Students need spiritual health

Part one of a five-part series on university spirituality

U.S. society today has a problem. OK, let’s not kid ourselves: U.S. society has lots of problems. But, because I’m one man, and this is one column, I’ll attempt to address a problem I see as one of the biggest. I have found that in U.S. society, while we value physical and mental health very highly, we neglect our spiritual health, and some people do not even acknowledge that it exists. Now, I realize I’m walking a thin line between religious zealot and hippie, but I’ll try hard not to waver too much to either side.

Spirituality is difficult to define without consulting some sort of religious doctrine. And because everyone has a spirit, not just religious folks, I’ll try to define spirituality in a secular fashion. Spirituality is everything that isn’t part of your physical or mental self. It is the culmination of your ethics and morals, your conscience, your self-esteem and your sense of worth in society.

Frankly, I think we’ve got ourselves a nationwide epidemic of spiritual neglect.

At this point I can hear some folks saying, “I think you, sir, are full of crap.” Fair enough. I have two reasons as to why I am not.

There was a time not too long ago when mental health wasn’t acknowledged. People with mental illnesses were possessed with demons and folks with depression simply had excess black bile in their bodies (Update: These conclusions are false). Because the symptoms of these diseases weren’t as easy to diagnose as say, the black death, the acknowledgement of mental health took some time. In fact, some folks today still believe that people suffering from depression or anxiety should just “suck it up,” despite evidence that these are, in fact, real diseases.

Spiritual health is just like mental health. Because the physical effects of spiritual health cannot be directly or immediately seen, it has taken a while to acknowledge that it is important.

That brings me to my second reason why I’m not full of crap. There are effects of spiritual neglect. The evidence is everywhere. We live in a world where corporate greed has run rampant, media caters to our libido and people kill others over things such as sexual orientation and race. If these symptoms aren’t indicative of unhealthy ethics and morals, an unhealthy conscience, low self-esteem and no sense of worth in society, I would like to know what’s causing them so we can fix it.

So, assuming spiritual decay is to blame, how do we fix it? Just like you wouldn’t eat chocolate for every meal or subject yourself to unnecessary amounts of stress, you shouldn’t indulge in orgies of gratuitously sexy movies, crude novels or violent video games. This isn’t to say that these things are inherently bad or unhealthy. When experienced in moderation they can be quite entertaining, and, dare I say it, beneficial.

Supposedly negative influences can help our spirituality if there are positive influences, spiritual carrots and peas, to balance them out.

The trick is finding these positive spiritual influences. Many people find their spiritual needs in a religion of some sort. Whether it is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Judaism, these religions have specialized in helping the spiritually unhealthy.

But, suppose you don’t buy into all that “religion” stuff. There are lots of other ways to become more spiritually healthy. Some people recharge their spiritual health in nature, whether it be planting a garden or enjoying a walk in the forest. Others enjoy experiencing art, music and theater. Still others enjoy creating art, music and theater, while meditation and yoga are other options.

Here’s the kicker: Your spiritual health can rub off on your mental and physical health. It might sound crazy, but look at the relationship between your mental and physical heath. When you feel physically ill, your mental faculties are compromised. Ever try doing school work with a fever? Same thing goes for when you feel stressed or angry. Ever get sick around finals week? Spiritual health can affect the other two in the same way. Physical health, mental health and spiritual health are all in the same boat. If one is compromised, the others can soon fail as well. I’m not saying that if you enjoy watching “Evil Dead” every week or love backstabbing your roommate you’ll turn schizophrenic and start throwing up all over. But we do spend a lot of energy focusing on our mental and physical health, and the same effort should be exercised concerning our spiritual health.

Chad Hamblin is a University student. Send comments to [email protected]