With South Africa’s rich history and shameful past – where our identities were distorted – young people constantly battle to maintain our sense of belonging in the context of faith, spirituality and tradition. Where the gospels are preached as the only true path, we often find ourselves struggling to make sense of our own beliefs.
I grew up with parents who knew of the gospel but also strongly believed in ancestors. Although my mother was a praying mother, we were never taught to go to church. I grew up praising my forefathers. When someone was sick, our first reliance would be incense and traditional herbs. All the events in our lives were said to be connected to our ancestors, including our achievements, misfortunes and health.
My grandmother used to burn incense and praise our ancestors while kneeling on a mat of woven grass. She called upon them to protect us whenever we left home for school after the holidays. During thunderstorms, she’d tell us to stand outside and call on our forefathers to make the lightning go away. Somehow it always worked, even though I didn’t understand how. I felt deeply connected to them.
Although I went to a Roman Catholic school where morning prayers and sermons were regularly held, I was hardly connected to the surroundings and the preaching. I only knew my ancestors as my protector. To this day, the concept of God confuses me. But, how does one unlearn childhood teachings and beliefs? I know faith, in my own understanding of it and I have applied it where necessary. I have had faith in my ancestors since I was young, I believe in their existence and, as a black woman, I have been able to communicate with them through dreams.
We are influenced by different things and different people as we grow and learn new things. After years at university, I’ve come to experience the pressure of being a young black South African woman who has to conform to the gospel’s teachings and the idea that Jesus is life. It’s either we are a lost generation who beseech guidance from God, who is said to be our saviour, or through our ancestors who keep track of our roots and origins. I have come to understand that the gospel, in a way, does work for those who believe in it. However, it shouldn’t overshadow the existence of tradition and customs.
I have friends who are in the same boat. “At home we strongly believe in ancestors and it’s always been that way. I don’t have a problem with religion but I’m more in touch with my tradition,” says Zamaswazi Mdhluli (22). As much as we are connected to our forefathers, there’s an underlying confusion about the intersection of faith, spirituality and our ancestors.
But there are also those who believe in what they see as the true gospel. Xolile Nzama (25) is a born-again Christian. “There’s only one truth and it’s through God. We cannot be foolish enough to think that ancestors are our protectors. God is the only creator and protector,” she says.
This confusion – religion vs culture – usually stems from the people we surround ourselves with, especially our supposedly “woke” counterparts who consider tradition to be outdated. But our origins are what give us a sense of belonging and belief, they inform our identities, and not everyone is able or willing to trade one for the other.
For a long time I’ve been defined by culture and tradition; “isiphandla” (the wristband made from a piece of skin cut from a goat or a cow) has always been that one symbol that reassures me of my connection to my ancestors. In the years I’ve been independent, I’ve never been to church and I haven’t found anything wrong with my life. Whenever I feel like I’m stumbling and my life is heading down a precarious path, I always turn to my ancestors for guidance. It has always worked for me.
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“I would remind any newly diagnosed woman of a promise of God in the words of Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” – Rev. Drew Angus
As cancer care evolves, healthcare providers are realizing that patients need a holistic approach to care – one where spirituality, love and compassionate care are a part of the patient’s treatment journey. Rev. Drew Angus shares his work at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), supporting patients, caregivers and loved ones of those affected by cancer.
MK: You have a very unique role at CTCA, as the Director of Spiritual Outreach.
DA: Every patient who comes into our hospital is part of a larger community. My role is to develop spiritual cancer care leaders in these community congregations through a curriculum developed by CTCA called Our Journey of Hope. This program trains congregation leaders to build a compassionate and faith-based cancer care ministry.
MK: Why is spiritual support such an important part of caring for breast cancer patients or any patient with cancer?
DA: A diagnosis of cancer and the journey requires endurance during a time of extreme vulnerability. Cancer can destabilize our sense of control. Spiritual support helps people build hope and remain grounded in something much bigger than themselves or cancer. Spiritual support is where cancer patients and their families often find courage, and a strong identity as a child of God when others may not come through for them.
MK: How do you integrate spirituality into patient care at CTCA?
DA By listening. Our pastoral care team listens and provides spiritual support for each patient. It is not unusual for a doctor to pray with a patient or for a patient’s caregiver to participate in our support groups.
MK: What are some of the most important needs of patient?
DA: Going through cancer treatment can feel like a second job. It can be overwhelming to manage the coordination of treatments, doctors’ appointments, medication, rest time and insurance, along with the normal activities of life that don’t stop with a cancer diagnosis. Patients can find it hard to keep up. Having a support team helps the person to stay connected to the parts of life that bring joy and meaning.
MK: What role does faith play in cancer treatment, recovery and survivorship?
DA: According to the research of Harold Koenig, M.D., Director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, “People with strong faith who suffer from physical illness have significantly better outcomes than less religious people.” There is a growing body of research that indicates that faith plays a significant role in the overall health, wellness, and recovery for those with illness.
MK: How do you help men integrate spirituality into the caregiver realm, so they better support their spouses?
DA: Sometimes caregivers are referred to as the ‘healthy patient’, because they go through many of the same struggles as those who are ill, but don’t receive as much support. Isolation, fear and fatigue are challenges for patients and caregivers. Men typically like a problem that they can fix and might be less likely to admit how they are feeling than women. At CTCA, we have a men’s support group for both patients and caregivers to share what they are experiencing, and to support each other spiritually and through prayer. Spiritual care is crucial for men so that they have divine and human connection to express what they are going through, and to have the resources they need to support their spouses well. Men who are caregivers need permission to draw strength from God so they have enough to give for their spouse.
MK: How do you help children integrate spirituality to better cope with having a mother diagnosed with breast cancer?
DA: Mothers are a source of stability, safety and nurturing for their children. When a child experiences his or her mother being diagnosed with cancer, it can be one of the most threatening and stressful events that can happen to that child. Many children, like adults, find stability and peace through spiritual rituals that remind them of God’s loving presence in all circumstances. When a child has a spiritual community, they feel less alone. When children have opportunities to verbalize their feelings, they are less inclined to be consumed with fear. An integrated spiritual life for kids also enables them to ask hard questions that they might not otherwise verbalize.
MK: What would be your grandest vision for the integration of faith and spirituality into cancer care?
DA: My grandest vision of spirituality and cancer care would be that every health system would acknowledge the benefits and provide for spiritual care as a part of the treatment plan.
MK: How has ministering with faith to breast cancer patients changed you?
DA: It has renewed my hope in humanity. I have seen breast cancer organizations, like Tigerlily Foundation, use power altruistically for the betterment of society. I have seen community organizations use education to influence the government and to change policy, an our culture. I am inspired by all the grass roots efforts I see for breast cancer awareness and support.
MK: How has this work deepened your relationship with God?
DA: My prayers are filled with much more gratitude than they were several years ago. I take less for granted and see all the ways God blesses and provides for his children. When I start complaining, I picture one of my sisters with breast cancer holding down a job, raising kids, caring for parents and having chemo…all at the same time!
MK: What one word defines you?
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Some stress relief tools are very tangible: exercising more, eating healthy foods and talking with friends. A less tangible — but no less useful — way to find stress relief is through spirituality.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality has many definitions, but at its core spirituality helps to give your life context. It’s not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life.
For many, spirituality takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it can be found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Spirituality is different for everyone.
How can spirituality help with stress relief?
Spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and overall mental health. It can help you:
1. Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
2. Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you may feel — even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
3. Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you may realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
4. Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
5. Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual may be better able to cope with stress and may experience health benefits.
Discovering your spirituality
Uncovering your spirituality may take some self-discovery. Here are some questions to ask yourself to discover what experiences and values define you:
1. What are your important relationships?
2. What do you value most in your life?
3. What people give you a sense of community?
4. What inspires you and gives you hope?
5. What brings you joy?
6. What are your proudest achievements?
The answers to such questions can help you identify the most important people and experiences in your life. With this information, you can focus your search for spirituality on the relationships and activities in life that have helped define you as a person and those that continue to inspire your personal growth.
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In such a crazy and hectic world, it’s not odd for people to want to connect more to their spiritual side. Humans are predispositioned to be spiritual beings, making them want to tap into faith, religion and spirituality.
There is no right way for someone to be spiritual. Becoming spiritual is unique to each person and is effected by what they believe in, their personality, and their past. Some people find comfort and happiness through structured and laid out religions, while others can find spirituality through yoga and meditation.
Whatever your heart believes in, we all want to be strong in our faith and beliefs. Spiritual growth is the basis for a better and more harmonious life. It helps you become free of fear and anxiety, and lets your learn how to connect with yourself.
Here are tips on how we can become more spiritual.
There are mentors and guides for every faith and religion, and these people will help you on your spiritual journey. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are also spiritual, so you can speak with them about questions, concerns or doubts you have. Finding one person that you trust and respect to be your mentor will help you during the difficult times. They can give you wisdom and perspective you wouldn’t have been able to find on your own. Have regular meetings with them to discuss where you are spiritually, your goals for growth, and how they can help.
Weather it’s the bible, the Quran, a yoga book, or a book by your favorite spiritual author, reading about faith and spirituality will help you understand it more. Pick books that are important to your personal religious choices or venture out into new territory. Either way, you will learn more about what it means to be spiritual and how it applies to you. Devote time each week to read and write down your thoughts. Reflect on the passages you read and figure out a plan for how you can apply the information you learned in your life.
Weather you spend time praying, meditating or something similar, one of the best ways to increase your spirituality is contemplating daily. To do so, create a quiet atmosphere in solitude where you can let your mind reflect on your day, your spirituality, and your goals. Finding a space that is quiet and calm is important for reducing distractions that will take you way from the contemplative state. With repetitive practice, you will be able to understand more about yourself, have a strong relationship with your God or higher being, and have less stress, anxiety and anger.
Letting go of control of your life can be hard, but is important for spiritual growth. Surrendering yourself to God or higher beings means you trust them fully with the plan they have for your life. To do this, you have to let go of worry, micromanagement, doubt and fear and continually resist following these tendencies. Instead, you let the spirit allow opportunities to come your way, where doors will open for you just like they are supposed to. The outcome you are trying so hard to force may not be as good for you as the one that comes naturally.
Many of us have left the church, youth groups, or other religious circles out of pure boredom. That is not what being spiritual is supposed to be about. Instead, let your spiritual side become a creative outlet infused with play. Make a vision board yearly to help you visualize your desires and goals for your spiritual journey, and hang it up to help you feel inspired and excited. Create a weekly coffee-date with a few of your friends who are on the same spiritual path as you, and discuss a new topic each week. Through ideas like these, growing spiritually will be something you want to do, as opposed to something you feel forced to do.
Being thankful for everything you have been blessed with is a huge way to become a more spiritual person. By thanking God, the universe, or whatever higher being you believe in for your gifts in life will make you an overall happier, patient and considerate person. Instead of thinking “the world is out to get me” you are changing your mind to be thankful for what you do have, which isn’t always in your control. Instead, you’re handing that control to a higher spirit that you know is blessing you the way they should.
Spiritual growth is important for everyone. It is the key to a life of happiness and peace of mind, and the manifesting the enormous power of your inner self. These tips will help you grow in your personal spiritual journey.
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This sound bath took place on the roof of NeueHouse in Hollywood, far above the noise of Sunset Boulevard traffic.
Courtesy Lord James
Cindy Capobianco was getting high and going to sound baths before many even knew what the Integratron was. The California-transplant with a long history in fashion and marketing, said it was in the mid-’90s when she first smoked a joint and headed inside the UFO-looking structure in the desert, to be calmed and spiritualized by this type of aurally-enhanced meditation.
“It was totally a transformative experience,” she said. “No one was really thinking about sound baths back then.”
Traditionally, sound bathers stretch out on some type of cushion or yoga mat, close their eyes and let the gentle reverberations of gongs and crystal bowls wash over them. If you weren’t stoned before the bath, you may feel that familiar sense of calm and Zen after. It’s this natural link between the two that has led an increasing number of California cannabis brands to host “medicated” versions of these sonic experiences, where they offer a sample of their products followed by a 45-minute or hour-long sound bath.
“The experience is very calming, very centering, you feel kind of like your best self,” said Capobianco, owner and co-founder of cannabis luxury edibles and topicals brand, Lord Jones.
Based in Los Angeles, Lord Jones, co-founded by Capobianco’s husband, Robert Rosenheck, has made a name for itself through its sophisticated marketing, artisanal approach to edibles, and creatively “cool” factor. Its logo is a crest of deer and birds. Its slogan is “For Your Royal Highness.” Even the orange of its packaging suggests superiority in its subtle resemblance to the Veuve Clicquot. This eliteness reached new heights earlier this year when Lord Jones teamed up with Iceland’s ethereal rockers Sigur Rós to host a vibey, newfangled sound bath for L.A.’s musically-inclined.
An image from the Lord Jones Summer Solstice sound bath held on the roof of NeueHouse under the direction of a sound healer named Torkom Ji.
Courtesy Lord Jones
Capobianco had already organized a handful of more traditional sound baths — complete with crystal balls and Lord Jones products — prior to this marquee event. While most of these baths took place on the roof of Hollywood’s NeueHouse, far above the sounds of the Sunset Boulevard traffic, the Sigur Rós event attracted more than 250 people and was hosted in a massive, darkened studio inside the multi-use creative work space.
With mattresses covering the floor and a huge, light-up orb that hung from the ceiling and glowed in response to musical beats, guests — as well as the band — popped a low-dose, all-natural weed gum drop (a special “Wild Sigurberry” edition that channels Icelandic wild berries) and let themselves be awash in the live performance of Sigur Rós.
“It was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives,” said Capobianco. “It was just like one state of mind. You felt so connected to everyone else and their consciousness.”
The event was especially meaningful to Capobianco and her husband, who have an intimate connection to the Reykjavík rockers.
“Our twin daughters were born to Sigur Rós, it was playing in the delivery room,” said Capobianco.
Lord Jones has always prioritized health and wellness, she said, and cannabis’ “restorative and relaxation properties” work in harmony with the meditative aspects of sound baths. One sugar-coated gumdrop can help people connect more deeply to themselves, their body and the energies of those around them, she said. Like most modern edibles, Lord Jones’ gum drops, sea salt caramels, and espresso chews all have their THC and CBD components explicitly labelled. This is key to a successful cannabis experience, said Capobianco, and contrary to the old days when strong weed cookies would be haphazardly wrapped in a plastic bag with a piece of paper stapled to it. It was a “total crapshoot” figuring out how much to eat.
“Sometimes you’d have a great experience, and sometimes you’d trip balls,” she said.
At the event outside John Muir woods, participants laid down on yoga mats with bowls on their bellies to more deeply feel the audio vibrations.
North of L.A., cannabis company hmbldt hosted Northern California’s answer to the medicated Hollywood sound baths of Lord Jones. Just outside the picturesque John Muir Woods (weed is not allowed on federal grounds), 65 people gathered for a “guided journey” that included a hike followed by an hour-long sound bath. Despite its name — and where its product originates — hmbldt’s operations are all based in Santa Monica, and its marketing manager Ryan Hamilton said that promoting healthy lifestyles has been a longstanding priority for the company.
Weed-inclusive sound baths are simply another way to force people to slow down, take a step back from the everyday stress of life and open themselves up, said Hamilton. It’s a form of “sonically-enhanced meditation,” he said.
“You walk away feeling healthier and happier and better about yourself,” he said.
At hmbldt’s June event, the leader of the bath sat atop a pillow in an airy, sun-filled room and was surrounded by gongs, bowls and pillows. In addition to the leader aka sound healer gently playing the assortment of ancient instruments, participants could have one of the bowls placed on their stomach during the session in order to physically feel the vibrations first-hand. This whole experience is of course enhanced by hmbldt’s carefully calibrated dose pens, which participants puff prior to the bath. There’s six formulas to choose from — bliss, sleep, calm, relief, arouse and passion — and most are high CBD to THC ratios, meaning participants relax their bodies without losing their minds.
Hamilton said he got the idea for the medicated sound bath from a non-cannabis version he attended in the Bay Area a few years back. Then, he attended one of Lord Jones’ L.A. events and was further convinced it was a natural fit for the company. In addition to the NorCal event, hmbldt participated in a sound bath in Long Beach this July, and have plans to bring the practice to L.A. this fall.
These bowls can be placed on a person’s stomach during the sound bath so that they are able to feel the vibrations more deeply
While hmbldt joins a small pool of cannabis companies’ adopting the sound bath practice, the larger concept of using weed to enhance a healthy and spiritual lifestyle is one that’s exploded in recent years. From cannabis-fueled hikes and yoga sessions, to the 420 Games and weed-based gyms, many brands have made it their mission to repeal the “stoner” stereotype. In May in Monterey, Cannabis Healing Solutions hosted a mash-up yoga and sound bath event, and in August in L.A., Mahogany Mary’s combined these two spiritual sessions with cannabis-infused snacks.
For Lord Jones’ Capobianco, her intention was always to be a health and wellness brand. They currently sell CBD-infused body lotions that have “incredible recovery benefits” pre or post-workout, she said. While she respects the stoner culture for the trail it has blazed, Lord Jones caters to a new generation of consumers, who, like herself, prefer to smoke a joint and go for a hike.
We believe in the restorative and relaxation properties of cannabis, said Capobianco, and the needs of Lord Jones’ patients have driven much of their research and development. For example, through one of their patients, Capobianco discovered that the cooling component in their lotion was too intense for her neuropathic condition, so Lord Jones formulated a CBD oil without it for all patients who may have a similar experience or condition.
“We didn’t think we’d become caregivers when we got into this business, but it’s become the blessing of our lives,” said Capobianco.
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It is natural for human intelligence to seek what is life and beyond – to look at life and to long to know. So how can you avoid spirituality? You have managed to avoid it for a long time because you are deeply attached and identified with things that you are not. When I say things that you are not, it includes your body and your mind. Once you are identified with something that you are not, your intelligence is twisted out. It cannot see anything straight because from then on, it works only from that identity. Suppose you say, “I am a woman,” the way you think, the way you feel, everything is like a woman. You got identified with a few body parts. Your intelligence cannot see anything straight.
This is the reason a “spiritual program” becomes necessary. If people were not twisted out, spirituality would be a natural thing. It would not be something that someone has to teach you and remind you of. It is very natural for you to look around and see that there seems to be something beyond the physicality of life – it is so simple to know it. It is unbelievable how such a large segment of population goes without noticing it. If you just close your eyes for two minutes, you can see that you seem to be a little more than a body. So why does someone have to come and remind you?
Anyone can see it, but just a handful of people do, because right from childhood, everybody around you is a vested interest. Everybody is encouraging you to get identified with them. Your parents want you to get identified with them, your teachers want you to get identified with them and their kind of education, your leaders and others want you to get identified with their nation, caste, creed and whatever else, because everybody has their own agenda, their own desire to gather people and use them for their purposes.
I am not saying all the activity that is being done is of no worth. There is worth to it, but just because you are doing something, there is no need to be identified with it, even if it is extremely useful. The moment you get identified, you get twisted out, and twisted out human beings cannot truly bring wellbeing to people. The moment you are identified with something, you split the world into a million pieces. Once you split everything in your perception, everything that you do will only enhance that split and that is not for the ultimate wellbeing of humanity at all.
In a way, it is really a shame that we have to go about reminding people about their spirituality. We want the spiritual process to become a part of living culture. Like how a mother teaches a child to brush his teeth, we want the spiritual process to become like that – without any effort, without the mother knowing about it, she teaches her child the spiritual process. It was so in this culture just a generation or two ago. Even today in India, the essence of the spiritual process is not controlled by any one organization. There is no one guiding and controlling it as it is done in other parts of the world. It is just a part of one’s life. Everyone teaches it the way they know it. The spiritual process was made so much a part of life.
It has been left unregulated like this because it was never an organized process of religion. It was just various methods for one’s evolution. This country is the only godless country on the planet because there is no concretized idea of God here. Anyone can worship whatever they feel like. People are worshipping all kinds of things. There is no such word as “heretic” in India because every human being has some sense of love or devotion towards something. Somebody loves their mother, somebody loves their god, somebody loves money, somebody loves their work, somebody loves their dog, somebody loves their cow. It does not matter what, he is on the spiritual path. The question is just whether his spiritual path is feeble or strong; but there is nobody who is not on the path. Everybody is on the path in his own erratic way.
Ranked amongst the fifty most influential people in India, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, visionary and bestselling author. The head of Isha Foundation, Sadhguru has been conferred the “Padma Vibhushan” by the Government of India in 2017, the highest civilian award of the year, accorded for exceptional and distinguished service. http://isha.sadhguru.org/
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ALLIANCE, Neb. — Minutes before the eclipse, clouds covered the sun at Carhenge. Some 200 people stood among the old autos, itching to take off their glasses. It was windy and people were quiet.
Blake Marnell was nervous but hopeful that the 2,000 miles he’d driven from San Diego weren’t for naught.
Then the clouds shifted, the wind stopped, and the moon passed completely in front of the sun.
“Turn it off!” cried Joe Pezzillo, an entrepreneur from Boulder. “Let it be dark!”
For more than two minutes, people cried out at the eclipse, cheering, exclaiming. “Wow!”
Marnell didn’t pick up his camera. “I’m taking a picture right now,” the retail manager said. “Focusing on laying down the memory tracks.”
The sky on the horizon turned pink and orange. The crowd seemed charged by some kind of mystical energy.
When a bright curve of sun began to reappear, the crowd began cheering again.
“That was pretty incredible,” Marnell said. “I didn’t realize it was going to be so spectacular.”
And it was “totality” worth the long drive. “From a secular standpoint,” he offered, “I imagine this is as close as you can get to spirituality in science.”
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For more than a decade, researchers have been studying the degree to which patients reported receiving spiritual support from their medical team. While chaplaincy is well-established within health care institutions, these studies got me wondering about what is being done at a more grass-roots level to engage providers and front line staff in addressing patients’ spiritual and emotional needs.
I started by asking Larry Dossey, M.D., whose 1993 book Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine made many of his medical colleagues call him a heretic for praying for his patients. Dossey points to the vast troves of data that demonstrate how thoughts and intentions can influence human biology; this could be called prayer, he says, but in a secular sense is considered healing thoughts, intentionality, love or compassion.
You don’t have to be a religious leader, says Dossey, to have a positive therapeutic effect on another person. This observation may sound simple but is important, according to Dossey, and often flies in the face of accepted neuroscience, which contends that your thoughts are confined to your own brain and body. The data show something different, insists Dossey: Consciousness is fundamental to the care process and can make a difference. He should know — he has authored more than 20 books on related topics.
This is delicate territory for caregivers, and one needs to tread carefully in a hospital setting. Nevertheless, hospitals of many kinds often don’t see spiritual care as out of the ordinary.
For example, at San Francisco-based Dignity Health, which operates hospitals and health care facilities in Arizona, California and Nevada, honoring the spiritual needs of patients and providers is very much steeped in the organization’s healing mission, given that it was founded by Catholic sisters, says Christina Fernandez, senior vice president for mission integration and spirituality. “Starting on the very first day of orientation, new employees are coached in our mission standards, one of which includes that we honor the spiritual life at work,” says Fernandez. They have three ways of talking about this.
“First is our relationships with each other, our selves and what we consider sacred,” says Fernandez. “Many things may come in the way of that during the day, but we have to recognize that when a patient enters the hospital, they are often in crisis and we need to ensure we are able to meet that need.
“Second, work has to have meaning, which is not hard to do in the health care field,” says Fernandez, “given we want people to get well and this work can be very rewarding.
“Finally,” she says, “we need time get in touch with ourselves, center ourselves and prepare for these challenges.” Dignity calls this moment a “reflective pause,” and has launched a systemwide Take 2 Minutes campaign to encourage all employees to explore the healing benefits of mindfulness. Anecdotal information is showing this initiative has been well received, and Dignity Health is planning to study its impact on patient and employee satisfaction.
Lori Knutson R.N., administrative director for integrative health and medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, has been developing its Five Pillars program — nutrition, activity, sleep, resilience and purpose — to help patients focus on their health and well-being goals. “Rather than focusing on the therapies we offer,” she says, “we want to understand what it means to the patient to be well, and we find that ‘purpose’ is key. What gives you meaning in life? How strong are your social connections? Where do you find strength and purpose? All these are crucial questions that can determine and impact other factors like nutrition, sleep or physical activity.”
Every patient is given a “meaning of life” survey to understand strengths and weaknesses in each of his or her five pillars. When a patient is admitted to the hospital, health coaches (trained nurses) go through the survey with the patient and offer support and direction as needed. Knutson says Hackensack Meridian has developed an algorithm with a risk stratification based on level of “purpose” and offers patients appropriate resources such as health coaching, reading materials, a referral to spiritual care or behavioral health at no charge. It is willing to bear the cost in hopes of better patient outcomes (the program is six months old), given current reimbursement models that include bundles of care.
In the same vein, the Veterans Health Administration is rolling out a new care model built around the patient rather than the disease or ailment. Emanating from the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, and under the leadership of Tracy Gaudet, M.D., its executive director, 18 pilot sites throughout the VA health system have been funded to experiment with the care they want to provide and how. The intent is to re-orient care delivery toward developing a plan for each patient based on his or her own aspirations and desires. A variety of approaches are being studied to adapt the care model, including training primary care providers, developing health coaching skills, and offering yoga or meditation.
Ben Kligler, M.D., national director of the Integrative Health Coordinating Center, says that another key component of the program is a new cadre of “health partners” — veterans who are trained in listening and eliciting information in a nonclinical setting. Every new veteran entering the system, as well as existing patients, will be assigned a health partner to help him or her define aspirations and purpose in life. This approach, says Kligler, will allow the VA to better design care for each patient.
While completely reorienting your workplace culture may seem daunting, there are small steps your hospital or health system can take to get started:
Demonstrating to your staff that your organization values and believes in honoring the spiritual needs of your patients, by starting with them, will create a workforce committed to your goals for healing and compassion.
Sita Ananth, M.H.A.,is a Napa, Calif.–based consultant and writer specializing in wellness, community health and complementary medicine. She is also a regular contributor to H&HN’s website.
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the policy of the American Hospital Association.
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What do Northeastern neuroscientist Rebecca Shansky and the Dalai Lama have in common? They are both interested in how people heal from trauma.
On Aug. 17, Shansky will join academic researchers, spiritual scholars, and African humanitarian leaders for a two-day conference in Botswana. The event, “Botho/Ubuntu: A Dialogue on Spirituality, Science and Humanity with the Dalai Lama,” will bring these diverse experts into conversation with each other to better understand how to help African communities mend after historical conflict.
Each speaker will share a different perspective on Ubuntu, an African philosophy that translates to “I am because you are.” In Western psychology, the concept is similar to empathy.
Examining stress one neuron at a time
While many of the researchers and scholars examine trauma at the community or individual level, Shansky investigates it a single neuron at a time. In her lab, researchers expose one group of animals to stress while the other group remains unstressed. By injecting single neurons in the brains of both groups with a fluorescent dye, Shansky can observe how stress causes individual neurons to change.
“We can collect a 3-D image of that neuron using a microscope, and then we can measure all the dendritic branches, all the spines, and all the synapses,” Shansky said. She has found that neurons undergo observable structural changes when animals experience stress.
A neuron looks a little bit like a tree limb with connected branches of varying size. The branches are called dendrites, and they are covered in buds, called spines, that receive stimuli. Over time, exposure to stress can cause the branches to change. They shrink and lose connectivity, muddling communication between neurons. Stress acts like an army of pruning tools, chopping the branches down and making it more difficult to get sunlight.
That lack of sunlight is like the lack of information passing from one neuron to another. This all occurs in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, the decision-making control center. The prefrontal cortex also regulates emotion and social behavior. When an animal experiences stress and trauma and the neurons collectively shrivel and get clouded, that translates to structural changes in the prefrontal cortex.
We’ve all felt the behavioral affects of stress.
“You’re going to have emotions that are maybe inappropriate, or you might say things that you don’t mean,” Shansky said. Now imagine that in the context of daily conflict over a long period of time. This is how conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder develop.
In addition to studying the neurological response to stress, Shansky examines the different ways female and male animals respond to fear. Her lab discovered that contrary to long-held scientific belief, biological sex makes a difference in how frightened animals behave. Female mice often run around in a frenzy, while male mice freeze in place.
Understanding the underpinnings of fear and stress
If these neurological sex differences in the way animals respond to fear and stress translate to humans, there could be sweeping implications. Currently, most mental disorders are imbalanced in their prevalence in men and women, Shansky said. For example, depression and anxiety are more common in women, while schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders are all more common in men—or so we’ve always thought.
“In reality, things might be more equal if you look at different symptoms,” Shansky said. And in terms of providing behavioral therapy, “It’s important to consider that it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of treatment.”
Understanding the neurological underpinnings of fear and stress may help an individual, a community or a country address it more effectively. That’s why Shansky was invited to participate in the Botswana dialogue. She will share her findings with leaders from different cultures and backgrounds, all who take a completely different approach to tackling the challenge of healing from trauma.
“Everyone is very open-minded and understands that we’re there because we want to enrich each other’s world views,” Shansky said.
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By SN Krishna Swamy
I was born in Malleshwaram, Bengauru, in 1926. Now, I am 91. I did my schooling in Malleshwaram and thereafter pursued Physics honours and MSc in Central College, Bangalore, Mysore University. In 1948, I joined Vijaya college as a Physics lecturer and then shifted residence to Gavipuram extension. After living in six different rented houses in Bangalore, we built a house in Basappa layout in the same neighbourhood. The location is so central and just a kilometre away from Gandhi Bazar, a good shopping centre, and Vidhyarthi bhavan, justly famous for its masala dosas.
My house is right at the foot of the Harihara hillock, whose peak stands the Harihara Temple aad right next to my house I have an attached milk booth, a vegetable shop and a park. Regular morning and evening walks in the park form part of our regular routine, where we also have a cultural group called Sneha Ranga which has close to 200 members from the neighbourhood. We all meet when there are important occasions.
For me, however, the main attraction is the Ramakrishna Math. Three successive presidents of the ashrama were spiritual giants namely, Swami Tygaishwarananda, Swami Yatiswarananda and Swami Prabhudananda. I have been under the influence of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda culture as well as and that of Mahatma Gandhi since childhood. I chose to be brahmachari all through life while I pursued interests such as singing bhajans. This tradition I taught to the children of Vivekananda Balaka Sangha and to groups of young men and women. Even now I conduct Bhajan classes at the Indian Institute of World culture in Gandhi Bazaar. I am proud to say that a few children at the Balaka Sangha have become renowned members of the Ramakrishna Order.
I built my house using granite in 1970-1971. I also worked in the Army headquarters as a scientist after 1975 and in Pune as a professor of college of Military Engineering. When I retired in 1982, my young friends in Vivekananda school and Vivekananda Sevashrama, a renowned medical service, persuaded me to work with them. Last year, I resigned as the president at these institutions. I also did four foreign tours to raise funds through Bhajan concerts for the charitable institutions. On August 5, I was speaking at a study circle at Suchitra Film Society on Champaran Satyagraha.
What I see since 1926 to 2017 is a lot more freedom to do what we want in life. I am so happy to see youngsters enjoying the fruits of our labour. We will be celebrating our 70th year of independence soon and I am proud to see it alive.
(The author is a resident of Gavipuram)
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