Having read some of my blog posts or this website, you may think me a bit on the mystical or woo-woo side. And maybe, spirituality seems a little too woo-woo for you, too? Like, what does it really do for me? Other than pretty crystals or energy vortexes in Sedona, how does pursuing a spiritual life really help me?
Thing is, I'm also a terribly practical person. Before choosing my current vocation, I was going to be a doctor. I have a B.A. in Biology, and not only respect but rely upon science to inform my decisions and orient my life. In graduate school, I did a research paper on the balance of science and religion, and how both disciplines aid humanity in the quest for knowledge. And although methods of acquiring knowledge differ, each discipline can inform the other. Humanity needs both.
Recently, I've gotten very excited about some of the ways that science has been able to shed light on the benefits of a healthy spiritual life. Dr. Lisa Miller's research at Columbia University stands out for me [see "The Awakened Brain," by Dr. Lisa Miller] and has energized and motivated me as a private practice therapist. Having a healthy spiritual life directly correlates to positive impact on one's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The following are some of the potential scientific rationales for pursuing a spiritual life:
1. Better Stress Reduction: Practices like meditation, prayer, and mindfulness, often associated with spiritual pursuits, have been linked to reduced stress levels. Lower stress is correlated with improved cardiovascular health and overall well-being. MBSR, [a program of which I am a trained instructor] has extensive evidence of these benefits.
2. Better Support for Mental Health: Studies suggest that individuals with a strong sense of spirituality or connection to a higher purpose may experience lower rates of depression and anxiety. Dr. Lisa Miller's research also shows reduced substance abuse among individuals with a healthy spiritual life.
3. Better Resilience: Spiritual beliefs can contribute to increased resilience in the face of adversity. As a hospital chaplain, I witnessed this time and again. Patients, families and staff with a strong spiritual foundation seemed to bounce back more effectively from trauma and life’s difficulties.
4. Better Connections: Many spiritual practices involve communal activities, fostering a sense of belonging and social support. Not only is it a group of people you are connecting to, but a group who shares your experiences and your values. Strong social connections are associated with better mental and physical health outcomes.
5. Better Brain: Some studies suggest that certain spiritual practices can induce changes in the brain, impacting areas associated with emotions, self-awareness, and compassion. Meditation, for example, has been linked to structural changes in the brain. Research has shown--it is never too late to begin a meditation or mindfulness practice, and changes in the brain can be seen within weeks.
Why pursue a spiritual life? Why wouldn't you? I mean, if you are taking vitamins and exercising and watching your diet, caring for your spiritual life through the practical suggestions above seems only logical. Yike! Logical? . . . And inuitive.