Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 29, 2016

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Spiritual is a word that confuses me. It is not that I do not appreciate the right-brain and all of the fantasies and creative thinking that results, but the word “spiritual” makes me wonder what the patient means when he says it. Do they mean that there is more to life than the mundane aspects of showering, eating and sleeping? Do they mean that the word “religious” troubles them, and so they compromise by using the word “spiritual”? Jay, seventy-one, comes to mind. He was brought up in a devoutly religious home, in which he feels did not “suit him”. He raised his children without any religion, and by his account, he suffers “tremendous regret” about that. In the last decade, he has become “obsessed” with yoga, which he feels to be very “spiritual”. My hunch with Jay is that yoga has allowed him to access the part of his brain which is non-linear, the part which is not focused on competition or comparisons. The “spirituality” of yoga seems to have given Jay the ability to relax, to not worry about his future, to not worry if he will be the next one of his friends to get a cancer diagnosis. It allows him to be “present” as he would say. How do I, as Jay’s psychiatrist, work with his “spirituality”? First, I try to understand the meaning it has for him, and how he integrates this word into his mental space. In other words, I try to understand how he connects this word to other ideas and fantasies in his mind. Second, I try to see how his “spiritual” side might help, and might hinder, his personal growth. This new-found love of yoga might open mental doors for him and allow him to get access to parts of his mind which were previously shut off, but it also might serve as a protective shield, in which he goes to yoga seven times a week as a way of avoiding having relationships with those he cares about. It is our job to explore this together, to try to add historical context to his newly discovered passion. The ambiguity inherent in the word spiritual is our open window into his mind. “Tell me more,” I like to say, truly curious about what it means to him.

2 Responses to “What Does It Mean To Be Spiritual?”

  1. Shelly said

    I understand Jay. When someone grows up in a very religious home and does not keep the practices he/she grew up with but says he is “spiritual,” it means that he understands the concepts of a Greater Being and the directives of being good to one another. We should appreciate others and respect each others’ space in the world as we would want others to respect ours. Treat others as one would want to be treated. Yoga, as you know, has this “spiritual” aura about it, doesn’t it, this “spirituality” thing. It deals with self respect and appreciating oneself and the mentality of wholeness, etc. So too with the spirituality of religion: the appreciation of others and doing unto others as one would have others doing unto you. Sounds good to me! If I weren’t a practicing member of the tribe, I would say that I was very spiritual myself!

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