Coping with physical or mental illness is one of the greatest challenges in life. Being spiritually healthy helps people meet that challenge.
Spiritual well-being can be defined in different ways but many would agree that it is closely associated with a state of inner peace and harmony. Spiritual care is any support that contributes to spiritual well-being. One way we feel spiritual support comes from being part of a group of people who care for one another.
Another way we can feel spiritually supported is to practice meditation. Meditation is any activity of mind and body that a person can do on his or her own for the purpose of attaining inner peace and harmony.
People who have a religious faith can feel spiritually supported by praying.
This page contains a description of spiritual resources that can assist people to cope with health crises such as illness and dying, or the illness and dying of a family member. Readers are encouraged to seek out sources of spiritual support that are acceptable and available to them.
Spiritual resources include community resources, meditation resources and prayer resources.
Community resources consist of the spiritual support that a person can receive from a relationship or from belonging to a group of people who care for one another.
Some examples of community resources that may, but do not necessarily, provide spiritual support are good friends; families; religious congregations; health care professionals; 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon; support groups for specific purposes that also have a concern for the general well-being of members, such as new mother groups or parental support groups; therapy groups; volunteers belonging to social service agencies; and many others that are not listed here.
The effectiveness of community resources to help people cope with health problems has been well documented.
There are various kinds of meditative spiritual practices. Some rely on adherence to a particular belief system such as the meditative practices found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Christian mysticism. Other meditative practices are based on the experiential evidence that performing certain bodily and mental actions produces a feeling of inner peace, harmony and healing.
All meditative practices seem to have in common a process of emptying the mind of self-generated thoughts, so as to experience the inner peace and harmony that self-generated thoughts obscure or destroy. Some examples of meditative practices are the repetition of a mantra; focusing attention on an object; focusing attention on one’s breathing; the conscious noting and letting go of self-generated thoughts; the conscious relaxation of muscles and stress points within the body; intense physical exercise; visualization; the repetitive reading of a text; and others not listed here.
The ability of meditation to produce spiritual well-being has been well documented. An internet search on “meditation” will provide many web sites offering information and techniques for meditation. Those who wish to practice meditative techniques approved within a particular faith tradition can find resources online by doing a search on “meditation” preceded by a descriptor of their faith, for example, “Islamic meditation”, “Buddhist meditation”, “Christian meditation”, and so on.
Prayer is a resource for those who believe in the existence of God (or higher power), and that it is possible to have a relationship with that higher power. Prayer may involve addressing a higher power or it may involve a meditative practice that produces a feeling of being in the presence of an attentive higher power. The spiritual well-being produced by prayer comes from faith in, and feeling loved and cared for by, the higher power.
Examples of prayer can be found in every religious tradition. Prayer can be communal, as in a worship service, or it can be practiced individually. It may follow a set pattern (for example, the Lord’s Prayer in Christianity or the Psalms of the Judeo-Christian tradition) or it may be a spontaneous outpouring of the heart.
There is ample evidence that prayer is an effective means to attain spiritual well-being for those who have the requisite beliefs. A web site that offers resources for oral prayers from various faith traditions can be found at http://www.worldprayers.org/ .
See the following Web site for information on how community resources support well-being: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/social-support/SR00033 .
Recent research on this topic is exemplified by “Do Formal Religious Participation and Spiritual Perceptions Have Independent Linkages with Diverse Dimensions of Psychological Well-Being?” by Emily A. Greenfield, George E. Vaillant, and Nadine F. Marks (J Health Soc Behav. 2009 June; 50(2): 196–212). This article may be read online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2723716/ . The article documents research showing that formal religious participation and non-formal spirituality are positively correlated with psychological well-being.
There are people who specialize in helping others to develop a prayerful meditative practice. They may be called “spiritual companions”, “spiritual guides”, or “spiritual directors” within the Christian tradition. In the Hindu tradition they may be called “gurus” or “yogis”. In Buddhism teachers of meditation are most often found in monasteries. Other religions have other ways of designating people who fulfil this role.