Spiritual Well-Being with Dr. Landry
Healthy longevity requires a holistic lifestyle approach which must include spiritual well-being. However, the challenge is that this pillar of wellness can easily be the most controversial of all because it often touches on very deep-seated beliefs. These entrenched beliefs, when associated with a fixed mindset, intolerance, and a misunderstanding of the many aspects of spirituality, can become an almost impenetrable barrier to spiritual well-being. This article seeks to discuss the areas of spiritual wellbeing common to everyone, no matter their beliefs.
Spirituality has many definitions. A recent survey produced 27 distinct definitions of which there was little agreement. For the purposes of this article, I will use the one I have found to be most beneficial in speaking about health and spirituality: “Spirituality is a personal search or quest for meaning and purpose in life.” This definition allows us to discuss the full breadth of its meaning while being inclusive of the multitude of pathways involved in this very personal journey. I don’t presume to be an expert in this area, at least not in the usual sense of the word. I can however, share what I’ve learned from hundreds of people over my 50 year career as a physician, and more years as a human.
A Search for Meaning
Man’s search for meaning and purpose has been with our species since its very beginning. Our higher-level brain allows us humans alone to consider such transcendent ideas. We seek meaning and purpose in order to rise above the physical and mortal aspects of our existence; to comprehend on a personal level why we exist, and why the vicissitudes of life seem arbitrary. Nietzsche said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear any ‘how’.” On a more mundane level, we seek meaning and purpose in order to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
And where do we humans seek our meaning and purpose?
Some, of course, seek it within the many religions throughout the world, turning to their faith as a guidepost for living a good life, often with the idea of an afterlife as a continuation of their purpose. Religion, however, is but one path to spirituality.
Others seek it the appreciation of the miracle of life itself. It was Einstein who said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” These people seek meaning and purpose in helping others, including other creatures. The Dalai Lama tells us, “Our primary purpose in life is to help others.” Still, others seek meaning in nature and other wonders of our existence. Thoreau wrote in Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Most spiritual guidance, no matter what the affiliation, stresses the importance of mindfulness in one’s spiritual journey. Mindfulness is awareness without thought or judgment. It is being present with whatever we are doing. It is not allowing ourselves to be carried away by our racing thoughts (we have up to 60,000 thoughts per day, with 80% being negative and 95% repetitive). Without mindfulness or presence, we get lost in our thoughts and miss the miracle of life… we miss our lives. It is difficult indeed to find meaning and purpose when our attention is diverted by thoughts about the past or future… most of which are negative.
Finding mindfulness and being present then, is considered by many to be the core prerequisite to spirituality. In a time-based, production-oriented world, it can be a difficult task to find mindfulness. In fact, it’s impossible for we humans to be present all the time. However, finding our portals to mindfulness are essential if we are to experience the presence we need. Anything that suspends time for us, even if it is just for seconds and minutes, is valuable in our quest for meaning and purpose.
Here are a few examples of mindfulness-inducing moments:
Meditation is a set of techniques that are intended to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. Many consider meditation difficult, or something that produces an altered state of consciousness. Rather, it is being more fully present, whether that is with our current moment, with God, or with the Universe. Techniques can be as simple as paying attention to our breath or how our body feels, if only for seconds. This often leads to a pleasant and creative experience. Einstein told us that his breakthroughs in physics came when he was NOT thinking about them, but when his mind was at peace and not thinking about physics. Practice improves our ability to stay present longer, and brain scans have revealed positive anatomic changes in the brain with regular meditation. Learn more, and give meditation a try.
Creative pastimes like art, woodworking, knitting, music and anything else which causes a sense of time to be suspended can produce mindful moments. In these moments, minutes, and sometimes hours, pass without our realization. People engaged in such pastimes often speak of feeling content, happy, and joyful… all because our racing minds are quieted and we are fully engaged with being. We have all experienced such moments, so look for which pastimes do it for you.
Nature, whether a walk in the woods, working in a garden, or being with a pet, allows us to return to our human roots, suspend our racing thoughts and be present. Allow yourself the time to just BE with nature.
Spirituality, then, is a search for meaning and purpose. It is an internal, personal quest that requires us to be more present in our lives, more aware of the beauty, peace, connection and overall miracle of life. It is here that we can find meaning and purpose and the healthy longevity that it nourishes.
Don't miss Dr. Landry's next presentation on Saturday, September 10th as he dives deeper into the topic of Spiritual Well-being. Mark your calendars as information will be released soon.