“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, in “Letters to a Young Poet”
Contrary to the initial connotation, spirituality’s role in Integrative Medicine both includes yet transcends organized religion. Spirituality, in whatever way tapped, is to reach into the heart of the individual. While many individuals find the depth of their spirituality in organized religion, it can also be found in other disciplines that complement an individual’s passion for living life. Art, flying, medicine, exercise, astronomy, parenting, travel — these are just a handful of possible answers. The disciplines are as unique and varied as the individuals who love them.
How do we identify with our spirituality?
We ask questions.
What are the things that are really important to you?
What drives you?
What do you hope for?
Contained in the answers to such questions are the passions that remind us we are alive.
For many people, those passions have been long since buried under the daily grind. Unearthing and nurturing these life passions is how an individual becomes “centered” or “grounded” in health, and spirituality helps us do just that.
Spirituality is akin to putting on our own oxygen mask before assisting others when in flight. Flight attendants educate passengers on this essential safety protocol knowing that sharing this information can change passenger behavior. A mother may instinctively attend to her small children; yet in a true in-flight emergency, she will be unable to assist anyone — including her children and herself — if she becomes incapacitated due to lack of oxygen. Once this is pointed out, most mothers understand the importance of putting themselves first in this emergency situation.
Spirituality educates patients about the importance of this principle in daily life. The same loving mother takes care to choose appropriate clothing for her children, feed them three nutritious meals daily, put them to bed at an hour that ensures proper rest, take them regularly to the dentist and the pediatrician. Yet Mom herself may skip meals, shorten her own sleep schedule, and ignore dental checkups because she is busy with family and perhaps work. She might feel it’s okay to put her needs on the low-priority list as she cares for others.
Although she is arguably a “good” mother, she does not value her own health.
Spirituality is our values and beliefs about ourselves and the world. Spirituality mediates our choices in health behaviors. It’s what we do in life — how we do it, how we live, what we think about ourselves.
The formula is simple: What’s really important to me in my life is _____ ; therefore, my health goals are _____. (Craigie, 2010)
The framework adopted by Integrative Medicine operates under the premise that people are generally doing the best they can with where they are. This patient centered care of Integrative Medicine treats the whole person — mind, body, spirit — taking into account that patients make choices based on values that are important to them at the time.
A smoker, for instance, may understand that cigarettes compromise lung and cardiovascular function, but finds benefits from smoking. Smoking to this individual provides a license to take a break, a subjective experience of calming, and an entry point to affirming relationships with other people, all of which are understandable and important values. (Craigie , 2010)
The spirituality component of Integrative Medicine examines the values that are unique to individual patients. Spirituality mediates our behavior by governing our values and beliefs about ourselves and determining the choices we make.
It is not until the patient actively associates the choice of health with his or her own values and life’s passions that the behaviors can change.
At HealthArt, we ask questions.
What drives you?
What makes you jump out of bed in the morning and go do something?
What do you hope the legacy of your life will be?
And then we listen.
Integrative Medicine understands that “spirituality often frames the way that people cope with adversity and pursue the journey toward wellness and wholeness.” (Craigie, 2010)
We help patients choose and then set healthy goals and behaviors, whether it be with modifying their exercise or movement routines, eating anti-inflammatory nutrition, or seeing their doctor once a year.
If a mother wants to get serious about achieving optimal health, her reason for putting her oxygen mask on first must be more important than her reasons for tending to her children first; a smoker’s reasons for not smoking needs to be more important than their reasons for smoking.
Once these reasons are identified an honored, patients begin to turn a corner toward health, hope, youth, energy, stamina, and resiliency. What people care about creates energy and motivation that can prompt real change.