Many feel that there is nothing more important to our quality of life than health. Without sufficient health, living a productive life is difficult. Yet, few options are left beyond treatments approved by medical organizations and/or insurance plans when it comes to caring for health. In addition, traditional health care costs are spiraling out of control due to factors including over-diagnosis and over-treatment, while quality healthcare remains out of reach for many.
We have to ask ourselves whether the present health maintenance approach of diagnoses and treatment is financially sustainable or even as effective as we would wish. And should we be paying more attention to research from Harvard, Duke, Stanford, UCLA, and others – where much of the literature focuses on prevention to improve health? Results show that health is more readily achieved when mind, body, and spirituality are all addressed in treatment.
When I think about mind-body health, I find a quote by Viktor Frankl thought-provoking. He was a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who shared his Nazi concentration camp experience. He wrote: “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning.”
While most of us won’t experience anything like the kind of suffering he saw, the idea also points to how important the spiritual component is to mind-body health. One of the challenges physicians face is helping people find meaning and acceptance in the midst of their everyday suffering and chronic illness, while medical ethicists remind us that for many, religion and spirituality form the basis of meaning and purpose in their lives. Indeed, many recognize spirituality as a factor that contributes to health, expressed in an individual’s search for ultimate meaning through participation in religion and/or belief in God. There’s also a powerful, health-giving alternative to the concept that God allows suffering to find meaning, in which turning to God becomes the avenue to put suffering behind us.
Since 1992, this has led to a huge increase in medical schools offering courses on spirituality and health, many of them required. At George Washington University School of Medicine, spirituality is even interwoven into the four-year medical curriculum so that students learn to integrate spirituality into all of their care.
But just how far can the idea of integration between spirituality and health care go? Could spirituality itself actually be the healing agent in a case? Healer and religious leader Mary Baker Eddy wrote about how powerful prayer and spiritual reasoning could be in allowing the individual to take control of his/her health.
In my own experience, I have found prayer integral to all aspects of health. This included obtaining relief from a relentless, massive throbbing on the side of my head, caused by the stress of having my car and office windows shot out by a gang. I was superintendent of schools and they appeared to be retaliating because of the closure of a school in that area. I was able to lift my thought in prayer by focusing on a particular idea from Eddy’s text on prayer-based healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which contrasts our human thinking with divine consciousness. She wrote: “The body is the substratum of mortal mind, and this so-called mind must finally yield to the mandate of immortal Mind.”
On that spiritual basis, it became so clear to me that the tension and pain were problems which I did not have to fear – nor did I have to fear further retaliation either – because both would yield to immortal Mind, or God, the divine principle of harmony. Once I turned my thought in this direction, I found instant relief from the pain of that headache, and there was also no further violence against me or my property.
While a conviction that prayer alone has the power to heal might not be everyone’s first choice of health care, an increasing number (75%) of the public are using prayer to promote well being. And researchers are finding that spirituality is integral to health. So it is no surprise that medical academic programs include topics on spirituality and alternative/complementary medicines, a trend mirrored by the fact that many are requesting greater emphasis on the use of alternative care in the Affordable Care Act.
Recognizing that health is tied to the spiritual as well as the physical needs of the individual would go a long way toward decreasing healthcare costs, and more important, further promote lasting health for everyone.
photo © GLOW IMAGES Model used for illustrative purposes
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