Canyon Ranch encourages everyone to regularly foster their spiritual health, along with their physical and emotional health, people are a lot more likely to be interested in their spiritual side when they experience a crisis. “I would like to say that people come running into our spiritual offices all the time, but truthfully it is usually when they are in emotional or physical pain that they are most likely to reach out for help,” says Swift.
This often involves the loss of someone close; a yearning to find a life purpose; a desire for better communication with a partner, family or friends; a need for better tools to reduce stress, anxiety or general worry; healing a broken heart or getting support for addiction.
“Sometimes people come in after a lecture on spirituality and say, ‘this is the missing piece for me; I am not focusing on this enough,’ and thus begins their inquiry into how to become more spiritually aware and healthy,” Swift adds. “More than anything, I find there’s a longing to live to one’s fullest potential and to live a life of purpose. Everyone seems to be aware of the clock ticking and most people can relate to feeling like they do not have enough time, or the fear of wasted time or potential.”
Cultivating your spiritual side is also about being willing to ask questions and explore. “It’s asking, what is my connection with that which transcends this world,” notes Swift.
“Is there something larger or greater than myself? And ultimately, how can I remember to connect with this? When we focus on greater connection it starts to act as a compass, helping us to maintain inner and outer balance in our lives.”
For many, that means confronting fear and learning to build trust and faith instead, as well as living more in the present moment and not dwelling on the past or worrying so much about the future. Simply put, being spiritually healthy means you’re better able to let go, Swift stresses.
“It sounds a little bit morbid, but when you think about your death or you come close to facing your death—the ultimate letting go—it helps you to actually embrace your life because it reminds you how precious every moment truly is.”
If you want to boost your spiritual health but aren’t sure where to start, Swift says it’s best to begin with an honest self-assessment. “Take a few moments to check in with yourself,” she says. “We’re often much better at checking in with others, or meeting our next deadline, but we can sometimes forget to really ask ourselves how we are doing.”
Meeting with a spiritual counselor can be beneficial for illuminating blind spots in ourselves, and can also provide insight and support. Swift suggests asking yourself, What are my biggest priorities, and why? And, what brings a sense of meaning to my life? “Oftentimes,” she says, “we go on automatic pilot in our lives and don’t stop to question why we do what we do.” Exploring these questions can help you get clearer on what your spiritual needs are.
“Each of us is different and therefore what we may need in any given moment may differ from others. Some people may find it’s a priority to work on physical healing; others may have an intention to work on their relationships,” she notes. “There’s often a spiritual perspective that can help us in whatever we may be dealing with.”
There are times in our lives when connecting with a group is beneficial, and other times when we need time alone. Spiritual health means both knowing what we need and remembering that optimally we need a balance of both connection with others and time in solitude.
“Spiritual community is important, but I think people go through phases in their lives where sometimes it’s just about going within and contacting what they need without the help of others,” says Swift. “But I think, in general, community is stronger than willpower. When we surround ourselves with people who are also interested in spirituality or have common values, it really deepens our spirituality a lot.”
So what’s the pay-off when you cultivate your spiritual health? “Many things work better in our lives,” says Swift. “For instance, our relationships run more smoothly; we have more of a sense of peace and contentment. We may be more connected with intuition or a sense of being guided.”
Many people that Swift and her team work with struggle in particular with making decisions. “It helps us when we’re spiritually connected to navigate through our life in a more clear way,” she says; physical health often improves, too.
Being spiritually healthy is really more of an experience than something you can easily talk about, she believes, adding that, “As Joseph Campbell said, ‘I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.’”