Editor’s Note: MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.
I recently went to a Buddhist retreat. The funny thing is, I’m not even a Buddhist. Actually, I wasn’t raised in any kind of church. As a matter of fact, my ignorance about religion has been rather awkward and embarrassing at times in my life.
Though I have spent more time in my life with books about gardening than I have with sacred texts, even I know that spirituality is an important part of a person’s health. When the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) came up with the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, spiritual health was listed alongside aspects like physical, emotional and intellectual health.
So it is no surprise that the MAPP Steering Committee would include a minister alongside representatives from places like the hospital, mental health center and the college. Even with my awkwardness in regards to religion, it was a joy to talk to Reverend Lisa Talbott, pastor of the Homer United Methodist Church, about the role spirituality plays in community health.
Pastor Lisa pointed out that just talking about spirituality is a big step. We all have a belief system of some sort, but there are barriers to talking about it. She is great at breaking down these barriers whether they are built out of fear, shame or guilt, or even worry over treading on someone else’s beliefs.
She points out that even though each person has a different and deeply personal path, every spiritual tradition has certain elements, including:
• Cultivating compassion;
• Expressing gratitude;
• Finding the Sacred; and
• Creating connections.
Is there anything in that list that wouldn’t improve a person’s well-being?
Many parts of my conversation with Pastor Lisa reminded me of conversations a person could have with any health-care provider. As she described religion as a set of guidelines of discipline, I couldn’t help but compare it to exercise.
Just like an exercise routine improves a person’s health, a spiritual discipline also improves a person’s health. (As the nerd in me loves to point out and SAMHSA shows, it has been scientifically proven to be true.)
Lisa and I spent a lot of time talking about connection. It’s ironic because other groups working to improve community health with MAPP have been working on the same topic.
The more connected we are, the more resilient our community is. Our connections and relationships are what we fall back on in tough times so all aspects of our health depend on their strength.
After talking with Lisa, it was clear how spirituality weaves through every aspect of our connections with ourselves, others and our community. Our connection to ourselves is defined by how we know ourselves, learn to love and accept ourselves and live our lives so that they match our beliefs. We can nurture our connections to others as we get to know them and learn to love and accept them no matter their beliefs. And on a grander level, believing in something bigger than ourselves is key to spiritual health.
As Lisa puts it, spiritual “dis-ease” comes from lacking connection. Simply put, this is when we are not connected to ourselves, our relationships to others are not feeding us and we don’t have a bigger picture to connect to for guidance. This is why 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous encourage connection to a high power. Having something larger than ourselves to look up to can help us break out of the daily troubles.
Lisa points out that here in Homer we have a constant subtle reminder of something bigger than ourselves by just looking out the window at the wilderness, mountains and ocean. We are lucky that we live in a place with so many aspects that support us.
At one point Lisa described praying together with her Hindu roommate in seminary. I love adding that image of connection to my image of our community. The more diverse our community is, the more forms of support and connection we can realize. I may have gone to a Buddhist retreat to learn about mindfulness, but I can recognize that it is the same as the practice of prayer in other traditions.
As we connect as a community, hopefully the conversation can continue to include spiritual health as a key component of the conversation. It will only help us to define what will move us forward and what holds us back so we can, together, improve our community health.
Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.