There is plenty of evidence that healing and health has a spiritual as well as physical component. People who have strong spiritual beliefs (of any type) have a better prognosis, and better experiences as they face treatments.( Ref ) And, whether we have always been ‘spiritual’ or whether we have never considered it or even been totally dismissive of such ‘nebulous ideas’, the shock of a potentially terminal illness often prompts us to at least look with a newly opened mind on such things. And, given the evidence, so it should!
On my ‘Faith‘ pages you will read more about some of my personal perspectives on faith, and in particular, my own Christian faith, but here I want to focus on the wider benefits of spiritual matters as they impact our journey to health.
There are more things in heaven and earth than you or I can ever fathom! (to misquote Shakespeare)
So, what is this ‘spiritual’ component? If our physical health depends upon the chemical and genetic balance of our cells, the orchestration of biochemical, metabolic and immunological systems that keep our organs healthy and combat rogue cells, what else is there?
For a start, since medicine began, there has been something known as the placebo effect. This is the known benefit of being given a treatment that has no real medicinal component. The efficacy of drugs in trials is always measured against this, rather than against no treatment. And this placebo effect happens to all of us, not just wish-washy tree-hugging, suggestible loonies. (no offence to tree huggers). Now, don’t get wrong; I am NOT suggesting spiritual beliefs are just some sort of placebo. Rather, the other way around: If placebo is real, (which it most certainly is) then this is cast iron evidence that there is something over and above external factors (drugs, surgery, physical therapies etc) that is important to healing. And that something comes from US. It is deeply rooted in our beliefs.
People often, mistakenly (in my opinion), view the spiritual as an external force of some kind: things like ghosts, spirits, forces, energies etc which they see as external to and independent of themselves. They may strive to ‘tap into’ or ‘harness’ or ‘communicate with’ such forces. (and Christians are not exempt from doing this too) but spirit is, to my understanding, already about connection.
If you walk into a funeral service, there is a spirit of sadness that you feel and connect with. Similarly, if you walk into a room of friends there may be a spirit of happiness, or a spirit of expectation. We have all sensed such things, and know exactly what that means, but we don’t look upon it as some ghostly external presence. It is something that is within the community of individuals, something that manifest as they share that emotion, that knowledge, that same understanding, it connects them to such an extent that someone walking in immediately feels it. The connection is not physical, it does not have to be spoken, and though there may be shared non verbal cues, it is altogether bigger than the sum of its parts. Spiritual matters are what connect us with our fellow man.
They are also what connect us with out environment. Who has not sensed a feeling of peace in a a church, of awe on a mountain top, of joy ion a sunny day, of excitementt in a sporting activity, or of love? These are all things that cannot be explained by biochemical or metabolic pathways. Yes, there are physiological responses to these emotions that can be recognised as compatible with feelings such as love, joy, excitement, even dugs that might elicit them, but that does not explain how a beautiful view translates into the physiological responses that we recognise as awe, or how curling up with a good book and a cup of tea sends enough endorphins into our blood steam to enable us to feel happy.
So there are things outside our bodies and minds to which we have a mysterious internal connection, things outside of our control that can profoundly influence out state of being. But (and heres the crunch) we can also block those things. None of the outside factors can affect us if we do not acknowledge them. You can stand on that mountain top and be totally self absorbed with some problem, or physical issue, and be oblivious to the view, and sense no awe or wonder or joy at all.
And some people go through life largely obvious to the spiritual dimension. Faced with a fabulous view they will see the crane on a distant rooftop and wonder what construction project is going to blot the landscape, look at the rain clouds scudding in from the west and hasten to descend before the weather closes in on them. When faced with mourners at a funeral they will focus on their own grief and miss the blessings of love and comfort to be had from the spirit of shared sorrow.
I can attest to the wonderful love and peace that comes with faith in God, within the Christian faith, which is very much a ‘community’ faith, as we are presented as a ‘body’ of believers, where one’s pain is felt by all, (though we often fail to understand the corollary of that, which is that one’s joy and peace can also be felt by all… even those in pain!) . I cannot comment on the faith or spiritual beliefs of other religions but do not seek to in any way dismiss similar or better benefits experienced within any spiritual journey, the important thing is that we should all face the truth that we are not masters of our own destiny and that, far from that being bad news, is simple fact, and can be truly liberating.
So when we come face to face with our own frailties, we need to tap into that spiritual
place within us; a secret place that is both inside us and outside, residing in that unknowable link that ties us to the human race; a mystery that is contained in the wonder of creation, but at its most potent its point of contact with the human heart. Sometimes we feel this powerfully and unbidden, at others we need to take time to reconnect with it. It is not a matter of a formula or ritual we must learn, we cannot ‘conjure’ it up. It is more a matter of what we don’t do. We need to stop looking at the cranes and the rain clouds. We need to set time and space aside to allow those connections to sit calm within our souls, to notice the simple facts outside our current worries and anxieties. The world is beautiful. People are amazing. Love is all around us. The universe is awesome. We are part of it all, what a privilege !
As I sit cushioned in that all encompassing love and peace that is in my spirit with in me, I know that health and wholeness is there for the taking. I am happy to take every opportunity that is being afford me. I have a lovely neurosurgeon, whose skills are awesome. That knowledge and wisdom and ability has been wrought through centuries of human progress and brought together in this man. I have a long standing friend who overcame breast cancer herself over 10 years ago and who, since then has retrained and become is a very clever and learned nutritional therapist who, having just (as fate would have it) finished writing a book on the topic, is ensuring that every good cell in my body is fed and nurtured, whilst Bob sits hungry and weakened. I have the benefit of decades of scientific research into cancer treatment that has been woven into the treatment protocols that I am going to go through. I have a family who are my love and joy, and old friends who are all there for me, in every practical matter. I have new friends who I only met in the few weeks leading up to my diagnosis who have become a wonderful blessing to me, and not least of all a few special best buddies whom, I know, love me as themselves.
All this has been knit together intricately and beautifully just for a time such as this. If anyone thinks that that is under human control, or even a product of random chance, they are welcome to that opinion. As for me, and my people, we shall call it a package of spiritual blessing and for what other purpose could this be than for healing and wholeness.
For me, all that practical help, medical expertise, knowledge, spiritual blessing and sustaining love, can be summed up under one category: God’s provision, and that is something in which I can certainly put my trust.