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Meaning as a source of health

Posted May 13 2010 5:47pm
In my last post I wrote about resilience - that ability to transcend even the worst that life can throw at a person; Hamlet's "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Today I want to spend some time with the term "meaning", and relate it to health and wholeness.

In "Making Health Care Whole", by Puchalski and Ferrell, meaning is defined as, "the worth of life". It is characterized by a "sense of accomplishment; creative activities or vocational roles; is fundamental to a coherent sense of feeling whole." Thus, without some form of meaning in one's life, there is a lack of wholeness and sense of worth.

Often, people find meaning in relationships - especially family and close friends. People in this day-and-age will often find meaning in their work - in fact, over-identifying with their job to the point that when they retire or get fired, they suffer from depression and loss of self-worth. They have lost the ability to understand who and what they are (coherence), thus they have lost the fundamental element that provides meaning in their lives. So, they search for a replacement - this can take positive or negative forms.

Often, when life is at its most challenging (and usually out of control), people begin to search for meaning beyond themselves. Chronic illnesses or life-limiting diagnoses, in my experience, have lead many people to formal religion or spirituality in order to make some sense (find coherence) in their life in relation to something beyond themselves.

The spiritual search for meaning (often termed discernment) incorporates the active process of "looking" for the Other - most often termed God, Adonai or I Am, Allah, etc. There are many paths, both Eastern and Western, new age and timeless, that can lead a person to the inner self (inner teacher or soul in Parker Palmer's terminology). Father Richard Rohr speaks of it as the "true self" versus the hypocritical (false self) that we show to the world. However, one searches, the putting off of falseness and finding our way to truth and thus to meaning, is healing and wholesome.

Once true self is discovered, then the falseness recedes and is replaced by calm and comfort. Wholeness has returned to the person, as it was in the beginning of life. A person's outlook improves, and resilience is manifested. Most of the time, this discernment requires some help - usually a strong and supportive community of spiritual persons who allow the index person space and unconditional love and acceptance to find their way to their soul.

Thus, Possibilities Journey, Inc. ( believes that without a spiritual or faith community to support a person, there can be no real health, because there is no wholeness. A person can be in the best physicial shape, perform all the necessary wellness behaviors, but still be nothing but dead on the inside - a broken vessel due to a lack of meaning. Thus, our strong belief that spiritual and faith communities need to regain their historic role in enabling and empowering spiritual growth (the serach for meaning) that allows all persons to discover their true life. Once this happens, we will get the balance back into caring for each other, and though we will still get sick and ultimately die, we will die knowing we are whole.


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