As we all know, the human being is composed of body and spirit. In our society, we have a tendency to compartmentalize the world in order to make it more comprehensible. We tend to see these elements as somehow separate, even mutually exclusive. The idea, however, that spirit and body are inextricably fused, and that holistic attention to both is needed to ensure well-being, is an ancient one common to indigenous cultures. It is an idea that is also gradually gaining acceptance in the western world. By expanding our concept of health to include spirituality, we will increase our potential for holistic well-being.
As a society we have acquired a way of thinking that organizes our messy, cluttered lives by packaging things in neat little compartments: physical needs over here, spiritual matters over there. As a result, our society tends to see itself as separate from, and above, the rest of the natural order. This may be one reason why we have been such poor environmental caretakers. In addition, we see the soul or the spirit as an abstract, ethereal presence with no connection to physical phenomenae. The body, conversely, is thought of as a sort of autonomous machine, unaffected by the spirit. To nourish our souls, we attend religious ceremonies, light candles, or contemplate the stars; to repair our bodies, we turn to the chemicals and machines of western medicine. For spiritual sustenance and insight, we turn to books such as the Bible, the Qur’an, and sometimes to works of philosophy or poetry. For instruction on how to treat our corporeal selves, we consult medical texts, hire physical trainers, purchase the latest fad diet book.
In ancient cultures, the idea of accessing the mysterious, non-rational world of the spirit to heal physical ailments is a fully accepted notion. Shamanic rituals and the exploration and understanding of dreams are seen as the keys to health.
Despite the fact that we in the Western world tend to fancy ourselves as being logical and rational creatures, there are many analogies in our society to the primal belief in mystical, shamanic healing. Growing numbers of naturopathic and other alternative medical practitioners, and the increased popularity of yoga, aroma therapy, tai chi, reiki, and art therapy (among many others) are all examples of the rising desire to align body and soul. Therapeutic touch, an ancient form of healing, is also a technique often used now by nurses as a complement to conventional Western medicine.
None of this is to say that we should discard the benefits of conventional Western medical practice. As a result of Western medicine, people are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. To say “Western medicine is bad and spiritual healing is good” would do nothing but limit our options. What is required is an open-minded and open-hearted approach to our well-being, an expansion of our concept of what health is, and what forms healing can take. When we understand that spirituality is an essential part of our being, that our bodies and the world we live in are truly sacred, we necessarily increase our potential to treat ourselves (and hopefully the world outside of ourselves) with greater respect.