Guest column/Wellness by another yardstick

There is a closet in our home around which carbon inscriptions appear, ancient hieroglyphics dating back to earlier times. On closer inspection, one notices they are merely pencil markings with corresponding notations, each signifying the height of one of our boys at a specific occasion in their past, such as “Easter ’08” or “Graduation.”

This ritual is as much about recollections as it is measurements, a tribute of sorts to our sons’ identities as well as the growth of their frames. I think of it as a “living” memorial.

Measuring physical characteristics usually begins before birth when the obstetrician gauges a baby’s heartbeat. And of course at delivery time the question asked is, “How much does he weigh?” Follow-up queries also point to a fascination with bodily assessment: “Does he have hair? Is his skin clear? His eyes?”

This routine is carried on throughout adulthood, especially as it relates to a person’s health care. There is a plethora of things to measure starting with blood pressure, body mass index and the like, all part of the effort to prolong life and add to its quality. What is often left out is any evaluation of spiritual qualities and their connection to the advancement of health.

“The measure of life shall increase by every spiritual touch,” once wrote Mary Baker Eddy. Don’t most of us evaluate life more in spiritual terms than physical ones? When thinking of a friend or family member, it’s the spiritual qualities that really define them for us, attributes like compassion, intelligence, joyfulness, etc. Life is more about our connections to the sacred and one another, to the moments and events in our daily experience that shape us.

It seems practical that if the yardstick by which we measure our lives is for the most part spiritual in nature, we should approach our health in a similar manner.

Dr. Christina Puchalski is working on that. The director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is a forerunner in the movement to integrate spirituality into health care in both the clinical setting and in medical education.

Yes, spirituality means something different to anyone you might note. It’s a personal thing. But that hasn’t stopped Puchalski and other physicians and researchers from finding a workable definition that helps in measuring the impact of spirituality on health outcomes and championing its inclusion in medical practices.

Puchalski calls spirituality an essential part of a person’s humanity and a critical factor in health and well-being. “Spirituality should be considered a patient vital sign,” she told attendees last year at the Fifth-Annual Medical-Spirituality Conference sponsored by the Boonshoft School of Medicine.

An intriguing idea: Assessing the impact on the body of influences that are outside the physical. It opens up many new possibilities in curing what ails us.

Meanwhile, the pencil markings around our closet have reached as high as they can go. They cannot keep pace with our boys who have “grown up”, but whose identities continue to progress as the result of their spiritual nature. Perhaps the same can be said of medicine and the goal of health and healing: the measuring of physical characteristics and relationships can only go so far, before one’s spiritual identity must be considered and then embraced.

(Salt is a writer and blogger covering health, spirituality and thought. He is a Christian Science practitioner.)