Spiritual health isn’t a common term, but perhaps it should be. Our emotional, mental, social and physical health are enormously affected by our state of spiritual well-being. It deserves to be on our radar.
Although the basic concept is increasingly recognized, a comprehensive definition is difficult to come by. In simple terms, our spiritual health is based on non-physical elements such as our beliefs, attitudes, philosophy of life, quality of relationships. In spite of its personal nature, there seems to be a surprising consistency across cultures and faiths around how spiritual health is cultivated and maintained.
The spiritual journey is a common motif. It’s natural that our beliefs, attitudes and behaviours will initially be those we’ve copied or absorbed from our family, peers and cultural milieu. But, regardless of the quality of the terrain we’ve grown in, achieving our potential as human beings requires that we weigh that received wisdom, embarking our own journey of spiritual discovery.
A well-known characterization of our spiritual journey in Bahá’í literature is Bahá’u’lláh’s mystical work The Seven Valleys, echoing time-honoured texts from different times and cultures. The soul progresses through various stages of spiritual development, becoming enraptured with love, enthralled by knowledge and eventually experiencing oneness.
O My brother! Until thou enter the Egypt of love, thou shalt never gaze upon the Joseph-like beauty of the Friend; and until, like Jacob, thou forsake thine outward eyes, thou shalt never open the eye of thine inward being; and until thou burn with the fire of love, thou shalt never find thyself in true yearning’s embrace.
According to Bahá’í teachings, it’s our responsibility to independently search for truth. An unbiased search connects us to the transcendent, to our true selves and also, as Abdu’l-Bahá explained, to each other:
First, man must independently investigate reality, for the disagreements and dissensions which afflict and affect humanity primarily proceed from imitations of ancestral beliefs… They are the outcomes of human interpretations and teachings which have arisen, gradually obscuring the real light of divine meaning and causing men to differ and dissent. The reality proclaimed in the heavenly Books and divine teachings is ever conducive to love, unity and fellowship.
The spiritual journey is a hero’s journey long known in myth, poetry and drama: archetypal but intensely personal. It’s impossible to judge whether one person’s stormy tests are worse than another’s endless languishing. We all battle whatever demon of the day arises, drawing our gaze to depths darkened by our own self-absorption, resentment, bitterness, and hatred.
Success in this journey is defined by any motion in the opposite direction, towards the joyful and expansive apex of the arc of spiritual health. The more closely our attitudes and actions are guided by principles encouraged by the great traditions – such as truth, love, and service – the keener our sense of purpose and well-being. Courage, trustworthiness and generosity are the merest few among the pantheon of our superpowers, virtues available to all but only acquired through practice. Just as hard work determines character, character determines our spiritual health.
Spiritual health is neither pre-determined nor permanent. Our stories are snowflake replicas of our life decisions, each one different, yet all the same. Victor Frankl’s classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, is an incredible story of spiritual strength and resilience. The same spirit shines in the sweetness, generosity and good humour of our Syrian friends who lost everything but their full and grateful hearts. We’re all, every one of us, fundamentally spiritual beings, worthy and capable of joy. Being conscious of it is the first step of the journey.
Sheila Flood is a member of the Bahá’í community of Saanich and Chair of the Victoria Multifaith Society.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiriually Speaking HERE