Health and Well-Being
Various studies have found a positive correlation between spirituality and mental well-being in both healthy people and those encountering a range of physical illnesses or psychological disorders. Spiritual individuals tend to be optimistic, report greater social support, and experience higher intrinsic meaning in life, strength, and inner peace.
The issue of whether the correlation of spirituality with positive psychological factors represents a causal link continues to be debated. Both supporters and opponents of this claim agree that past statistical findings are difficult to interpret, in part because of the ongoing disagreement over how spirituality should be defined and measured. There is evidence that positive emotions and/or sociability (which both correlate with spirituality) might actually be prerequisite psychological features needed before spirituality can emerge (i.e. past association with psychological well-being measures might reflect a reverse causation), and that the effects of agreeableness, conscientiousness, or virtue – personality traits common in many non-spiritual people yet known to be slightly more common among the spiritual – correlate more strongly with mental health than spirituality itself.
Masters and Spielmans conducted a meta-analysis of all the available and reputable prior research examining the effects of distant intercessory prayer. They found no discernible health effects from being prayed for by others.
Neuroscientists have examined how the brain functions during reported spiritual experiences finding that certain neurotransmitters and specific areas of the brain are involved. Moreover, experimenters have also successfully induced spiritual experiences in individuals by administering psychoactive agents known to elicit euphoria and perceptual distortions. Conversely, religiosity and spirituality can also be dampened by electromagnetic stimulation of the brain. These results have led some leading theorists to speculate that spirituality may be a benign subtype of psychosis. Benign in the sense that the same aberrant sensory perceptions that those suffering clinical psychoses evaluate as distressingly in-congruent and inexplicable are instead interpreted by spiritual individuals as positive-as personal and meaningful transcendent experiences.
Transcendentalism and Unitarian Universalism
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was a pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field. He was one of the major figures in Transcendentalism, an early 19th-century liberal Protestant movement, which was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume. The Transcendentalists emphasised an intuitive, experiential approach of religion. Following Schleiermacher, an individual’s intuition of truth was taken as the criterion for truth. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the first translations of Hindu texts appeared, which were also read by the Transcendentalists, and influenced their thinking. They also endorsed universalist and Unitarianist ideas, leading to Unitarian Universalism, the idea that there must be truth in other religions as well, since a loving God would redeem all living beings, not just Christians.
An important influence on western spirituality was Neo-Vedanta, also called neo-Hinduism and Hindu Universalism, a modern interpretation of Hinduism which developed in response to western colonialism and orientalism. It aims to present Hinduism as a “homogenized ideal of Hinduism” with Advaita Vedanta as its central doctrine. Due to the colonisation of Asia by the western world, since the 19th century an exchange of ideas has been taking place between the western world and Asia, which also influenced western religiosity. Unitarianism, and the idea of Universalism, was brought to India by missionaries, and had a major influence on neo-Hinduism via Ram Mohan Roy’s Brahmo Samaj and Brahmoism. Roy attempted to modernise and reform Hinduism, from the idea of Universalism. This universalism was further popularised, and brought back to the west as neo-Vedanta, by Swami Vivekananda.
Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and the Perennial Philosophy
Another major influence on modern spirituality was the Theosophical Society, which searched for ‘secret teachings’ in Asian religions. It has been influential on modernist streams in several Asian religions, notably Neo-Vedanta, the revival of Theravada Buddhism, and Buddhist modernism, which have taken over modern western notions of personal experience and universalism and integrated them in their religious concepts. A second, related influence was Anthroposophy, whose founder, Rudolf Steiner, was particularly interested in developing a genuine Western spirituality, and in the ways that such a spirituality could transform practical institutions such as education, agriculture, and medicine.
The influence of Asian traditions on western modern spirituality was also furthered by the Perennial Philosophy, whose main proponent Aldous Huxley was deeply influenced by Vivekanda’s Neo-Vedanta and Universalism, and the spread of social welfare, education and mass travel after World War Two.
Important early 20th century western writers who studied the phenomenon of spirituality, and their works, include William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), and Rudolph Otto, especially The Idea of the Holy (1917). James’ notions of “spiritual experience” had a further influence on the modernist streams in Asian traditions, making them even further recognisable for a western audience.
“Spiritual but not religious”
After the Second World War spirituality and religion became disconnected, and spirituality became more oriented on subjective experience, instead of “attempts to place the self within a broader ontological context.” A new discourse developed, in which (humanistic) psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions are being blended, to reach the true self by self-disclosure, free expression and meditation.
The distinction between the spiritual and the religious became more common in the popular mind during the late 20th century with the rise of secularism and the advent of the New Age movement. Authors such as Chris Griscom and Shirley MacLaine explored it in numerous ways in their books. Paul Heelas noted the development within New Age circles of what he called “seminar spirituality”: structured offerings complementing consumer choice with spiritual options.
Among other factors, declining membership of organized religions and the growth of secularism in the western world have given rise to this broader view of spirituality. The term “spiritual” is now frequently used in contexts in which the term “religious” was formerly employed. Both theists and atheists have criticized this development.
Some people with aphasia may have trouble thinking of the word that they want to write, even though they know the meaning or message that they want to communicate. In this case, the person will not be able to write the word or say it, because they cannot think of the word itself. We have all experienced this kind of problem, often called “tip of the tongue”. You know the name of a person, place, or object, you can picture it clearly, you can describe it, but you just can’t think of the name of it. When this happens to you, you can neither say the word nor write it.
In other cases, the person with aphasia may know the word that they would like to write, and they might be able to say it, but they can’t write it. In this case, the sounds that need to be put together to say the word are accessible, but the spelling of the word is not. This may seem odd to those of us without aphasia. Our abilities to pronounce words and write them are so closely intertwined that it is hard for us to imagine being able to do one but not the other. But that is what can happen in aphasia.
Sometimes certain kinds of information about the word is available. Sometimes a related word might end up being written, for example, writing “apple” when you want to write “banana”. Other times the person with aphasia might be able to write the first letter, or draw slots for how many letters are in the word, or write the first and last letters, but make mistakes on the remaining letters. In this case, preserved information about what the written word looks like is there, but it’s not complete.
Some people with aphasia might write extra letters or words, or even write down non-words.
Finally, some people who have a nonfluent type of aphasia might be able to write some words but omit “little” words or have more trouble with verbs. They will have more trouble writing sentences.
Classical, medieval and early modern periods
Words translatable as ‘spirituality’ first began to arise in the 5th century and only entered common use toward the end of the Middle Ages. In a Biblical context the term means being animated by God, to be driven by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to a life which rejects this influence.
In the 11th century this meaning changed. Spirituality began to denote the mental aspect of life, as opposed to the material and sensual aspects of life, “the ecclesiastical sphere of light against the dark world of matter”. In the 13th century “spirituality” acquired a social and psychological meaning. Socially it denoted the territory of the clergy: “The ecclesiastical against the temporary possessions, the ecclesiastical against the secular authority, the clerical class against the secular class”. Psychologically, it denoted the realm of the inner life: “The purity of motives, affections, intentions, inner dispositions, the psychology of the spiritual life, the analysis of the feelings”.
In the 17th and 18th century a distinction was made between higher and lower forms of spirituality: “A spiritual man is one who is Christian ‘more abundantly and deeper than others’.” The word was also associated with mysticism and quietism, and acquired a negative meaning.
Make the Connection
Taking the path less traveled by exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose, better personal relationships and enhanced stress management skills.
Some stress relief tools are very tangible: exercising more, eating healthy foods and talking with friends. A less tangible – but no less useful – way to find stress relief is through spirituality.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality has many definitions, but at its core spirituality helps to give our lives context. It’s not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life.
For many, spirituality takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it can be found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Spirituality is different for everyone.
How can spirituality help with stress relief?
Spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and overall mental health. It can help you:
- Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
- Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you feel – even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
- Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
- Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
- Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual appear to be better able to cope with stress and heal from illness or addiction faster.
Discovering your Spirituality
Uncovering your spirituality may take some self-discovery. Here are some questions to ask yourself to discover what experiences and values define you:
- What are your important relationships?
- What do you value most in your life?
- What people give you a sense of community?
- What inspires you and gives you hope?
- What brings you joy?
- What are your proudest achievements?
The answers to such questions help you identify the most important people and experiences in your life. With this information, you can focus your search for spirituality on the relationships and activities in life that have helped define you as a person and those that continue to inspire your personal growth.
There is no single, agreed-upon definition of spirituality. Surveys of the definition of the term, as used in scholarly research, show a broad range of definitions, with very limited similitude.
It may denote almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience. It denotes a process of transformation, but in a context separate from organized religious institutions, termed “spiritual but not religious”. In modern times the emphasis is on subjective experience. Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions.
Last weekend we went to Xochimilco, the world famous floating gardens at the south of the city, and we enjoyed a great day in the company of Normita’s friends Viky and Lety, as well as with Johnny a friend of Normita from work. We arrived early before the crowds and had a nice boat ride on the canals while things were still quiet, then we had a nice walk to one of the local markets where we had some lunch of typical Mexican dishes like tlacoyos, gorditas de chicharones, and quesadillas de flor de calabazas y queso.
We had a great time and managed to relax a lot, except for me whose task was to drive, and we were stuck in heavy traffic on the way there, and also on the way back. It used to be that on weekend’s mornings you could enjoy roads with lighter traffic, but so far this year there is not much difference between weekend and weekday traffic, unless there is some football in TV.
Here are some pictures from our day in Xochimilco…
From: July 15, 2006
Last Saturday night we had 4 of Normita’s younger friends, which we refer to as ‘Las Sobrinas’ (The Nieces) even though we are not related, over for lunch and much silliness ensued. We had a great meal and the girls chatted about Life, the Universe, and Everything, and made me dizzy from the constant talking. It is very tough to be the only male in such occasions, but somebody has to do it…
From: July 8, 2006
Last Saturday we had a friend of Normita over. Johnny Boy, as he is known, is Chinese, and hails from Peru. He is now studying in Toronto, Canada and his is spending the summer here in Mexico City, in an internship at Normita’s office. We had a great time talking about life, the universe, and everything. Johnny Boy is a great conversationalist and speaks Cantonese, Spanish, English, and French.
I prepared for the occasion a nice meal of robalo in a crust of peanuts and pumpkin seeds, with a side dish of pasta with spinach, blue cheese, and tequila, and a dessert consisting of a nice mango pudding. Normita made a nice Caesar salad as a starter.
From: August 5, 2006