Gill Stannard

Monday, April 02, 2007

Lifting our spirits

The cornerstones of naturopathic philosophy involve the nourishment of the body, mind and spirit. The body is the easiest to get a grip on. Most of us are aware we inhabit our body, understand that when we mistreat it there is pain and have experienced the frustration and limitations that are exerted through physical illness. The mind is a little more slippery. Though we’ve known of the connection between the mind and the body for many years, science and orthodox medicine have been slow to validate. But the spirit is the hardest to quantify. For years, it has been annexed by religion and dressed up in dogma – taking spirituality a long way from its roots in a celebration in and connection with, nature. In this age of scientific rationalism, the role of the spirit in wellbeing continues to be relegated to the fringes. Of course, indigenous peoples throughout the world have always known about it.

In our current society, connection with the spirit is actively discouraged. When you live, work and travel on concrete, when you spend your days in artificial light, when you have no idea what path the moon travels in the sky above you, let alone what phase it is in…our internal compass can get confused. If our feet literally do not touch the earth – we can loose the fundamental connection with nature, to which our spirit is linked.

Add into the mix an active blocking or distorting of our senses and it is no wonder we loose our sense of spirit. Music is a wonderful thing and at times a spiritual tool – but when we constantly use noise to block out nature, or our own thoughts, our ability to hear is distorted. If every time we actually walk through a natural place- a park, by the sea, in a forest – we are plugged into our ipod, our ability to sense our environment is greatly diminished.

Have you ever tried to stock up on entirely unscented products? From shampoo, to soap, moisturisers, and washing powders, almost every substance we put or wear on our body has been designed to mask our real smell. Beyond how this affects our primitive brain’s ability to sense danger or even find a biologically suitable mate – we stop smelling ourselves. This is a further step in disconnection with our spirit.

On top of this we are being constantly manipulated in increasingly clever ways, to be told what we need or want. Both blatant and subtle advertising, product placement, buzz marketing and beyond – tells us what will make us happy. A car, holiday, relationship, more money, greater status – these are only tools. But once again the internal compass has been assaulted.

That’s why we have developed so many quick fixes – food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, sugar, relationships, sex. Each of these things can be ritualistic, spiritual practices. But mostly we are seeking instant gratification which ultimately only temporarily satisfies, or leaves us with a feeling of emptiness.

If we have lost our connection with our authentic self, it is no wonder that we have stopped listening to the earth. Our planet is struggling, some would say dying, she is clearly not happy. A drought may not be a random event; perhaps in some cases it is the sign of an ailing spirit?

I often see people who basically seem lost. It has been so long since they could trust their instincts, they find decision making difficult or act of quick-fix impulses. Often this will manifest as dissatisfaction or develop into depression. But ‘lifting our spirits’ goes beyond dopamine and serotonin levels, it’s so much more than the attainment of ‘happiness’ – to me it is fundamentally reconnection; a reconnection with the earth, the sky, the self and our community. It may involve stopping and listening. It usually means slowing down, tuning in and opening awareness. Sometimes when we first attempt to do this we are easily distracted, uncomfortable or even outright unhappy. Learning to meditate in a supportive group may help you feel more comfortable with the process.

If this is too difficult - start by auditing your senses each day. Over time, this gradually rebuilds a conscious reconnection with your environment.

Daily 5 senses exercise

At the end of each day take a note of at least one smell, touch, taste, sound and sight that you have experienced. The more regularly you do this exercise the more your senses become tuned in.

Another thing you might want to note are 5 things each day you are grateful for. This is often referred to as a ‘gratitude diary’. Some days there may seem little in your life to be grateful for but it doesn’t have to be grand. Even acknowledging a roof over your head, a soft bed, a smile from a stranger, enough food in your stomach – is a good place to start.

Some people experience their spirit through a belief in a god. Pagans, who predate Christianity, believe in many gods, including a worship of the earth. But even atheists who rejects the whole notion of a higher being, are spiritual through a connected both with self, humanity and the environment.

Here are some of the things that life my spirit:

What lifts your spirit?

More resources

Ideas on journal writing, including a gratitude journal, from Oprah.

Wikipedia has an overview of spirituality (though not definitive), with lots of references.

Another take on spirituality and wellness from the Integrative Medicine Institute.

If all this is too difficult and your heart too heavy to lift – start with a simple exercise in learnt optimism

Gratitude for today’s show:

Thanks to Olivia and Tracy for sharing their thoughts, birthday boy Dave for answering the phones and Nic, as always, for the joy of being able to guest on her show.

You can thank RRR for the opportunity too by subscribing in the April Amnesty and keep the station on air.


Maria João said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria João said...

Hi :)

Just wanna say that I´ve loved this article, and I´m going to start writing my daily experiences for sure.
Keep up the good work in your blog!

Maria João

Health Trip said...

Great Maria - keep it up :)