A guest post written by Ingrid Peschke, a Christian Science practitioner and a legislative advocate for spiritual healing in Massachusetts. You can also read this post on her weekly syndicated blog, “Health Conscious” at MetroWest Daily News.
That’s the word I came away with this past weekend after I took part in a panel discussion on the topic of “Spirit and Healing in the 21st Century” at the Open Spirit Center in Framingham. The motto for the center: “A place of hope, health, and harmony” to address the deeper spiritual yearnings of the wider community.
I joined four local spiritual leaders on the panel, along with two keynote speakers: a clinical psychologist with a specialization in health psychology, and a cancer survivor.
A repeating theme was that spiritual practice is incredibly important, if not vital, to healing. Nancy Gaulin, the psychologist, opened the 3-hour event, speaking from her twelve years of experience in the greater Boston area. She said she spends more time now asking her patients about their spirituality and exploring their beliefs, their morals and values, and even discussing their family upbringing–all contributing factors to health and well-being.
These are some of the words Dr. Gaulin’s patients have used to describe their spiritual experience: humility, serenity, peace, inner calm, gratitude, forgiveness, grace, optimism, direction/purpose in life, compassion, connection to self and others, hope.
It’s no secret that some of the necessary lifestyle changes that help with achieving well-being are more exercise, eating better and less, avoiding drugs and alcohol, etc. But Dr. Gaulin also shared some helpful practices that stem from “best thinking practices” vs. “best physical practices”: demonstrate empathy, actively listen, be non-judgmental, be aware, remain curious, be patient, teach forgiveness, reflect back, hold hope.
These habits, which begin with disciplining each thought that occurs to oneself, end up having a positive effect on physical well-being as well.
It’s hard to fathom a person facing illness being told that they should have no hope of getting better–because hope is the doorway that aids in expecting wholeness around the corner. I think of hope as coming from a deep spiritual well within us all that reminds us of our innate goodness, and eventually deepens into confidence and trust in the possibility of good as a permanent feature in our lives.
Hope prompts a person to see more then what they presently see. Scripture says it is our connection to God: “Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you” (Psalms 25: 5). Hippocrates echoed this sentiment when he said that “The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force for getting well.”
There are well-documented studies on the scientific and physiological effects of hope, some of which are referenced in Jerome Groopman’s book “The Anatomy of Hope,” where he writes: “Researchers are learning that a change in mind-set has the power to alter neurochemistry.”
Groopman says belief and expectation are the key elements of hope and can even block pain by “releasing the brain’s endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine. In some cases, hope can also have important effects on fundamental physiological processes like respiration, circulation and motor function.”
During the panel discussion, I shared the book that has been both a spiritual and health guide for me, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” authored by Mary Baker Eddy. Eddy believed in the importance of not suppressing a patient’s hope in the healing process. She wrote, “Physicians, whom the sick employ in their helplessness, should be models of virtue. They should be wise spiritual guides to health and hope.”
Hope isn’t a pill. It doesn’t cost anything and it comes with no negative side-effects. How often do you hear that in today’s health care system?