People use the phrase “mind, body, spirit” all the time. We acknowledge that an equilibrium of these three dimensions is foundational for our thriving and wellness, and yet we give very little attention to the spirit. Our energies are poured into exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, meditation, and even therapy, but tending to the spirit feels unfamiliar and intangible, especially in the many hours spent living beyond the walls of religious institutions.
The idea that spiritual wellness is tied exclusively to places and rituals of formal religious groups is a notion that keeps many people afraid of diving deeper into spiritual exploration. There are an overwhelming number of people who have experienced some form of church abuse or disillusionment, and who cast aside their spiritual needs thinking that if they are unchurched or unsure of their religious affiliations that spiritual wellness is something unattainable or irrelevant, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a healthy religious community by parents who gave me a stable foundation but also allowed me the freedom to think critically and explore my own beliefs. For this reason, I’ve felt comfortable contemplating what spiritual wellness means to me within the context of my own faith while also considering its importance and application to people from diverse backgrounds.
These are some questions I’ve sat with over the years and that have guided my journey for clearer answers:
Is spiritual wellness the same for people from different spiritual belief systems?
Does spiritual wellness require identifying with a specific religion or is a person still able to pursue it if they’re temporarily (or permanently) disaffiliated from a formal place of worship?
Is spiritual wellness attained by adhering to specific daily practices or is there flexibility to engage in different aspects of spirituality depending on the circumstances?
Is spiritual wellness best achieved alone or in community? In quiet meditation or group worship and prayer?
How and why is spiritual wellness relevant for atheists and non-religious individuals?
The answers I have found are not elitist or exclusive. They come from many years spent studying wellness and striving to better understand and educate others about it. In the simple diagram below you will see the various main components of spiritual wellness including morals & values, prayer, community, compassion, beliefs, meditation, private contemplation, and service.
Each of these eight aspects of spiritual wellness are important for a person’s well-being; however, each person will find that they gravitate towards certain expressions of spiritual wellness more than others. For example, an atheist might be more drawn to compassion or service over prayer. A Christian might pour more energy into prayer and community than meditation. A Buddhist might practice meditation and private contemplation more than community. A Hindu devoted to practicing Ashtanga is potentially and uniquely engaged in all of the components of spiritual wellness, or is at least encouraged to pursue them.
It’s okay to spend more energy in one area of spiritual wellness over another, and what we focus on or need is likely to ebb and flow throughout life. The important thing is to recognize that ALL of these eight components are fulfilling to humans and aid us in spiritual meaning and growth. Also, despite some beliefs to the contrary, each of these components is applicable across religious and non-religious belief systems.
There are some Christians who believe meditation is sinful because it allows the mind to wander and be tempted by “the evil one,” but meditation can be practiced in a Christ-honoring way, focusing the mind on the Cosmic Christ’s love, peace and light within. Similarly, atheists might feel that prayer is ridiculous because they don’t believe in a higher power, but prayer can come in the form of communicating with creation (“Dear Universe”), privately and intentionally confessing one’s overwhelm or needs, or saying a prayer directed towards expressing love and learning from one’s ancestors or hope and healing for future generations. In this way, you begin to see how each component is important even if a bit unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
I want you to consider how the components of spiritual wellness work within your own life. I invite you to ponder which areas could use more growth, which ones intimidate you (and why), and which ones feel most organic for how you desire to live with purpose.
Lastly, I encourage you to lean gently in the direction of what puts you out of your comfort zone. I believe wholeheartedly this is where we are invited to grow the most in unexpected and beautiful ways that foster greater spiritual wellness and mind/body/spirit health.
I hope that putting spiritual wellness into a tangible framework and terms helps you focus on it in more meaningful and holistic ways. All of our souls are thirsty, but they can be quenched and live life to the fullest.
The world is in dire need of more people who recognize and recommit to living a spiritual life. Will you be one of them?
Yours in health and wellness,