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.

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.

The Spirit of Findhorn

 

Two decades ago I wrote a short article about the ‘Spirit of Findhorn’ for Network News. I forgot about it until last week when a conference organiser at the Findhorn Foundation asked me whether they could reprint that article to help promote their coming Autumn conference. I replied. ‘Yes of course you can.’

Re-reading the article I quite like it still. Most of all, however, I find myself pondering how I am also in an awkward situation. On the one hand I am deeply involved in a project to mainstream a holistic and person-centred approach to spirituality; so I have to appear acceptable and sensible. (Great I have a Ph.D. from LSE etc.) On the other hand I have written a book on angels and fairies, and here I am too writing an article about the angel of Findhorn. (Whoops. This is a bit woo-woo and flaky and bonkers.)

So this is what I say to people who are snobbish and sarcastic about fairies and angels. I say to them: Have you never felt the beauty of landscape? Have you never felt the presence of a tree or mountain or river or ocean or cathedral? Where is your poetic imagination ? Why do you lock yourself in a realm devoid of mystery and imagination? Etcetera!

What follows is my original piece for Findhorn. If you are interested in their Autumn conference click here
On the other hand you might want to join me for the Diploma in Practical Spirituality and Wellness that I am leading at Findhorn starting in October in four four-day slots. More info here

 

THE SPIRIT OF FINDHORN

People often ask me about visiting Findhorn and I also often have an intuition that people need to visit Findhorn. I also often find myself saying this:

“Even if the workshop is rubbish, even if the workshop facilitators are rubbish, you will nevertheless have an extraordinary experience. There is a spirit to the place that transcends and permeates even the worst events.”

This, I know, can sound like faint praise. But it also acknowledges one of the most important realities about the Findhorn foundation: It has an extraordinary and wonderful spirit.
The spirit of Findhorn. What do we mean by this? We mean that there is some kind of mythical and energetic being, some essence, which is at the very core of the place. This spirit of Findhorn can equally be called the ‘over-lighting angel’ of the place.

In tribal societies, in classical Rome and Athens, there was no problem about discussing the spirits, gods and goddesses, and angels. Every activity had a spirit. Every place had a spirit. Athens was over-lit by the great angel and goddess, Athena. There is a myth that this being went on to over-light Constantinople and then London.

If a flower can be over-lit and coloured by a fairy, if a mountain can have its huge and sweeping mountain spirit, why can’t a wonderful human community also have its angel? Anyone with the slightest sensitivity, if they choose to sit in silence and to open their psychic awareness, immediately feels and senses this presence that permeates and over-lights everything at Findhorn.

When I first came to Findhorn and sat in the sanctuary, I swooned at the magnificence and beauty and healing nature of this wonderful angelic presence that is companion to the whole community.
Sometimes people forget that a human community is also an eco-system, as fantastic and complex as anything in the Amazon rain forest. And like any eco-system, it has its nature spirits. Human beings are, despite appearances in the industrialised world, not separate from nature and Gaia. We are part of nature and we too have our great nature spirits that work with us, as individuals and as communities.

I would dare to suggest that the Angel of Findhorn has a magnificent history of being involved with human communities. Within her energy field she carries lovingly tolerant and understanding patterns of how humans can behave and inspiring blueprints of how fully perfect this community can be.

Even the most cynical of visitors may quickly become seduced by the quality of silence at Findhorn. What is this quality? It is the atmosphere of the Angel’s energy field inspiring us to something new and more loving.

Every time I visit Findhorn, I am touched, moved and educated not only by the people, but by the ever present spirit of the place. I am grateful and I seek to encourage everyone and anyone to enjoy a similar relationship.

For the Findhorn Co-Creative Spirituality Conference:
https://www.findhorn.org/programmes/co-creative-spirituality/

For the Diploma in Practical Spirituality & Wellness:
https://www.findhorncollege.org/programmes/applied-spirituality.php

Gut and Nirvana

What is the connection between the state of your gut and spiritual wisdom?

If you are up-to-speed with developments in medicine you will know that there is substantial evidence now for the health connection between the lower intestine and the brain. This is so well evidenced that some hospitals are performing poo transplants, replacing unhealthy with healthy faeces. The condition of the gut is implicated in so many illnesses. Some of them are obvious, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and cancer. Some are more unexpected such as autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other mental health conditions.

Spiritual traditions have known about the gut’s importance for millennia. You can see it expressed in drawings and sculptures of many goddess figures and Buddhas. These images show a contented being with a large but very comfortable belly.

In most traditions of meditation, self-healing and internal martial arts, there is clear guidance to be at ease in our abdomens – to ground, centre and earth our bodies. When we do this, our stomachs relax and sink. There is a shift in our physical and mental states. We become calm in our bodies. Our centre of gravity drops down into our abdomen and is no longer in the chest or head. The feeling is good and comfortable. From this stable and agreeable state we can then meditate and do our spiritual practices more effectively.

The teaching is always the same. Be centred and at ease in your body. In martial arts and classical Japanese medicine there is a single word for this state – hara. To be in hara means to be grounded down in your body and at the same time kind and mindful.
All of this points to a very clear traditional understanding of mind-body-spirit integration.

This connection between the gut and our psychological state is so clearly demonstrated in anxiety and tension. When we are anxious our gut is tense, acidic and its microbes unbalanced. Our heartbeat is not integrated. Our breath is uncomfortable. Our brains are over-stimulated and it is difficult to think straight. We may sweat or shake or feel nauseous.

Most spiritual traditions teach the same quick and efficient way to manage that horrible state. It is very simple: belly breaths. These are soft, slow and calm breaths down into the abdomen. Just two or three soft breaths can work wonders.
These gentle abdominal breaths send reassuring messages through our neuro-endocrinal system. They are a signal that we are in control and consciously self-managing. Get your abdomen to be at ease – and it will ripple through your whole body, calming your heart, breath and brain.

But for me there is more to it than just the physical and mental wellbeing. There is also an important spiritual dimension. This is the crucial concept that the spiritual purpose of being human is to manifest love and compassion, and to become fully mindful and conscious. I am sure that many of my readers align with this philosophy: we are here to embody love.

And one thing is certain. If we are a bag of nerves, dealing with the frantic arousals of survival and anxiety, we cannot fulfil this spiritual purpose. On the contrary, we need a calm foundation, a gut that is at peace.

Our bodies need to be at ease so that we are oases of calm and blessing in a wounded world. So whenever you can and whenever you need, remember the universal strategy taught for millennia across the world: Gentle, slow, soft breaths down into the belly. Just two or three soft breaths can shift the mood. This is good for your health, your spiritual growth and everyone around you.

Happy breathing.