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Spiritual Connect to Manage Illness and Stress

Usually a normal human being will find an escape route only in some sort of spiritual or religious connect

Sunday March 15, 2020 1:04 PM, Asad Mirza, ummid.com

Spiritual connect

Among various diseases, cancer has become a big threat to human beings globally. India’s cancer incidence is estimated at 1.15 million new patients in 2018 and is predicted to almost double as a result of demographic changes alone by 2040 according to Dr Mallath of Tata Medical Centre, Kolkata.

The disease apart from being a financial drain on most of the patients and their families, also result in an emotional drain due to the pessimism associated with the disease and high mortality rate amongst the patients.

Spiritual Healing

In India, most of the patients apart from undergoing treatment for the disease, also pursue spiritual healing or experience increased religious zeal. Most of the doctors in India do not find this to be wrong, instead some of the renowned doctors feel that it is for the good of the patients that they carry on spiritual or religious activities along with the normal oncology treatment.

Dr Sajjan Rajpurohit, Principal Consultant – Medical Oncology & Centre Head at Max Multi Speciality Centre, Noida is of the view that:

Spirituality and religion are very personal issues. I feel that patients should expect doctors and caregivers to respect their religious and spiritual beliefs and concerns. Patient’s immersion with their spiritual and religious side helps the doctor too, as this activity is able to bring down the stress level of the patients and also of his immediate family. As long as the patient continues with the medicine, they can continue with an activity which acts as a stress buster for them.

He adds that these activities may include mindfulness relaxation, such as yoga or meditation, or creative arts programs, such as writing, drawing, or music therapy, besides the religious or spiritual activities on a regular basis.

Support system to sustain patients

Religion is recognised as an organised community of faith with specific rules of behaviour, and spirituality is considered the personal and subjective experience of something that is greater than oneself. It concerns how people make meaning of and are aware of honouring the sacred in our lives.

Based on my personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that during the treatment, both the patient and the immediate family need a support system to sustain them through the nerve racking treatment process and various medicines affecting the body of the patient. Usually a normal human being will find an escape route only in some sort of spiritual or religious connect.

Suffering draws one closer to God

Religion or spirituality is often important to patients, in a country like India. Different elements of spirituality affect the health status of patients through contemplation, prayer, friend interaction, religious services, and hope. It is important for people to feel a sense of purpose that gives life meaning. People need to believe that their lives make sense. Failure to see purpose in life or to find meaning in life's experiences contributes to spiritual, psychological and physical distress. One must recognise that within every crisis there is an opportunity for spiritual growth. While fear, anxiety and stress are barriers to spiritual development, if they are not processed in a healthy manner, they may also be the impetus to move an individual from nil faith development to health if spiritual is handled in a positive manner. The suffering involved is given meaning as it draws one closer to God.

In Oncology, relieving symptoms and side effects is an important part of treatment called palliative care or supportive care. Spiritual support is one type of palliative care. It can help with some concerns and questions you and your loved ones may have during cancer and treatment.

Spiritual Care Advisor

In the western countries, member of the health care team, called a ‘chaplain’ or spiritual care advisor usually provides spiritual support. Chaplains are trained to talk about the major questions of life, death, and existence. They can also help with making a legacy and finding purpose. Chaplains work with people from every faith and background, including people with no religious faith. In countries like the UK you have trained Chaplains who are well versed in the Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Jew, Jain and Buddhist scriptures and usually are practicing faith leaders.

Every religion speaks about spiritual healing. As per Hinduism, spiritual assistance and support are to be found in God-The Ultimate. One way to know God is through devotion, the way of bhakti. Bhakti implies that God is accessible and knowable, in personal terms. A practice of some Hindus is to pray to God, to ask for support in facing suffering or problems, believing that their suffering will be relieved and support will be provided, if they have a connect with the God.

Healing should be both Physical and Spiritual

For Christians, believers’ humility and readiness to receive what God has ordained for them, helps them relieve anxiety or stress. As believers pray for healing, they must believe that all things are somehow woven together into the Father’s good and holy plan to conforming them to the image of Jesus. Some may feel it’s an escape to pray a surrendered ‘your will be done’ in regard to healing, but even Jesus qualified His prayers, and He wasn’t sinning (Luke 22:42).

The Judaists prophets understood ‘healing’ to be both physical and spiritual. Some spoke of individuals being healed through a return to God, mediated by those who understood the connection between healing and God–the priests and prophets. They would invoke God’s help through sacrifice, prayer, repentance, and fasting as well as priestly purification rituals.

When one becomes spiritually dead

In the Islamic perspective, religion is the broader construct, encompassing a way of life. Religion is expressed in prescribed religious activities and provides the roadmap to one’s final purpose in life, that is, to live continuously in a relationship with God. Thus, the separation between religion and spirituality is not possible in the Islamic way of life.

Similarly, to be religious but not spiritual may make one religious, but without self-understanding and consciousness, one is considered spiritually dead. Therefore, religion and spirituality in Islam are combined into a unitary way of life.

Handling illness in Islam

Islamic spirituality is based on the words of God in the Holy Qur’an, not human speculation. Therefore, Muslims’ spiritual life must be developed on the basis of acts of belief and living the religion, as ordained in the Holy Qur’an. Many Muslim patients have trust and faith in God’s will and do not perceive illness as a punishment but, rather, as a way to atone for sins.

In Islam handling illness may well be a matter of not only returning to physical or mental health but also journeying toward enlightenment. The Islamic tradition sees hardship and adversity as opportunities for establishing an absolute dependency on God, submitting to Him, learning the truth, and building virtue. It is important for us to realise the profound psychological insights our tradition contains and extract this timeless guidance for all to benefit.

A significant number of people with cancer battle depression, but studies show that cancer patients with high levels of spiritual well being are less likely to be depressed. Finding inner peace can better help you to enjoy life, despite the fear, exhaustion, and pain that may occur during cancer treatment. Many patients also report a stronger will to live.

People who engage in spiritual activities during their cancer treatment may be more likely to feel that the experience of being ill has changed them for the better.

[Asad Mirza is a Sr journalist based in New Delhi. In his career spanning more than 20 years, he was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs and interfaith issues. Email: asad.mirza.nd@gmail.com.]

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