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Posted: July 09, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Caregivers -- Making Miracles Every Day

We live in an age of miracles!? was a refrain I often heard while growing up in the 1950s and 60s. Mostly people were talking about miracles of science. And of course they were right: We were launching into space, beaming communications around the globe, and making medical breakthroughs one after another. Today, in the healthcare field, scientific miracles have lengthened our average lifespan and helped us keep active longer than was typical for previous generations. Diseases that once were death sentences can be beaten, pharmaceuticals regularly hold in check a wide variety of otherwise debilitating conditions, and a wealth of information is now available to help us make healthy lifestyle choices.

But every good thing casts its shadow. For a time it looked as if scientific miracles would soon be the only kind left to us. In our enthusiasm, we sometimes lost sight of the kinds of miracles that are difficult to scientifically measure, quantify and reproduce. Love, for example. Compassion. Hope. Faith. It became out of favor in the medical community to talk about how these intangibles affected our health and well being, or how they might keep us going in tough times. Religious faith showed up in the psychiatrist?s diagnostic handbook only as a pathology, and engaging seriously with the idea that prayer or meditation might support physical health was considered a career killer for a medical researcher.

That?s exactly what Harvard?s Dr. Herbert Benson feared when he began studying the affects of Transcendental Meditation on physiology in the early 1970s. But when he found empirical evidence that meditation can reduce stress and counter heart disease, he shared his findings in the bestseller The Relaxation Response and went on to found the influential Mind-Body Medical Institute. In the 1980s and 90s, a trickle of spirituality and health research became a gusher at universities and hospitals around the country. Today, hundreds of studies have found that spirituality helps people stay healthy, recover more quickly when they do become ill, cope with challenging circumstances, and face the end of life peacefully. A recent survey by Andrew Greeley, published in Spirituality & Health magazine, found 81% of U.S. doctors agreeing, ?Better clinical outcomes can result directly from a patient?s spirituality.?

Whether these outcomes stem from supernatural sources (such as God) or from activating the deepest potential of the human mind and body is beyond the power of science to address. But we do know that spirituality -- however you understand it -- is an important resource for those coping with illness or helping those who are.

For the past five years, Spirituality & Health has covered this emerging field. Our mission is to talk about the latest findings in medical science and psychology and most helpful practices from the world?s great faith traditions in ways that we all can apply in everyday life. Our approach is inclusive: While there are many definitions of spirituality, the principle we find underlying them all is ?the experience of being connected to something greater than the self.? And we know that health is not always the same thing as cure. Sometimes health is finding meaning in a difficult situation or better quality of life while still living with disease.

When we were invited to contribute to The Caregiver?s Home Companion website and publications, we jumped at the chance. As caregivers, you are living out the connection that is the heart of spirituality every day. We have built up a diverse network of popular writers, spiritual teachers from many traditions, and top-notch researchers from a variety of fields. Each week on Friday we?ll bring you either an article by one of them or a report on their work by the editors of Spirituality & Health. Sometimes they will offer specific techniques that will help with caregiving. Other times their advice will focus on you, the caregiver, helping you to stay grounded and energized as you help the one who needs you so much. Some weeks we?ll offer a review of a book or spoken-word audio that may be of particular interest.

At the same time, we hope to learn from you -- really to add you to our network. We want to know about your concerns, your questions, and your sources of inspiration. Your emails to ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com will help to shape both this column and what?s in our magazine.

That refrain from my youth still fits today. We do live in age of miracles, because you are making them every day. We hope to help.


This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, www.SpiritualityHealth.com. For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see www.SpiritualityHealth.com/subs. Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at www.caregivershome.com. Contact staff directly via email at ASKspirituality@spiritualityhealth.com.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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