While it's easy to see the effects of taking care of your physical and emotional well-being, keeping your spiritual health in check requires a different type of exercise – an internal, soul-searching one. That might seem intimidating, but defining your own spirituality doesn't have to be as rigid as a diet or as taxing as taming a temper. If you're wondering where you stack up spiritually, see what local spiritual leaders have to say about spiritual health and why it should matter to you.
Associate Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus has been part of the clergy team at The Temple in Atlanta since 2008. She says spiritual health isn't so hard to define regardless of how "religious" you actually consider yourself to be. "Spiritual health is the internal sense and connectedness to something greater than our individual selves," she says. "Whether we identify that as God, a 'Higher Power,' nature, community or any number of other ideas, we are trying to reach beyond our physical selves to a sense of greater meaning."
If you're concerned that focusing on your spiritual health means choosing a religious corner to stand in, don't worry. Senior Resident Teacher of Drepung Loseling Monastery Geshe Dadul Namgyal says this doesn't have to be the case. "The two are definitely not squarely interchangeable," he says. "Simply put, there can be people who are religious, but not spiritual in the genuine sense; people who are spiritual, but not religious at all; those who are comfortably and confidently both, and finally those who are neither one nor the other."
Those who shy away from the religious affiliation with spiritual matters can rest assured that one of the factors that most affects spiritual health can't be found in a building or a book. Father Frank McNamee of Cathedral of Christ the King says the most important step to your spiritual journey has to do with balance. "One has to balance one's life, work, families, recreation and spiritual life," he says. "Spiritual health begins with discipline. It cannot be a casual thing but rather it must be something that is worked on every day."
Choosing a Path
With organized religion being optional in reading your spiritual compass, how can you tell if you're a spiritually healthy person? No matter which category you find yourself in, your spiritual health status will affect you in more ways than one. Scientists and physicians have been conducting studies about the link between physical and spiritual health for decades.
While the results of each study are different, one thing is sure - there are benefits to having a healthy spiritual life. In 2010, the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHCR) conducted multiple studies on the connection of physical and spiritual health. They discovered that religious people not only had better health than their non-religious counterparts, but they actually lived longer.
This might seem strange to someone who doesn't consider their spiritual health in their daily life, but it doesn't surprise Namgyal. "With or without religion, one would have made a significant headway in ensuring one's peace of mind no matter what," he says. "That is because one would have gone way past many prejudices, things that really sting from within, that one might, otherwise, be still hanging on to if, by way of seeking solace, one manages only in 'merely rearranging' prejudices and not really addressing them and releasing them. Of course, the social ramifications of the presence or absence of such a spirit is obvious."
Knowing that our actions affect those around us, our spiritual health isn't just about where or what you worship, but more about how you approach that subject and how that decision makes you feel. What steps you're willing to take to define your own spirituality should be one of the questions you ask yourself. Rabbi Lapidus says this can manifest into all kinds of spiritual endeavors, such as yoga, volunteering and even reading.
You could ask five different people what spiritual health means to them and you're likely to get five different answers. The Oxford-English Dictionary defines spiritual as "relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things." But like most important things in life, everyone has their own definition.
Your spiritual health might seem like a tough undertaking when you equate it to going to the gym every day, but Rabbi Lapidus agrees that it's the little things that count when it comes to spiritual matters. "Expressing gratitude, recognizing blessings, reaching out to other people and taking a few moments to pause and breathe," she says. "These small things, however cliché they may seem, are an important part of that larger awareness which is spirituality. Spirituality is a journey and the search for meaning is never done. If we do not feel a sense of meaning and purpose yet, this is a great invitation to do some more searching."
There are a few universal truths when it comes to having good health: eat well, exercise regularly and keep a positive outlook. Dr. Mike Long of Roswell United Methodist Church agrees that the inner peace that comes from a spiritually healthy lifestyle is the result of not sweating the small stuff when it comes. "Spiritual health includes focusing on the good, positive things in life as well as a willingness to learn to be content in every circumstance that life presents," he says.
So you might want to ask yourself what difference spiritual health has made in the lives of those around you and if the journey within is worth taking that first step. Just because your spiritual health isn't something you can see in the mirror, that doesn't mean that it won't make all the difference in the world – even if it's only your world.
Cathedral of Christ the King – www.cathedralofchristtheking.org
Drepung Loseling Monastery – www.drepung.org
National Institute for Healthcare Research – www.nihcr.org
Roswell United Methodist Church – www.rumc.com
The Temple in Atlanta – www.the-temple.org
Spiritual Health Contributors
Geshe Dadul Namgyal
Drepung Loseling Monastery
Geshe Dadul Namgyal received his Geshe Lharam, the highest degree of learning in Tibetan Buddhism, from Drepung Loseling Monastery in 1993. Geshe Dadul also served for many years as the Principal of the Monastic School for Modern Education at Drepung Loseling Monastery, and then as a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. In recent years, Geshe Dadul-la has served as the auxiliary English language translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has traveled extensively in this capacity throughout the world.
Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus
The Temple in Atlanta
After graduating with a degree in science from Pennsylvania State University, Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus decided to pursue a career in the rabbinate. In Atlanta, Rabbi Lapidus is part of the 2009 Marvin C. Goldstein Project Understanding Retreat and Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition of the American Jewish Committee, the Glass Leadership Institute of the Anti-Defamation League, and serves on the board of the Interfaith Children’s Movement. Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus joined the clergy team at The Temple in July 2008 and is currently serves as an Associate Rabbi.
Father Frank McNamee
Cathedral of Christ the King
A native of Loughrea, Ireland, Father McNamee was ordained in the priesthood in 1995. Father McNamee studied philosophy at St. Patrick’s College in Thurles and attended seminary at St. John’s College in Waterford City, Ireland. Prior to coming to Christ the King, he was named the founding pastor of St. Peter Chanel parish in Roswell, GA.
Dr. Michael H. Long, Senior Minister
Roswell United Methodist Church
Dr. Long graduated from Richmond Academy in 1974. He attended Candler School of Theology where he received a Master of Divinity in 1981. In 1992 he received the Doctorate of Ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He has been a member in Full Connection of the North Georgia Conference since 1982. Dr. Long came to Roswell UMC in June 2001.