What is Spirituality?

Spirituality has always been a central part of the human experience. The vast centuries of human explorations have always contained basic questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is real? Where is true meaning? Why am I suffering and in pain? Where is there hope? What matters most and gives me or others purpose?  As long as human beings have existed, these basic yearnings have been pursued as part of the human endeavor.

How is Spirituality Related to Wellness?

According to American Family Physician, “it seems the body, mind and spirit are connected. The health of any one of those three seems to affect the health of the others.”  Finally, “Some research shows that such things as positive beliefs, comfort and strength gained from religion, meditation and prayer can contribute to healing and a sense of well-being. Improving your spiritual health may not cure an illness, but it may help you to feel better, to prevent certain illnesses and to cope with illness or death.”  In other words, spirituality can be a resource for your own self-care and wellness at BMC.

How Does Spirituality Affect Caregivers and Staff?

In a healthcare setting, patients are suffering and caregivers encounter limits to their ability to cure the problems they encounter. Clinical caregivers are vulnerable to spiritual distress and burnout.  Different experiences may impact each member of the staff differently. Choices or situations that conflict with patient or staff beliefs and practices may stir up strong feelings. At Boston Medical Center, the Spiritual Care Department and the Ethics Committee are available to be consulted when you or your colleagues are feeling conflicted regarding spiritual or ethical concerns.

How Can One Strengthen Spirituality?

Many people find spirituality through religion. Some find it through music, art or a connection with nature. Others find it in their values and principles.  People from various cultures and backgrounds may find different ways to renew their spirits and restore meaning. It is important for caregivers, colleagues and patients to recognize and support this human need. Connecting with a shared mission and meaningful experiences with  work, patients, families and colleagues can provide inspiration and renewed sense of purpose.


Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to help you reflect on your own spirituality and resources (see http://www.gwish.org/ ):

  • Do I have a spiritual belief that helps me cope with stress? What gives my life meaning?
  • Is this belief important to me? Does it influence how I think about my work? Does it influence my decisions? How does it help provide a sense of emotional and spiritual well-being?
  • Do I belong to a spiritual community (church, temple, mosque or other group)? Am I happy there? Do I need to do more with the community? Do I need to search for another community? If I don’t have a community, would it help me if I found one?
  • Do I want to consider ways that spirituality may be a resource for me? What should be my action plan for emotional and spiritual well-being? What changes do I need to make? Are there spiritual practices I want to develop? Would it help for me to see a chaplain, spiritual director, or pastoral counselor? Would a retreat be helpful?


At work:
Practice Appreciative Inquiry to focus your attention on what sustains you in your work and profession, e.g. think about the most inspirational experiences you’ve had at work. What made this experience so meaningful and inspirational?

Look for ways to build on what you find sustaining

  • A nurse brought blankets to comfort the family members of a dying patient.
  • A doctor attended the AA meeting of a patient that had achieved a year of sobriety.
  • A social worker accepted a thank you card and photo from a patient who had graduated high school after much support from the social worker.

Find ways to share these positive stories as well as your fears and conflicts about your work. Share with your team, in case conferences, written narratives, by presenting or attending BMC quarterly Schwartz Center Rounds. Consult with the BMC hospital chaplains who are trained to attend to the multitude of stressors that hospital employees experience.

Find ways to notice and comment on the special qualities and resilience of your patients and colleagues. Together you can appreciate and learn from each other’s unique gifts, common humanity, and efforts to persevere and transcend challenges.

Honor the impact of patients’ lives on your own by commemorating their loss to yourself, with your team, with their families and in ceremonies your department may create.  (Consult with the BMC chaplains or the Bereavement Committee for additional ideas)

Never worry alone. When confronted with a conflict regarding your values, for support regarding grief, or for critical incident debriefing consider contacting the chaplains from BMC Spiritual Care Department, the Ethics Committee, or Social Work colleagues trained in critical incident debriefing.

Beyond the job:

  • Consider practicing complementary and alternative therapies that embrace a body-mind-spirit approach to living well.
  • Take a meditation or contemplative retreat.
  • Daily journal:  write in a notebook every day, doesn’t matter the content.
  • Dream Journal- write down dreams as you remember them.
  • Guided meditation: take 5 minutes of lunch break to listen to guided meditation.
  • Meditation: develop a daily meditation practice.
  • Art: visit an art museum, take an art or other creative class.
  • Nature: make excursions to forests, seashore, etc. with the intention of focusing on nature.
  • Religion: there are many different options of houses of worship for every religion.  If you don’t find the place you currently go to be fulfilling, consider searching for other places. The chaplains at BMC are especially trained to help you with this.




BMC Chaplains:

  • Chaplain Samuel Lowe, Ph.D.                      (617) 638-6850                                  Samuel.Lowe@bmc.org
  • Rev. Jennie Gould, Ph.D., BCC                      (617) 414-5336                                     jennie.gould@bmc.org
  • Sister Maryanne Ruzzo, BCC                        (617) 414-7560                              maryanne.ruzzo@bmc.org

BMC Spiritual Care – information about spiritual care at BMC
BMC Ethics Committee – information on how to request an ethics consult; also available through Spiritual Care
BMC Schwartz Center Rounds – a quarterly interdisciplinary conference to discuss challenging clinical cases.  Notification about conferences is shown on the BMC intranet.  Contact Bonnie.Burke@bmc.org Schwartz Rounds Coordinator, Thomas.Barber@bmc.org Physician Leader or Carol.Mostow@bmc.org Facilitator for more information or suggestion of cases.
BMC Bereavement Committee – Contact Amanda.Wright@bmc.org for information about bereavement services and educational resources at BMC
BUMC Meditation/Multidenominational Prayer Room – BMC’s Newton Pavilion Interfaith Chapel, located on the second floor of 88 East Newton St., is the new location for students, faculty and staff to use for meditation and multidenominational prayer. The chapel is available 24 hours a day seven days a week. Catholic Masses are held Sundays at 1 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon. An Ecumenical service is held at noon on Sundays.


BU Chapel – description of religious life at BU, including links for contact information for religious organizations at BU
BU Chaplains – contact information for University Chaplains at BU

Off Campus:

Clinical Pastoral Education for Healthcare Professionals – The Schwartz Center’s Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program teaches clinical caregivers the skills to address the existential, spiritual and religious concerns of patients and their loved ones


George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health – a leading organization on education and clinical issues related to spirituality and health
All Things Spiritual provides information on a wide variety of religions, with links to organizations, education, history sources for each
The InnerSelf.com website provides articles on spiritualities from Christian,, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Unitarian Universalists traditions. The message is the need for spirituality.
Open Directory Project provides links on a wide variety of spiritual traditions and religions.
The Spirituality & Health website reports on the people, the practices, and the ideas of the current spiritual renaissance; offers self-tests, guidance on spiritual practices; reviews of the latest resources; inspiration and insights from leading teachers, researchers, and practitioners; and a forum for exchange of ideas among various disciplines and communities.
The Twelve Peace Prayers website includes Baha’I, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jainist, Muslim, Native American, Shinto, Sikh, and Zoroastrian prayers for peace.
The World Peace Prayer Society is a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to spreading the message and prayer May Peace Prevail on Earth all over the world.
The World Prayers website gathers the great prayers written by spiritual visionaries into an online database representing all life affirming traditions. Many of these prayers have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years.

More resources on Spirituality