Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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An Integrated Model of Wellness for Difficult Times

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“What drains your spirit drains your body. What fuels your spirit fuels your body.” 
― Caroline MyssAnatomy of the Spirit


As a chaplain working in a healthcare setting, I am intimately familiar with the current efforts to include the emotional and spiritual aspects of health into a more traditional allopathic medical model. In many respects, we are seeing great progress as integrative and functional medical models are starting to incorporate more holistic and alternative treatments like reiki and acupuncture in treatment plans for patients. But what does it mean to have an integrated model of health? And why is that so important in times of distress, especially now around the holidays and as a result of current political events?

An integrative approach to medicine puts the patient at the center of care and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and environmental influences that affect a person's health. This idea focuses on recognizing the entirety of a person's experiences, rather than pinpointing and treating only one or two areas while negating the influence of the others in overall health and wellness. Caroline Myss does an amazing job of addressing this in her book Anatomy of the Spirit which I cannot recommend enough.

How do we see this model in action? 

If we visualize the major aspects of daily living as three legs of a stool--where a deficiency in any given leg would cause the stool to no longer support itself, we see a physical, emotional, and spiritual component to living our lives. Each component feeds into and supports the other components, giving a complete picture of our health. Where we often see issues in traditional healthcare settings is when a patient has a deficiency in the emotional or spiritual areas that manifests as physical ailments, but traditional medical models only treat the physical symptoms without acknowledging the affects of the other areas.

Why is this so important now, particularly during the holidays and especially given the current political and social climate we are seeing emerge? As the seasons shift and it gets darker, emphasis on maintaining a physical regimen that supports our bodies and eating well as well as getting enough rest puts us in the optimal place to be able to handle the effects of holiday stress. If our batteries are already running low, we won't have the stamina to keep up with our regular routines combined with the added need to travel, shuffle schedules, shop, and interact with family in meaningful ways.

I will focus particularly on that last part, because many people across diverse populations I interact with are having intense struggles with family and close friends right now, especially given the political climate. Many people are having to choose whether or not to visit their families for the holidays, knowing full well it could be an abusive environment, but also feeling immense guilt if they don't go because of the societal pressure and expectations that exist around families of origin. As a pastoral care provider, and someone who functions within the integrated healthcare model, I can say these factors play into the overall picture of someone's health. How you choose to address these issues becomes part of your healthcare regimen. Do you only limit the time you spend with family to holidays, and then can you ask that politics and highly charged subjects are left off the table of discussion? Do you choose, after much internal deliberation, that exposing yourself to the abusive behavior of your family of origin is not healthy, and instead make alternate plans to be around people who understand and support your needs?

The purpose of this post is not to argue the merits of how we interact with people over politics. Rather, it is to draw attention to how we are taking care of ourselves and our communities during these stressful times. How do we enact healthy boundaries for ourselves, advocate for our needs, and learn to say NO in a culture that demands more of us all the time? How do we make sure the legs of our stool stay grounded so we can be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves? I wish you health this holiday season into the new year.

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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. As an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, her professional career has spanned network administration, performing presidential support requirements and veteran military funeral honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and executive communications support for the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Denora has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Central Florida, an MA in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, and a Master of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. She has completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education with the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD and has spent a year as a chaplain resident with the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, TN. She has recently been accepted for a Mental Health Fellowship at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Lexington, KY. She is currently an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. Her future plans include board certification with the Association of Professional Chaplains and working as a staff chaplain within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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