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Wellness Zone: Spiritual Health

Jeff Franklin, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Experiences

The ingredients of spiritual wellness

By Jeff Franklin, PhD

What is spiritual health? It would be presumptuous to think we can define this for others. Spiritual journeys are unique. In my case, I was raised in a devout Christian family and have been a practicing Buddhist for more than 20 years. From that perspective, perhaps I can start a conversation by suggesting come general features of spiritual health as I’ve experienced it.

Spiritual health is believing in something, like the natural-divine universe or the Dharma, or a belief in someone, like God, Allāh, Brahma, or the Goddess. Something or someone bigger than the individual self. We might call it divine, oneness, grace.

Part of believing is understanding that we are all inherently and unavoidably connected. It’s a connection not only to all human beings but, if you can stretch this far with me, it’s a connection to all sentient beings, the planet and the universe itself, scientifically as well as spiritually.

When religious or spiritual beliefs are regularly observed, we say they’re practiced. The practice might be called worship, prayer, devotion, or meditation. It can be as apparently simple as a daily one-minute of stillness in full mindfulness. Being mindfully still invites the divine connectedness. As Sylvia Boorstein writes, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” Try it and let me know if it works for you.

The root of ethics is mutual responsibility and compassion. It’s not enough to believe and have faith. We must make a commitment to practice ethics. If you agree that we’re all unavoidably connected, then we can’t hurt others without hurting ourselves, or vice versa. But, fair warning, when ethics becomes dogmatic, it can flip into a form of judgment and violence against others.

Regularly practicing gratitude is the heart of religious or spiritual practice and wellness. Empirical studies show that practicing gratitude improves health, well-being, and joy in living.

So, what do you think? What ingredients contribute to your spiritual health and wellness?

Let’s continue this conversation. I invite you to email me at student.affairs@ucdenver.edu.

This is one in a series of Wellness Zone articles addressing the seven dimensions of wellness that the new CU Denver Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center will be built on—social, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, environmental and creative wellness. The center is scheduled to open in May.

Jeff Franklin, PhD, has been a CU Denver English professor for nearly 18 years. He’s the Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Experiences and works on improving the quality of the educational experience for, and the success of, all undergraduates. Franklin’s most recent scholarly book is “Spirit Matters” (Cornell UP, 2018).

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