Encouraging the Vital and Sacred: Spiritual Care

Practicing spirituality means actively engaging with what is vital and sacred in your life. Providing spiritual care means attending to what is vital and sacred in the people around you. Spiritual self care is when you are interested about what is vital and sacred within yourself and in your life. Taking care of spirit is all about asking: who is this person and what really matters to them? Who am I and what really matters to me? Ultimately, spiritual care is about encouraging the vital and sacred.

The root word for “vitality” is aliveness; ideas of vitality have to do with the times when people feel alive and are living fully. Brené Brown refers to this as Wholehearted Living. Sacred is that which is regarded with great respect and reverence, it is deeper than what it is simply important. People draw upon spiritual values, practices, and relationships for support and direction every day. Providing spiritual care is about helping people connect with what matters to them. People who maintain this relationship with purpose and meaning tend to be healthier and have an understanding of what life well lived means to them.

When spiritual care is incorporated into our relationships, education, medicine, and other systems, it is truly transformational. Making space for what is important gives us the opportunity to build better worlds; worlds where people are seen, valued, and heard. It is in this world that deep healing is possible, which means that spiritual care is essential in healthcare systems and places of healing.

“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman

What is spirituality?

What does it mean to be “healthy?” What does it mean to be “whole?” What does it mean to live life well? What really matters in your life? These are all spiritual questions, asking us to expand our preconceptions about what it means to be spiritual. Spirituality is a word that holds space for what matters – the values and qualities of a life that are vital and sacred. Here are some of our favorite definitions of spirituality:

From C. Everett Koop:
Spirituality is the vital center of a person; that which is held sacred.

From Brené Brown:
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.

From Christina Puchalski:
Spirituality is the part of all human beings that searches for meaning, purpose, and connection to others.

And from Pico Iyer:
Spirituality is the story of our passionate affair with what is deepest inside us.

What these definitions show us is that spirituality is intimately involved in meaning, purpose, connection, resilience, and identity. It connects the depth within us to the depths outside of us, connective tissue of a divine sort. Spirituality is the foundation for life well lived. Purpose is when people have clear views of the values that are deeply important to them and live into, or practice, their values. Resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back or recover after difficulties. Connection is the energy that flows between two people when they feel seen, heard, and valued. All of these aspects require spirit.

Spirituality is highly individual, deeply personal, and profoundly particular. The concepts held by the word spirituality are broader than the language that frames it. It can help to think about spirituality and spiritual experience with the framework CAMPS: Community, Activities, Meaning/Purpose, Passions, and Spirit.

Think about your meaningful relationships. Who are the people close to you? What groups or organizations are you involved with?

Consider what activities bring you coherence and comfort. What do you do to help yourself be more centered? What are the rituals or traditions that are meaningful for you?

Introspect about your gifts, how you share them, and what makes you feel connected. What are the things that are really important to you? What do you hope for? Where do you find strength?
What helps you to keep going? What do you hope the legacy of your life will be? What do you care about? What allows the best that is in you to be expressed?

Ponder what makes you feel alive, where you experience joy, what helps foster flow. What do you find yourself getting really excited about? What do you get really passionate about, when do you feel joy? When do you find yourself engaged in something and lose track of time?

Imagine what your relationship with the divine, God(dess), or some larger force looks like. How is this relationship important to your life and health?

When we understand what spirituality is and how to show up for what matters in our lives and the lives of others, we create the opportunity for more grounded and fulfilling lives. Understanding our own spirituality is important and allows us to show up and hold space for what matters to other people as well.

Spiritual Care & Healthcare

Our modern English words for health, whole, and holy all derive from the same Old English word root “hāl.” Built into our words themselves is a connection between health and sacredness, the healing arts and the divine arts. In a beautiful way, the people who maintain deliberate care to what is vital and sacred in their lives also tend to be healthier. What paying attention to spiritual questions shows us is that there is no separation between wellbeing and meaning, meaning and health. In medicine, spiritual care looks like asking patients what makes them come alive; it is about asking what matters to them. This care is absolutely necessary in order to facilitate healing.

Author Fred Craigie writes that ideas of health do not have much inherent value on their own for most people. Rather, health matters as an instrument (not an end) that enables us to live meaningful lives. When health is a mechanism to meaning rather than a goal in and of itself, it becomes much more sustainable. For your health and healing to be lasting and meaningful, they need to fit within a larger structure of purpose in your life. In other words, what is the why behind health? Why is being healthy important in your life? David Waters, a psychologist and PhD from the University of Virginia has developed a framework to acknowledge the role of health as an instrument; in this framework he emphasizes the relationship between “health goals” and “life goals.” He characterizes this relationship saying:

“What is really important in my life is ________; therefore, my health goals are ________.”

Using this framework allows patients and doctors to frame their health goals in ways that can last and create real change. Zen Buddhist teacher Suzuki Roshi said, “The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.” In health and healing, we have to remember why we want to be healthy, why it is important in the first place. For medicine, this means having conversations with your patients and doctors about what is important in your life.

Spiritual Self Care

“Beloved, this is the perseverance place – a devoted pilgrimage taken by the brave and trembling into the deepest channels of the human heart.” Joy Prouty

If spiritual care is helping people to connect with the things that really matter to them, then spiritual self-care is helping ourselves connect with what really matters to us. In order to understand your body, your needs, and your mind it is important to take the time to know who you are. Getting deliberate about understanding yourself is the epitome of spiritual self-care. This knowledge and awareness is the first step for healing. Below are three exercises you can do to help get you started:

Three adjectives.

Choose 3 adjectives (or short phrases) that capture the qualities you most want to embody as you live your life.

What is your gift and where are you going to give it?

Spend some time in centered reflection and explore this question. Write it down, sing it, discuss it.

You at your best.

Think of a story that illustrates “you at your best” in everyday life. This should not be a story about significant achievements like completing a course of study or receiving an award; rather, this exercise has more energy if it draws particularly upon small daily events.

“Knowledge is important but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to dis-cover who we are.” Brené Brown


Spirituality is essential in cultivating wholeness, in living wholehearted lives. Spirituality and spiritual discussions are about more than polite discourse, they are about seeing and respecting what is important in your life and the life of others. Practicing spirituality helps makes us more alive and healthy. Spiritual care is how we as individuals and professionals can show up for what is vital and sacred in our lives and the lives of those we care about. Essentially, lives of meaning and purpose are spiritual pursuits and impact every aspect of our wellbeing.