Healthy Spirituality vs Broken Spirits, Broken Hearts and Shattered Egos
Tracy Kolenchuk, Guest
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 17:22.
How big is the difference between a broken heart, a broken spirit and a crushed ego? From the health perspective – what is ‘Spirit’? What is spirituality? How can we recognize or measure the healthiness of someone’s spirit?
In the Hierarchy of Healthiness the body is defined by its physical presence. The mind houses the rational processes we use to plan and execute specific actions: calculation, memory and, possibly, intuition. Each new level requires the levels below – but rises above them all to create a distinct new entity. The body exists, by itself, above the structures of your organs, systems, tissues, cells, etc.
Your spirit exists above the physical mind and body. The body might be damaged, the mind might be stressed – while the spirit prevails. Or your spirit might be crushed while the body carries on like an automaton.
The Hierarchy of Health ‘Spirit’ consists of your spirit, your spirituality, your ego and your personality. Your creative and artistic spirit. Your ‘heart’, as in ‘a broken heart’, and also as in ‘you’ve gotta have heart’, is part of your spirit, not part of your body.
Communal aspects of spirituality are in the next layer of the hierarchy: team spirit, community spirit, etc. are in the layer Community Healthiness.
When does our spirit develop? Do adult dogs have ‘spirit’? I suspect the answer is yes, but they do not have ‘spirituality’. Dogs can be playful, bordering on creativity. They may have spirituality in the sense of being comfortable with their place in life, but not in ‘knowing their purpose’, nor ‘understanding the meaning of life’.
Spirit healthiness is a measurement of the health status of a person’s spirit and spirituality.
Can we measure the health status of someone’s spirit? Of their spirituality?
Physical strength is measured by what we can carry; spiritual by what we can bear. An interesting quotation, source unknown, that deserves further thought. Sometimes we can hardly bear to listen to, much less enjoy, the noise of children – other times the roar of traffic is easily ignored. Our spirit strength waxes and wanes as do our physical and mental strengths.
How can we tell if someone has an unhealthy spirit?
Playfulness; creativity; artistic ability is an interesting dimension. Many great works of art are created by people with troubled spirits. But many are created by people who are spiritually comfortable – and have time to relax and explore their artist spirits. When very creative people have troubled spirits – they might channel their energies into their art. Sometimes people may channel their troubled spirits into risk and destruction, or self harm. Suicide might not exist if we didn’t have a spirit that could be troubled.
Music can soothe the spirit. Or lift your spirits. Even sad music can make you feel better – as discussed in a previous post: Is Listening to the Blues Healthy? Great music might be created by a contented spirit, a forlorn spirit, or a troubled spirit – and it can be enjoyed by all.
The Spirituality Index of Well-Being: A New Instrument for Health-Related Quality-of-Life Research was presented by Timothy P. Daaleman, DO1 and Bruce B. Frey, PhD2 in 2002. The survey asks:
Which statement best describes your feelings and choices?
Strongly Agree 1 – Agree 2 – Neither Agree nor Disagree 3 – Disagree 4 – Strongly Disagree 5
1. There is not much I can do to help myself.
2. Often, there is no way I can complete what I have started.
3. I can’t begin to understand my problems.
4. I am overwhelmed when I have personal difficulties and problems.
5. I don’t know how to begin to solve my problems.
6. There is not much I can do to make a difference in my life.
7. I haven’t found my life’s purpose yet.
8. I don’t know who I am, where I came from, or where I am going.
9. I have a lack of purpose in my life.
10. In this world, I don’t know where I fit in.
11. I am far from understanding the meaning of life.
12. There is a great void in my life at this time.
Questions 1 to 6 are primarily about ‘spirit’, although 4 and 5 are also about the ego. Questions numbered 7 to 12 are about spirituality. Questions 7 and 9 are almost the same question.
The test is a powerful tool to measure spirit and spirituality of people who are ill. It gives a useful number for a measurement of spiritual health. The two sets of questions can give separate numbers to rate spirit separate from spirituality. It is not a tool to measure ego healthiness – as there are no direct questions to the ego. I do wonder if it is possible to distinguish between a healthy and an unhealthy ego, especially by asking questions of the subject.
The weakness of this test – for measuring healthiness – is clear when we realize that all of the questions are negative. This measurement instrument was, like most so-called ‘health measurements’, developed in a clinical setting to measure the spirituality of people who are ill. In fact, it does not measure ‘spiritual well being’, rather each question measures ‘spiritual weakness’ (or illness), with the assumption that the opposite of illness is wellness.
The measurement of spirituality is made more complex by the presence of an objective, versus the subjective observer. Someone might rate themselves very high, or very low, on these scales – but their family or their physician might give them a different rating. Physical attributes like blood pressure and pulse can be measured accurately by a machine. Attributes of spirituality are much more difficult to measure objectively.
There is also the ego. Many religions and philosophies suggest that the ego is opposed to the true spirit and to spirituality. For example, to become truly spiritual you must lose a large part of your ego. Someone with a forceful ego might rate their spiritual healthiness much higher than someone with a healthy self image and ego.
Does spirituality arise from having a purpose in life? From understanding the meaning of life? From feeling ‘complete’ in our lives? Or is there something more to spirituality?
Can you improve your spirit health? The things you do to improve your spirit healthiness might depend… Are you relatively healthy in mind, body and spirit – and you want to improve your spiritual health? In this situation, the recommended prescription is often solitude, quiet, fasting, meditation, etc. But if you are ill and you have a poor spirit, a more effective prescription might be involvement in family activities, yes – noise of children and food – preferably with family or friends. This suggests that measuring the healthiness of our spirit is not effective in isolation from other aspects of health.
Loevinger’s stages of ego development traces development from birth (pre-ego) to the rarely attained 9th integrated ego stage, where the subject is at peace with inner conflicts. Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development trace through stages of hope, will, purpose, competence, identity, love, care to wisdom. Carl Jung classified Psychological Types into eight categories by first classifying perception into sensation versus intuition, judging into thinking and feeling – and then mapping them against introvert and extrovert mental types. Note: Jung does not pass judgement, classifying one category over another he simply groups people into different categories based on some aspects of their spirit.
We might look at each of the classification criteria and measure it on a scale of deficient – healthy – excessive. For example an introvert might be healthy, or be so introverted as to be a hermit, or hardly be introverted at all. Of course introvert deficiency is not a negative, but excessive introversion might be a health problem.
How can we measure spirit healthiness?
First, we can enumerate some attributes of the spirit for measurement. The 12 questions from Daaleman and Frey provide some suggestions. Each question measures some aspect of the spirit. However, as noted, they are worded to measure only ‘negative’ aspects of the spirit.
Illness arises from deficiency or excess. Healthiness is the large or small ‘normal’ area between deficiency and excess. If we re-word the concepts of these questions into a scale that measures deficiency and excess, we have something like:
1. Ability to look after self. Deficient – not able to look after self. Healthy – able to look after self most of the time. Excessive – not able to ask for or accept assistance when required.
2. Ability to complete tasks. Deficient – not able to complete most task that are started (may indicate tendency to start too many tasks or tasks that are too challenging). Healthy – normally able to complete tasks that are started. Excessive – never takes on challenges that present risk of failure.
3. Able to understand own problems. Deficient – not able to understand own problems. Healthy – has a normal understanding of own problems. Excessive – understands everything about themselves (or claims to).
4. Dealing with personal difficulties and challenges. Overwhelmed – Healthy – denial.
5. Confident when new problems encountered. Unsure, indecisive – Healthy – overconfident.
6. Able to plan for the future. Impulsive – Healthy – anal retentive.
7. Comfortable with role in life. Unhappy – Healthy – lazy.
8. Know thyself. Confused about self – Healthy – arrogance or excessive pride.
9. Have a purpose in life. Lost – Healthy – driven.
10. Know place in society. Submissive – Healthy – defiant.
11. Understand the meaning of life. childlike – Healthy – philosopher
12. Feel complete and whole. insecure – Healthy – complacent
I’m not saying these are the best questions to measure spirituality healthiness. At this time they may be the best we have. We can work on something better. What are the most important dimensions of spirituality? Are some more important than others?
There might always be disagreement about what the spirit is, and what should be excluded from the spirit. In the context of the Hierarchy of Healthiness, we can define spirit clearly for specific purposes. Spirit Healthiness encompasses all of the aspects of people that are at a higher level than the body and mind – and at a lower level than those attributed to communities of people. Introversion, intuition, purpose, understanding, compassion – these are all aspects of the spirit. Each can be healthy – in the normal range – or not. If we can attain that goal, we might attempt to ‘optimize’ spirit health – a much more challenging goal.
Our spirit healthiness scores can change over time as we mature, grow older and age – and as a result of life circumstances.
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