Earlier this year Michelle Tennant (Storyteller to the Media, a.k.a Publicist at Wasabi Publicity, Inc.) contacted me about Return to the Sacred, a new book by Jonathon Ellerby Ph.D. Dr. Ellerby is the Spiritual Program Director at Canyon Ranch Health Resort. Michelle sent me a copy of the book to read and review. In addition, Michelle suggested I could interview Jonathon on my blog. I read the book and loved it. It is a great guide to help people reconnect with the Sacred by developing spiritual practices that wok for them.
As I read the book, I realized that an interview with Dr. Ellerby would be add some great content here. I had a feeling that his answers would be in line with my own professional views and opinions (I could tell from the book). I didn't, however, realize how much of an impact his words would have on me personally. His words are simply brilliant. I believe he is a true shining star and a man with many gifts to offer the world. Without further ado, here is the interview...
1) In general what are the benefits of connecting to the sacred?
The Sacred is more than an abstract concpet, The Sacred is a dimension of life and the self that can be directly experienced. When we feel a connection to what we can only call "The Sacred" it can enhance our physical health, stabalize and enrich us emotionally, and give us a worldview that is resiliant and empowered. Ultimately it leads to a sense of inner peace and self-mastery that allows us to not only help ourselves to be our best, but also to help make the world a better place.
2) You have an entire chapter devoted to the relationship between spirtuality and health. In what ways can a spiritual practice impact one's health?
To begin, a connection with the sacred is a "feeling" more than an idea. Its an experience. That means it registers emotionally and physically in the body. A healthy spiritual practice cultivates in us an experience of the sacred - a direct experience of a different awareness, mood and mindset that we may have in daily life.
When we feel a sacred presence or awareness, this is usually accompanied by a state of calm and a sense of perspective that helps us to cope. Scientiests are showing us how "spiritual feelings" like those we feel in meditation, church, yoga or prayer (when we are truly engaged) are actually physically good for us. They stimulate the relaxation or parasympathetic nervous system response. An experience of the sacred also exercises certain parts of the brain, like the parietal lobe, which can over time help with longevity of mental health (memory, alertness, and resistance to cognative deterioration).
Then we also have to pay attention to the miracle cures and directed healing that comes from certain practices like prayer, visualization and types of mind-body, or "energy medicine" practices, like Kundalini Yoga, and healing ceremonies, like the Native American Sweat Lodge. Some of these things can intentionally target and heal illnesses and emotional dispair, and some provide more of a preventative or general positive impact.
The emotional wellness and sense of "persepctive" that people can feel during spiritual practices are also worth paying attention to. Spiritual practices and feelings help people to make sense of loss and change; they help people to release painful emotions and focus on solutions; they link people to support systems; and they provide a framework for finding meaning and lessons in things that could other wise be overwhelming.
3) Do you believe that spiritual practices can heal all diseases?
No I don't. I think that there is a potential that any disease can be healed by a spiritual practice, but it's an extrodianry combination of factors and effects that we cannot fully control or understand. So it's not like a science or a pill you can take and direct with percision. Even the greatest spiritual healers of all time would say that their powers and practices are always subject to a higher wisdom and design. Not all things are meant to heal nor are all healers meant to have total mastery. Spirituality always involves mystery. That's part of how it teaches us, but it's also one of its liabilities - there are no gaurantees.
4) How do you explain/understand the times when spiritual practice doesn't heal disease (i.e. Dalai Lama and his recent gall bladder surgery, others monks, saints, and spiritual leaders who have dealt with ill health)?
I think there are many reasons why practices don't heal or prevent disease. First of all, even if we believe that all of creation is ultimately spirit, it doesn't change the fact that this human life is about learning to live with material limits. We all face the realites of genetics, social influences, stressors, and the impact of environment. Spiritual teachers are rarely exempt, and even those that might be don't always have the ambition or intention to be immortal. The real spiritual gift is learning to live with what is, rather than always needing to fix or change it. I think there are other factors that are more metaphysical - karma, matters of energy, spiritual influences and sources of illness, soul contracts and so on. Ultimately, people can get a bit lost in searching for perfect answers or reasons for everything. Nothing is 100% when humans are involved - not answers, not cures, nothing is perfect.
5) What advice do you have for those who diligently follow a spiritual path and still suffer with health issues?
I'd review my previous answer, and then remember the serenity prayer. A few tips? Focus on what you can do physically and do it! Overcome limiting feelings or beleifs about your condition. Look for the lessons. Be patient, loving and forgiving of yourself, your body and your life. Perhaps most importantly, make a fierce commitment to live from your Soul - that means live with integrity, express your passions, be playful, find the things that feed your vitality and invest in them, indentify the things that drain you and move away from them.
6) I am noticing an unfortunate trend in which people believe that spirituality is a magic bullet that when practiced "the right way" will offer instant healing, wealth, and various success. The corollary is that those who aren't experiencing perfect health, wealth, and success are doing something wrong. Have you noticed this trend? If so, how do you address it?
I absolutely see this trend and while it concerns me, I also understand it's human nature that wants the perfect answer and the quick fix. My goal is to help people to learn to begin finding peace, Spirit and connection exactly where they are. If life changes are possible and a healthy part of the process then we can welcome and pursue that as well. The popular focus on having what you want, fixing everything and judging our illness and lack in life as a spiritual result of our own failure is an aweful trap. Let's be clear, spiritual awakening is about a transformation of the SELF and soul. It's an inside job. The focus on manifesting health and wealth is just another form of materialism and greed. I don't think it's wrong to have intentions, inspirations or aspirations. I think people do benifit from goals and visions. But be careful of the attachments and expectations that are a hidden dimension of any wish. Put God - spirit, consiousness, whatever you call it - at the center of your life and at the center of your intention. If you do that then you will in time be blessed with gifts that transcend anything you could have thought up or imagined yourself. Your soul is your greatest gift, discover and embrace it, thats an intetion that heals everyone.
Dr. Ellerby, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for me and for my community. I am truly grateful! I have gained a great deal from you and I believe that my readers will too.