Sometimes we forget, or don’t realize, that there is an unseen resource that can be a tremendous supply of strength that is always available. The strength provided by accessing a form of spirituality has been an immense contributor to countless people in the world.
Spirituality has been defined in numerous ways. These include a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself and a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures.
In my mind, there are two simple elements to having and accessing the power of spirituality. One is having a belief or viewpoint that there is a force outside of ourselves and the other is faith that this force will guide us in a good direction as long as we act on it. Faith requires action, without action it withers the way plants wither without water and sunshine. When faith becomes a guide for what we do, it strengthens what we believe and provides a sense of purpose and meaning. Life is no longer meaningless or irrelevant. It’s a way people find, hope, comfort, and inner peace, even in hard times. This sometimes overlooked fountain of healing and well-being has been available and flowing as far back as can be remembered.
To see this from a more scientific perspective, the University of Maryland Medical Center Office of Complementary Medicine recently released a study called “How does spirituality influence health?” The study concluded that “Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation.”
By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), hormonal, and nervous systems. Many researchers believe that certain beliefs, attitudes, and practices associated with being a spiritual person influence health. In a recent study of people with AIDS, those who had faith had a better chance of surviving for a long time than those who did not live with such belief systems. Qualities like faith, hope, and forgiveness, and the use of social support and prayer seem to have a noticeable effect on health and healing. A person’s most deeply held beliefs strongly influence his or her health. Some researchers believe that faith increases the body’s resistance to stress. In a 1988 clinical study of women undergoing breast biopsies, the women with the lowest stress hormone levels were those who used their faith and prayer to cope with stress.
The upcoming holidays will provide many opportunities to awaken the spirit within each of us to access this hidden strength. They are after all founded in matters spiritual and, even if this season brings its own set of challenges, it can serve as a catalyst for renewed faith, hope, and strength to those in need. Whenever spirit and faith are accessed, the waters of strength and healing will flow. Whether we are sitting at a table sharing food, conversation; and football; gathering in a place of worship; or simply sitting quietly in the woods, these are all opportunities to nourish our human spirit and to connect with and act with faith that we have a purpose in this particular moment.
As a way to begin, some of the simple suggestions provided below may help to awaken and activate the resources of the spirit and develop actions of faith. They may not all be for everyone but one or two can get you started toward a more enjoyable and meaningful life.
• Call a friend or neighbor just to say hello.
• Reach out to someone you know is struggling.
• Volunteer for or visit a food bank, shelter, hospital or nursing home.
• Reconnect with an old friend.
• Look for something good in someone you don’t like.
• Do a little something nice for someone without telling them.
• Say thank you and remember to be grateful for what you have.
• Be kind even when you are in a rush or doing something that you don’t like.
• At least once a day look at the sky and notice something remarkable.
• Copy this list and add something to it each day.
...Spiritual opening is not a withdrawal to some imagined realm or safe cave. It is not a pulling away, but a touching of all the experience of life with wisdom and with a heart of kindness, without any separation.
Editor’s Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation and therapeutic services at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington.