What do we mean by spiritual wellness?
This week’s installment of Guilt Trip tries to unpack the meaning of spirituality as it becomes more of a hot topic on campus.
Today I was surprised to find that the notion of spiritual wellness is trending on campus. Next Wednesday, for instance, the Office of the University Chaplain is hosting a “common meal” with the Student Wellness Project on the topic. While discussions on wellness are now fairly common on campus, the Facebook event points out, spirituality is often left out of the picture.
Exploring the term further, SWP writes: “The word ‘spiritual’ is not limited to religious considerations. At the core of spiritual wellness is the question of how to make life meaningful and how to find harmony with oneself.”
So what are others’ ideas about “spiritual wellness?” In his otherwise excellent column in today’s paper, Mark Hay talks about the importance of spiritual wellness to our overall sanity, but doesn’t really give a concrete definition of what spirituality is other than that it has something to do with beliefs and/or religious observances. He concludes that the biggest factor in students not paying enough attention to their spiritual wellness is time: “If you are one of those individuals who has ceased to focus on his or her spiritual well-being out of time concerns, or out of the belief that other matters are more important, but deep down you still feel you have some beliefs, try over the next week to cut out 30 minutes every two or three days to do what makes you feel spiritually well.”
As someone who spends a good deal of time thinking about spirituality, I am excited to see people talking about this somewhat taboo topic on campus. I agree with Mark in that spirituality is a crucial aspect of our well-being, and that Columbia students don’t give themselves enough of a chance to pinpoint what makes them whole. But one difficulty in urging students to spend time developing their spirituality is that it’s really easy to throw the word around, assuming we know what we mean by it.
Granted, there are probably as many different interpretations of spirituality here as there are students, but that doesn’t let us off the hook for defining it.
So, here’s my stab at the term. At its core, spirituality is our attempt to answer the biggest and hardest questions, like what makes us get up in the morning? What’s our understanding of how we fit into the “grand scheme of things?” Is this life all there is? What in life brings us the most joy? I would say that giving ourselves time for spirituality first and foremost means addressing and not ignoring these questions. Religious observances can be a part of that, but in my experience it can be easy to go along with religion without getting to the heart of these kinds of questions. Delving into spirituality can be as simple as thinking critically about religious or philosophical texts in core classes or asking a friend about what makes her attend religious services.
We’ve got a ways to go before these topics are less foreign to our campus. So big kudos to Mark, SWP and the Chaplain’s Office for getting the conversation started.
“Guilt Trip” runs on Wednesdays.
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