Friday, May 26, 2006

God & Health: How Spiritual Problems Affect Health

A common American "dis-ease" that has received lots of press recently, Post-Partum Depression, I would like to rename as L.O.S.S. or Lack of Support Syndrome. Women who have suffered LOSS have the disease reverse when someone helps them clean the house, takes care of the other children, holds the baby for a while so she can sleep, and provides her with some good meals. Women rarely suffer PPD when all these supports, all this love in action, are given. Medication suddenly becomes unnecessary.

How many other diseases grow because of social and spiritual isolation? In the case of PPD, there was a time when the notion of leaving a new mother with an infant at one day old by herself would have been perceived as crazy. It was simply not done. In the ancient nation of Israel, a mother had full-time support for 30 days. Can you imagine? How much PPD occurred? And how often was an unstable mother left to her own devices? She wasn't.

Many other primitive societies did the same thing. The birth was not just a physical phenomena, it was a spiritual event surrounded by ritual, religious celebration and God-infused significance.
When did birth become a medical event?

At the other end of the spectrum, illnesses were almost exclusively viewed through a spiritual lense (this extreme was unhealthy in it's own way). Our language continues this legacy: galled, hard-headed, stiff-necked, anal-rententive, choked-up, gut-wrenching. Through our language we acknowledge the mind-body-spirit connection.

But somewhere in time that connection was disconnected. What happened?

In a European land far, far away, some old guys decided to divide and conquer. Yawn, right? The history books of Western Civilization are filled with dividing and conquering. This division affects you and me, though, to a degree we can't even fully comprehend. That is because what was divided affected life in civilization throughout the world to this day.

These men divided man. To this day, men are still divided. The spirit was given to the church. The body was given to science. The mind hovered all around and in between pushing intrusively into both domains.

This division resulted in fantastic scientific advances. Superstition got stripped away from bodily functions. Doctors could now examine the human body and learn it in infinite ways that had been prohibited in the past. Antibiotics, medication geared toward specific physiological processes, and intricate surgeries were discovered and saved lives.

Meanwhile, the church's influence (especially in Europe) diminished. Rationalism and more important, mechanism (the philosophical theory that all phenomena can be explained in terms of physical or biological causes), and in extreme cases, utilitarianism, became the belief systems that informed people's views of the world.

The result of this artificial separation was that people ceased to ponder spiritual causes of dis-ease. Even more significant, since spiritual problems aren't always a cause of dis-ease, spiritual problems weren't entertained as possible inhibitors of healing. While spiritual problems might not cause a dis-ease, they can certainly interefere with healing.

How does this manifest today? Well, if you feel depressed, there is a good chance you'll be given an anti-depressant for your "imbalanced brain chemistry". While it's true that the brain chemistry is indeed imbalanced, the bigger questions of why and what causes this aren't even entertained. Fear of answering these questions explains why the questions are avoided. Few doctors want to address "bitterness" or "lack of forgiveness" or "hatred" as the cause of depression.

Unfortunately, the person suffering with illness loses out on a very potent help in healing when the spiritual is avoided. Humans, says Viktor Frankl, search for meaning. Devoid of meaning, they wander and often unconsciously seek meaning. Like Solomon, they try food, drugs, sex, and every other sensory experience seeking, seeking a connection, answers, meaning.

Like Solomon, some people finally make a spiritual connection to God and a community of believers. And other people float, rudderless, no spirit in their sails on the vast open sea of experience. When trouble comes, as it does for nearly everyone, they are tossed about. Some succomb to the sea, some float further away never to be moored, some find a lifeline--some finally find meaning.

Rather than God being a peripheral idea, for us, God is the foundation upon which the rest of practice is built. Our practice is vitalistic. We believe that organic life cannot be explained by biology and chemistry alone. Instead of the spirit and the body or the mind and the body as separate, we believe that together they form the whole human.

We don't sit around pondering existential questions with patients, or debate theology or philosophy for that matter. We do consider a person's "spirit" and connection as part of their whole health, though. And we do this for plenty of scientific reasons.

All kinds of research shows that people who consistantly go to church, who believe as part of a community, who are socially connected, who pray regularly, who profess strong faith, who volunteer to serve others, who meditate, and who worship as a family have better health and longevity. These people have better sex lives. Yes, they do. They suffer depression much less. They enjoy the support of a community during difficult times.

These spiritual actions are very reasoned, very rational decisions. And they are often ignored. People focus on diet and exercise, some obsessively so, and ignore the big elephant in the room: their spiritual life, their connection to God and their connnection to their fellow man. One research study says that guys who smoked, drank and were overweight suffered less heart problems if they believed they were loved by their wives, than guys who were fit and believed their wives hated them. Their belief affected their health.

While we rarely pray with a patient, we almost always pray before we work with a patient. We pray for their healing. We pray for our wisdom. We ask God to help them in ways we can't see.

A smart doctor recognizes his or her limitations. Ever hear, "he's only human"? Well humans have limitations of time, space and matter.

God, on the other hand, is infinite. His wisdom is not defined or limited by time or space or things. Connection to this source of Power is a catalyst for healing.

It is my opinion that loneliness, isolation, and lack of support create and prolong illness and interfere with healing. A rich spiritual connection with Universal Intelligence sustains people even when they are alone. Confidence, centeredness, connectedness create an environment where healing occurs. Fearful and frayed people don't heal, they hide and die.

A holistic approach includes God in the equation. The spirit in man matters more than matter matters. Beliefs and faith in ideas change the mind and inform the spirit and those things drive behavior and actions.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Melissa,

Fascinating read...and I totally agree with you! I know we've discussed this to some extent (why I no longer need to wear contacts after years of necessity). Obviously, health and wellness expand much beyond eyesight, though. I wish I lived in Texas so I could be one of your regular patients!!!

Happy Sabbath!
sts :)