What is Spiritual Health?

What is Spiritual Health?

You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover,’ sang rock n’ roll pioneer, Bo Diddley. These words were acutely relevant to me when I was a young man learning yoga and simultaneously working with the severely disabled.

On one side of my life there were these toned, flexible and vibrant yoga teachers. On the other were teenagers and young adults confined to wheelchairs, bodies crunched up and completely dependent on the physical help of others.

But which of these two groups enjoyed spiritual health?

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Thirty years on and I am leading a team pioneering the first mainstream vocational qualification in spirituality and health. Its development, as you can imagine, has involved long discussions about the nature of spirituality and health. We have also had to anchor it all down into a coherent language that could be approved by the government education watchdog, Ofqual.

Our working definition of good healthdescribes it is as a state of comfort and flexibility, which applies to our physical and mental wellbeing as well as to our spiritual selves. Bad health is the opposite. Pain and rigidity. Movement hurts. Nothing flows.

What is particularly interesting here is that we can be physically flexible, but hurting mentally and spiritually. Equally we can be spiritually strong and physically weak. In Taoist philosophy, authentic good health is to be in harmony with the benevolent flow of the universe. So our physical bodies can be wrecked – but our spiritual and mental health can be fantastic.

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But what on earth do we actually mean by spirituality? I like to encourage people to develop their own definition of spirituality.  What’s yours? Working in an educational charity we have had to clarify and articulate our own stance. After much consultation we drafted a definition that seems to work for most people regardless of their beliefs.

Spirituality is everyone’s natural connection with the wonder and energy of life.

We also had to clarify and explain the meaning of spiritual health. For this we identified three crucial elements: connection, peace of mindand compassionate care. When assessing my own spiritual health these are the crucial issues. Am I connected? Do I have peace of mind? Am I caring and compassionate?Those questions apply whether we are in a wheelchair or teaching yoga.

 

CONNECTION

It is worth repeating, isn’t it? The first of the crucial elements of spiritual health: Are you connected to the wonder and energy of life?

In the new Your Spiritual Health Programme, readers are guided through a series of questions to help them discover how best they make this spiritual connection. People have so many different ways. Yoga. Reading. Nature. Art. Caring. Worship. Song. Sport. Cooking. Meditation. And so on.

Then when people have identified what circumstances and activities work best for them, they are guided to practice them regularly. Through mindfulness, grounding and breath they are supported in deepening the experience and fully enjoying it. For many yoga practitioners that happens at the end of a session, in corpse pose just lying there, soaking in the deep connection.

PEACE OF MIND

Spiritual peace of mind is not apathy, or a relaxation exercise, or a brain wave state. It arises from a deep and wise way of looking at life. This wise attitude guides us to take regular reflective pauses.

In these mindful pauses we observe and monitor our lives with detached good humour and compassion. We recognise that all our circumstances and experiences – good and bad, health, illness, success, failure, loneliness, community – are always opportunities to develop love and consciousness. This development of love and consciousness is surely the true purpose of our lives. Understanding this brings us meaning and coherence, a deep calm.

COMPASSIONATE CARE

The third foundation of spiritual health is compassionate care or love in action. If we are not actively caring we block the harmonious flow of the natural world, causing congestion for others and ourselves. Energetically, being compassionate pays forward the good energy we receive from being connected and having peace of mind.  Selfishness, egoism, narcissism are all prime symptoms of spiritual bad health.

Fortunately Mother Nature has evolved us very shrewdly. When we give care our endocrine systems are stimulated in a positive and beneficial way, relaxing tissue. Doing good, feels good.

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The wonderful thing about spiritual health is that we are not dependent upon anyone else for our ‘medicine’.  We also always have access to a wonderful doctor who knows us better than anyone else, our own consciousness. So my fellow doctors, shall we all look at the state of our spiritual health?

Connected.

Peace of mind.

Compassionate care.

For more information visit yourspiritualhealth.org

Mainstream Statements that Include Spirituality

People who are engaged or interested in spirituality often think that mainstream thinking is hostile to spirituality. But do some research and you will be surprised by the number of authoritative bodies that publicly assert the value of spirituality. They may not be clear on how to put spirituality into action, but they have public statements about spirituality and good practice.

For the students on the Diploma in Practical Spirituality & Wellness  we have a reassuring handout. It is evidence that we do not have to persuade the mainstream that spirituality is beneficial and important. Below is the text of the handout. I hope you find the statements interesting and inspiring. And if you know others, please add them in Comments at the end of this page

 

Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘Spirituality and Mental Health’ 2014

‘Spirituality emphasises the healing of the person, not just the disease. It views life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature.’

 

World Health Organisation  May 1984

The Thirty-Seventh World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA37.13, which named the “spiritual dimension” as an integral part of WHO Member States’ strategies for health.

 

United Nations – The Earth Summit Conference 2002

‘Health ultimately depends on the ability to manage successfully the interaction between the physical, spiritual, biological and economic/social environment.’ Agenda 21, 6.2

 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council

‘The Nursing and Midwifery Council expects newly qualified graduate nurses to be able to: In partnership with the person, their carers and their families, makes a holistic, person centred and systematic assessment of physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual needs, including risk, and together, develops a comprehensive personalised plan of nursing care.’ (2011)

 

Scottish Executive Health Department ‘Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy’ 2009

‘Chief Executives are asked to ensure that this guidance is brought to the attention of all appropriate staff and, in particular, to ensure that: They have appointed a senior lead manager for spiritual care.’ ‘Spiritual care is usually given in a one-to-one relationship, is completely person-centred and makes no assumptions about personal conviction or life orientation …. Spiritual care is not necessarily religious. Religious care, at its best, should always be spiritual.’

 

General Medical Council ‘Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice’ 2013, p.1

‘A doctor must adequately assess the patient’s conditions, taking account of their history (including the symptoms and psychological, spiritual, social and cultural factors), their views and values.’

 

Education Reform Act of 1988

The opening sentence ‘The curriculum for a maintained school (must be) a balanced and broadly based curriculum which — promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.’

 

Education (Schools) Act 1992

‘The Chief Inspector for England shall have the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about … the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at those schools.’

 

Ofsted School Inspection Handbook, Jan 2015

The word ‘spiritual’ appears 20 times – Para 128: ‘Before making the final judgement on the overall effectiveness, inspectors must also evaluate: the effectiveness and impact of the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development . . .’

 

British Association of Social Workers ‘Code of Ethics for Social Workers’ 2012

Upholding and promoting human dignity and well-being ‘Social workers should respect, uphold and defend each person’s physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual integrity and well-being.’

 

If you know other authoritative and useful statements, please post them in the Comments below. Thanks.

Share a Moment of Pride

SHARE A MOMENT OF PRIDE

30 January 2019

I want to share a moment of pride.

Listening to BBC Radio 4 this morning, while exercising on my cross-trainer, I felt a swelling of pride.

At 9:30 there was a fifteen-minute programme ‘Hacking Happiness – What if Happiness isn’t about the self at all?’.

This was followed by a fifteen-minute reading from Erling Kagge’s book ‘Silence’.

And then a wonderful segment on Woman’s Hour in which mothers talked openly and poignantly about their experiences of breastfeeding.

And I thought: What if there had been no flower power? No feminism? No new approaches to psychology, spirituality and the arts? These reflective, open-hearted, emotionally intelligent and inclusive programmes might never have been recorded and broadcast.

I often quote the African liberationist, Franz Fanon, who said that the greatest tragedy for any generation is to not fulfil its mission.

Listening to those radio programmes I felt proud because things have changed.

I know that right now national and global politics seem vulgar and dangerous. It is easy to feel pessimistic. But turn your minds back to when men in grey flannel, tweeds, black robes and uniforms seemed to be the sole authorities, with only a few bohemians sparkling colour into the patriarchy.

Things have changed.

Each of us who followed, and still follows, that new way which respects all ages, all genders, all sexualities, all abilities, all spiritualities, all ethnicities – and, as best we can, demonstrate compassion, love in action and a deep instinct for social justice and equality for all beings – we have helped bring about that change.

And the mission continues.

Quietly or loudly be optimistic. Keep on trucking. All will be well.

Glastonbury Abbey Meditation & Prayer Walk

Glastonbury Abbey Meditation and Prayer Walk

Introduction

Glastonbury Abbey is a place of Christian hospitality. In that spirit, we welcome people of all faiths and of no faith. And we invite you to enjoy our Prayer and Meditation Moments.

For hundreds of years this beautiful abbey was a place of worship, of learning and of sanctuary. As you enter its grounds, you may want to contemplate that your life is a spiritual journey.

Wherever you approach one of the areas indicated on the map, slow down and pause. Take the opportunity to breathe calmly and find peace within yourself. Then, if it feels right, follow the brief instructions.

You can do as many or as few of these Prayer and Meditation Moments as you choose. There is no particular sequence to them so you can do them in any order that works for you. We have however mapped two walks – a short one and a long one – which you might want to explore.

ST PATRICK’S CHAPEL

Many people came to Glastonbury Abbey for healing.  Sit quietly in this chapel. As best you can, breathe calmly and allow your body to sink and be at ease. Quietly say this prayer:

I am open to receive the gift of healing.
May all people and creatures be blessed with good health.

  

HOLY THORN

This Glastonbury Thorn tree flowers twice a year in Winter and in Spring, like a Middle Eastern thorn.  Legend suggests that it is a cutting from an ancient line of trees that dates back to the visits of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. Quietly contemplate:

How wonderful that the cells of this tree carry its history and its future.
May I always see the connections and wonder of all life.

LADY CHAPEL Upper Level

This chapel is dedicated to the worship and celebration of Mary the mother of Christ. The divine female can be found in many spiritual traditions. Quietly say this prayer:

Mother of the world, help me to love and care for all beings.

 

ST JOSEPH’S CHAPEL Lower Level

There are legends that Joseph, the uncle of Jesus, came to this very spot bringing the chalice from the Last Supper. Walk slowly and mindfully towards the altar. Quietly say this prayer:

I am grateful that I am safe and have a home.
May all people have a safe home.

 

ARTHUR’S TOMB

Legend states that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried here. Their court was home to the Round Table of chivalrous and brave knights. Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of injustice may I have the strength, courage and wisdom to support and champion the weak and vulnerable.

CLOISTER

Here in the cloister the monks walked slowly, praying and contemplating life. See how slowly you can walk around the cloister and at the same time calm your breathing.

May I be slow and calm. May I be wiser and more loving. Help me understand life’s difficulties and guide me into clarity.

ABBOT’S KITCHEN

In this kitchen food was prepared daily for the Abbot’s visitors. Quietly say this prayer:

The food I eat comes from nature, plants, animals, farmers, transporters, traders and cooks. I give thanks to all of them.
May everyone be fed and well.

 

HERB GARDEN

A monastic Herb garden would have supplied medicines, aromas and flavours. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the beautiful diversity and healing power of nature; and I give thanks too for the gardeners and their care.

ORCHARD

Every year this beautiful orchard gives an abundant harvest of apples. Quietly say this prayer:

Thank you mother nature for your beauty and your abundance. May I always remember and care for you.

 

FISH POND (Lower)

Water is one of the four ancient elements. Earth. Water. Air. Fire. This beautiful pond is cradled by earth. It is filled with water.Airand wind play on it. Light from the fireof the sun reflects from its surface. Quietly say this ancient prayer:

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit.
I am one with All That Is. 

WILDLIFE POND (Upper)

‘Ask the animals,’ said St Francis, ‘and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.’ At this pond we find fish and fowl. Pause. Calm your breath and be at ease.  Notice the fish, the birds, and the insects. Be aware too of the sky and the hills around you. Feel the air against your skin. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the blessings and gifts of all animals. May all creatures be treated with care and respect.

 

PARK AREA – BODY PRAYER 

There is a beautiful tradition of moving your body in tune with a prayer.

Slowly raise your arms above your head and stretch upwards:

The universe is filled with mystery and love.

Slowly bring your hands down and place them over your heart:

I too am filled with mystery and love.

Lower your hands so that your palms face the earth – or kneel down and touch the earth:

I bless the Earth and all living beings.

Repeat the action as many times as you like.

 

WILDLIFE AREA

In this area we celebrate untamed nature – God’s garden.  Be quiet. Imagine our whole planet and humanity living in complete harmony with the natural world. Quietly say this prayer:

From the tiniest insect and wild flower, out to the greatest ocean and mountain, may I celebrate the beauty of all creation.

BEAUTIFUL TREE 

Choose any tree that you like. In many spiritual traditions, trees are a symbol of strength and wisdom. Pause and imagine that you are a tree. Imagine and sense that you have roots growing deep into the ground. Feel the strength of your trunk. Feel the flexibility and movement of your branches.Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of endless change and noise, may I be like this tree – strong, flexible and wise.

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You can view and download a PDF of this leaflet on the Glastonbury Abbey website: https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/resources/glastonbury_abbey_meditation_and_prayer_walk.pdf

What is Health and Healing?

Every Thursday at noon I sit in St Joseph’s Chapel in Glastonbury Abbey and participate in a healing meditation. It is a simple twenty-minute session: being still; awareness that healing is always available; receiving healing; sending healing to wherever there is suffering.

Sometimes in this meditation I contemplate what exactly is happening. I have one sceptical brain cell enquiring whether spiritual healing is real, or whether it is just a displacement activity to make me feel useful in a world where I may be useless. But this doubt is more than balanced by a clear sense, a deep knowing, that something real and useful is truly happening

In my meditation I also enjoy contemplating the nature of good health. Good health it seems to me  is best defined as a state of comfort and flexibility.  There is enjoyable harmony and flow. This applies to both our physical and mental states. It is similar too for societies. Bad health is the opposite. Illness is pain and rigidity. Movement hurts – physically and emotionally. Nothing flows.

If we accept this simple flip-flop – comfort and flexibility versus pain and rigidity – then we can suggest a coherent definition of healing. Healing is surely anything that facilitates comfort and flexibility. This definition is appropriate for modern medicine. It also reflects the Taoist philosophy that the universe is a harmonious ocean of flowing states; so a healthy state, for an individual or a community, is also to be in harmony with this continuous flux and flow.

In this context the process of all healing methods – surgery, medication, touch, spiritual healing, exercise, diet, being in nature and so on – can then be easily described. First, identify what is uncomfortable and rigid. Second, intervene with an appropriate strategy to enable comfort and flow. 

There are obvious problems of course if we deny or misdiagnose the rigidity. More difficulties can be triggered too if we seek an easy healing intervention, instead of an effective one.  A simple example from most of our lives is when we feel emotional pain and then intervene with food instead of perhaps some quiet in nature or a dance.

It is a simple reality of life that most of us at some time or another experience pain and therefore seek healing. The good news is that within each of us is there is a great doctor, a wonderful agent of healing: our own consciousness. 

Your consciousness – your mind, your awareness, your soul – can acknowledge your pain, seek to understand it and find the best medicine to bring yourself back into flow, comfort and flexibility.

Ten Secrets of Psychic Protection

Everyone is sensitive to atmospheres and vibrations.  This is a normal human sensitivity. But some of us are more highly tuned than others.

Some sceptics might protest and say that it is all imaginary – made up by an overactive mind – and I reply: Did you ever rent or buy a home where you didn’t like the vibe?  The sceptic responds: Never! And I, trying not to be smug, say: Case proven. Because you are sensitive to atmospheres.

One of my friends was an officer in a nuclear submarine. When things went wrong and needed fine tuning, the captain always asked my friend to fix it because he had an extraordinary sensitivity to how the vessel felt and where it needed attention.

My dad was a psychiatrist and disliked all kinds of psychism and spirituality. Nevertheless he claimed that he could tell what was wrong with his patients the moment that they stood in the doorway of his consulting room. How could he do this? He said that he could read body language, but I have known of many blind people who have the same ability so cannot ready body language. So what is the source of their sensitivity? And in your own home or work place, can you feel the mood of someone coming in the front door – especially if they are angry or depressed?

This is all very normal stuff. We all sense invisible stuff. It is a human sense just like sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Sometimes, in ‘respectable’ language, it is called intuition. For me, I simply understand it as a result of the fact that we all have magnetic fields. Every atom and cell in our body has a magnetic field. That is basic chemistry and physics. Planet Earth has a magnetic field. Birds guide their migration roots using their magnetic field.

When something enters our magnetic field, it creates an ‘event’ that ripples through into our nervous system. We then feel or sense it.

The challenge for some people, including me, is that we have very sensitive energy fields and nervous systems. This means that sometimes we feel too much and it can be disturbing, tiring or even overwhelming.

In my mid-twenties for instance I lived off-grid for two years in the High Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco. When I came back home to central London my body could not stop shaking for several months as I felt all the vibrations of the city after two years in the mountain calm.

At the same time I was also exploring different approaches to spirituality and healing. Because of my own sensitivity I was particularly interested in spooks and negative atmospheres. I explored whether these unpleasant experiences were psychological or energetic phenomena and how to discern the difference. I led many workshops and trainings in this topic and wrote two books Psychic Protection and Feeling Safe on the subject.

I can summarise the advice I give to people who are sensitive to energies:

  1. Learn about your magnetic field and energy body; and how it integrates with your nervous and endocrine systems. Know thyself.
  2. Do what works best to strengthen your nervous system. Less caffeine, less alcohol, less recreational drugs, less rubbish food. More exercise.
  3. Learn about internal martial arts – chi gung– how to use meditation and movement to build your inner strength.
  4. Develop a stable grounded centre of gravity – what is called hara in martial arts and bottom in horse riding.
  5. Practice the classical strategies of psychic protection such as protective bubbles, shield, columns of lights, power animals and plants.
  6. Keep your energy moving – physically, psychologically and in your home and workplace.
  7. Use your sensitivity to deepen your connection with the unconditional love that permeates the universe.
  8. Ask and pray for help.
  9. Develop your ability to love, bless and forgive those whom you dislike and might be ‘enemies’.
  10. Understand that sometimes you attract difficult situations that are in fact great opportunities for learning and development.
Book Cover Psychic Protection by William Bloom
Book Cover Feeling Safe by William Bloom