As the research suggests, religious involvement is generally good for your health-when your spiritual life itself is healthy. How can we develop a healthy spirituality? That is the basic question we'll be exploring in these columns. We'll examine the various issues encountered by anyone who takes spirituality seriously, regardless of their faith, beliefs or tradition. We'll identify ways to avoid the typical pitfalls on the path and move ahead with clarity and confidence. To begin, let's look at some of the basic elements of spiritual wellness, using recognized components of physical wellness as a reference point.
Take Responsibility. As with physical health, it's important to take charge of your spiritual well-being. Of course, we all need the guidance of religious authorities and spiritual teachers, just as we need the expertise of health educators and well-trained practitioners. But we know better than to leave the care of our bodies totally in the hands of others, regardless of their qualifications. Rather, we try to be well informed and to take charge of our own health-care decisions, always seeking that which works best for us. Similarly, the spiritual buck stops with each of us. Only you can define your relationship to the sacred. Only you can decide which sources of wisdom to turn to, which precepts to believe in, which practices to engage in, and which authorities to trust. In other words, spiritual wellness requires the same kind of commitment to the health of your soul that you've made to the care of your body.
Heal religious wounds. Many of us have acquired the spiritual equivalent of a chronic illness. Whether it's a trauma caused by an egregious violation of trust, such as sexual exploitation by the clergy, or the psychic scars of guilt, shame and fear inflicted by overzealous preachers or parents, or simply the confusion caused by misleading dogma, the long-term effect is either to turn people away from religion or to make them feel unworthy of spiritual rewards. Either way, the old injuries fester, depriving us of the joy and peace that spiritual nourishment at its best can provide. Healing emotionally from deep religious wounds can take on any number of forms. It might, for example, entail reframing certain beliefs or forgiving those who harmed or confused you in the past. Depending on the circumstances, it might also require the help of a spiritually savvy counselor. However you choose to do it, mending the damage can free you to move forward toward a more mature and vibrant spirituality.
Go beyond belief. When it comes to promoting physical health, we don't just study medical texts and read self-help books. We have to put healthy precepts into practice. Similarly, the peace and inner strength that comes from spiritual wellness depends not only on what we believe but on what we do. Spiritual time management-making room in your day for prayer, meditation, rituals, sacred music and other ways to commune with the sacred as you understand it-can strengthen your spiritual immune system. Voluminous data on meditative disciplines support the importance of regular spiritual practice regardless of one's faith tradition (or lack of one). Taking the time for practices that enhance inner peace can be one of the healthiest lifestyle choices you can make.
Broaden your base. In building a healthy lifestyle, the wise consumer draws from a range of information and methods. Similarly, a resourceful spiritual seeker might want to take advantage of today's unprecedented smorgasbord of wisdom, either by digging into the hidden corners of one's own faith or exploring the richness of other traditions-or both. It's vital to choose your sources carefully, however, lest you come down with metaphysical indigestion or gorge yourself on sweet-tasting goodies without getting adequately nourished. It's also important not to just graze at the buffet table, sampling a little of this and a little of that. Take the time to delve deeply into teachings that appeal to you. The key is to be open to new knowledge and practices without becoming gullible, and to be discerning without becoming cynical or closed-minded.