An awareness of one’s spirituality is an essential ingredient for a healthy life.

By Gus Bode

A 28-year-old woman discovers she has contracted AIDS from her husband, who has abandoned her. She is not sustained by an awareness of a new drug or surgical technique. She is sustained by an awareness of her spirit.

Christina M. Puchalski, founder and director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, reported this case study. It is just one example of the numerous observations and investigations researching the association between spirituality and health.

John Scarano, director of the Newman Catholic Student Center and lay minister of the Catholic Church for 22 years, said there is sufficient evidence to prove that the effect of spirituality on health is nearly irrefutable.


Even medical practices are using things like music therapy, art therapy, recreational therapy, Scarano said, knowing that if people are more excited or passionate about life, the healing process is increased.

Scarano often uses contemporary theologian Carl Rhaner’s definition for spirituality as the sense that you make out of life.

Andy Long, a senior in plant biology from Connersville, Ind., believes spirituality relates to his everyday life and the decisions he makes.

I think people are always aware of spirituality, Long said. It’s just a matter of whether they choose to observe it or not.

Marlo Kennedy, a senior from Burbank, Ill., who is majoring in both theater and speech communications, describes spirit as a feeling that is difficult to define.

I feel my spirit helps me, carries me through life, and protects me at times that I need it to, Kennedy said.

Often, the concept of spirituality is confused with religion. However, Scarano said religion is a discipline, something that is practiced, and spirituality is much broader and more flexible.


Religion has a specific set of rules and values and truths, whereas spirituality has a broader sense of truth, Scarano said. It is character-building, and it will help you define your principles and values.

Spirituality plays an essential role in allowing individuals to discover purpose in their lives, Long said. He believes that people who are not aware of their spirituality are more likely to be unhealthy and to have poor self-esteem.

It’s hard to be healthy when you’re down on yourself, Long said.

Scarano has seen the effects of spirituality through his work at the University of Miami.

They have a huge music and recreational therapy college, Scarano said. Many of the students I dealt with would come with story after story of the ways in which they affect the healing process.

Kennedy said physical illness, such as a cold, may be a signal that a person’s spirituality needs attention.

If you’re not in tune with your spirit,and you don’t listen to it, Kennedy said, it can start to affect your health and make you sick.

According to Melanie Nordstrom, a licensed clinical social worker practicing at the Murphysboro Health Center, patients often report feeling better when they are in tune to their spirituality.

For different people, it might have been different things, Nordstrom said. Often people were involved with their churches, and they were feeling much better about their spiritual lives at the time they were feeling better physically and emotionally.

Scarano said the demands of society often make it difficult for people to be in tune with their spirituality. He emphasized the importance of relaxation and reflection.

We don’t do a lot of reflection, especially now, Scarano said. Time is such a precious commodity that we don’t take the time to watch a sunset. We don’t take the time to reflect on everything that we have. Instead, we’re inundated with things that society tells us we need and things that society says is the definition of success.

Scarano said spirituality affects health by promoting healing and a sense of appreciation for one’s life.

I happen to believe that healing is something we don’t completely understand, Scarano said. I believe that a person who is a spiritual person and is cognizant of their own spirituality is a person who is focused on healing because they’re focused on life. It’s almost the opposite of depression. It’s a reverence for life.

According to Scarano, people may not make the time for their spirituality.

They may carry cell phones and beepers because they are worried about missing out on things, and spirituality is not one of their greater priorities.

Some people might not have been touched by the spirit, Kennedy said. I think every being has a spirit, but they may choose not to listen to it because it’s not what’s important in their lives. They’re not open to listening to it.

Scarano said individuals lose sight of their spirituality by desiring a life of predictability. Scarano encourages adults to observe spirituality in young children.

We need to stop trying to be our own directors or people who try to have our lives planned out to the moment, Scarano said. My little girl is very passionate about whatever she’s doing. There’s nothing that she goes into with reluctance. And I think in much of our lives, we trudge reluctantly through the day.

Scarano has worked with college students for 16 years. He noticed students often plan to go out on Friday night, and they make it a point to have some activity scheduled.

They can’t just let it be a little free-floating, Scarano said. And I wish that we would spend a little more time sitting at Campus Lake or Giant City State Park, just truly being quiet.

Reporter Maureen Johnson can be reached at [email protected]