Spirituality, an inner dimension to take care of

Health is a fundamental component of our life. The concept of health was first defined in 1948 by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Subsequently, at a WHO meeting in 1998, the modification of the original definition was proposed in the following terms: “Health is a dynamic state of complete physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, not the mere absence of disease”. Therefore, health is considered as a resource of daily life, not as a life goal: a positive concept, which insists on social and personal variables, as well as on physical abilities.

Spirituality is perhaps the least explored dimension among those that become part of the concept of health; yet, it is cited by the WHO as early as 1990 as a “topic that cannot be avoided”. “Without spirituality there is no emotional, physical or anthropological health,” says Hanz Gutierrez, professor of theology at the Adventist Institute in Florence.

Spirituality can be declined in many ways, and represents an inner “dimension” to take care of, releasing psychic energies that transcend the material world. «The spiritual life, of which art is a fundamental component, is an ascending and progressive movement, as complex as it is clear and precise. It is the movement of knowledge», said the painter Wassily Kandinsky (The spiritual in art1910).

The sphere of spirituality includes values ​​such as kindness, altruism, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, disposition to optimism, joy, prosocial behaviors, care and help for others, care for relationships, selfless love, respect for oneself, for others and for the world around us – values ​​which, if cultivated with daily practices, can have a high biological, vital, emotional, mental, social and spiritual impact both on the individual than on the reference community.

«In a society that remains very rational, efficient and pragmatic, despite the excellent initiatives to correct and balance it, the need for spirituality appears ever more urgent. This situation paradoxically produces not one but three problems – explains Gutierrez -. The first problem is the search for a spirituality at any cost and at low cost, even those that reproduce some anomalies such as individualism that we should instead correct. The second problem is the confusion between spirituality and confessionality. The third problem lies in the radicalization of the efficiency and consumerist orientation of people who, by limiting spiritualities to certain restricted spaces and moments of their lives, in fact use and manipulate them, leaving the global efficiency orientation of groups and individuals unharmed”.

The theme of spirituality was at the center of the conference “Spirituality and Science: the last frontier of health” which was recently held in Florence to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the monthly Vita&Salute, the information organ of the Foundation of the same name. In the clinical field, the scientific evidence presented at the conference shows a positive correlation between a healthy spiritual dimension and fewer hospitalizations, better management of the disease and adherence to the prescribed treatment, decrease in the use and abuse of substances, decrease in depression and attempts of suicide.

On the other hand, the epidemiologist Franco Berrino, Scientific Director of the magazine, warns: «Most eating disorders have to do with the difficulty of getting in touch or managing emotions, with an inner discomfort. The recovery of one’s inner world, neglected in the society of performance, is an “ecological” approach to our existence”.

Meditation is undoubtedly a method for getting in touch with one’s interiority, a natural medicine which, if practiced consistently over the long term, is able to exert a significant impact on our DNA. The practice of meditation positively modifies the epigenetic dynamics that determine the functioning of telomerase, the enzyme that rebuilds and extends telomeres (structures found at the ends of chromosomes, which represent a sort of biological “clock”), influencing their length and therefore the potential quality and quantity of residual life expectancy.

In accordance with this new scientific paradigm, lives better and longer not the strongest and most determined to achieve their goals, but the kindest, the most compassionate, the most inclined to reach a greater level of awareness towards himself of life and of others.

Spirituality, an inner dimension to take care of