Freedom, Wellness, and the Human Spirit


Wellness can be most generally defined as “the pursuit of continued growth and balance.”  While issues of blood pressure, proper nutrition, and weight management are certainly germane to wellness, the latter’s scope is a more complex synergy of mental, spiritual, and physical factors.  A recent study (GRCC, 2018) extends wellness to seven dimensions, each of which plays into our quality of life and interacts with the others: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, environmental, and occupational. And, we should be mindful not to neglect any of these dimensions for too long of an interval.

As I look forward to delving more deeply into each of these areas in future installments, I shall content myself for this posting with an elaboration on spiritual wellness.  

Spiritual wellness involves possessing a set of guiding beliefs, principles, or values that help give direction to one’s life. It encompasses a high level of faith, hope and commitment to your individual beliefs that provide a sense of meaning and purpose. It is willingness to seek meaning and purpose in human existence, to question everything and to appreciate the things which cannot be readily explained or understood. A spiritually well person seeks harmony between what lies within as well as the forces outside.

As we turn to our investigation of the idea of freedom, Veronica Correa, a licensed clinical social worker, certified hypnotherapist and life coach, suggests that we view it as a kind of discipline:

Freedom and discipline seem opposites, and at the end of the spectrum. People who see themselves as free spirited and “go with the flow” type, tend to feel that discipline is restrictive and binding. This perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Discipline, if used correctly, can bring mastery, inner peace, harmony, abundance and success. … Mastery through discipline brings the freedom to live our life’s purpose.

Let us be careful, however, to note the distinction between the concepts of  “mastery” and “subservience” – while the latter notion is oppressive and limiting, the former is both expressive and liberating.  Stated differently, while subservience denigrates and denies the emergence of one’s true being, mastery cultivates personal dignity and human worth.  Moreover, it enables the individual to formulate positive ways to contribute to the furtherance of all humanity, as Correa writes:

At the end of every year, I have the discipline of taking myself through the following process: I begin by asking the following questions:   Am I happy and fulfilled? What am I doing next year to grow and expand? What new things I want to learn? What experiences do I want to create and bring into my life? What do I really, really, really want? How can I make a difference for the better in the life of others and the world I live in?

Our faith traditions offer us much inspiration in this department, as both the Christian and Jewish narratives are framed by the dawning of a new freedom.

Chris Shipley (2009) writes that the Bible says that true freedom begins in the heart. We act on our thoughts and behave according to our desires:

Interestingly, Matthew likens the human heart to a tree: “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit… For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (7:17-18; 12:33-35). The source of our actions is the heart. If it’s diseased, the fruit (our actions) is rotten too.

The Bible tells us that we were made by God to honor Him and delight in Him forever. Yet, beginning with the sin of eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, we chose to sin and rebel against God by abandoning our created purpose of worshiping Him in order to do our own thing and pridefully make a name for ourselves.

God, according to Christian teachings, sent His Son, Jesus to come to earth and willingly die in the place of sinful humans like us to absorb all our sin, rebellion, and wrongdoing. Therefore, all who entrust their complete life to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be saved from their bondage to sin and given eternal life in Him and enjoy an intimate and personal connection and relationship with God himself. This is true freedom. And true freedom only exists in Jesus. How does it happen? God changes the heart by His Holy Spirit. God makes us spiritually alive by giving us a new heart. This heart desires to love God. It sees Jesus  as beautiful and desires to love Him as the Lord and Savior of our life. By faith, we give our life to Jesus and receive His forgiveness and freedom from sin. Not only this, but we are now free to do the very thing we were created to do — to honor and enjoy God forever. And this joy in God is from our heart — our new heart given to us by God. This is true freedom. This is grace.

In the Jewish narrative, we look to the rallying call of “Let my people go”  as the foundation of freedom-seeking. But, points our Emuna Braverman (2003), these are actually words of the Almighty …

God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go so that they may serve Me in the wilderness. (Exodus 8:1)” Not just “let my people go,” but let my people go with a purpose.

And not just any purpose, but that they may serve the Almighty.

On Passover we want to get free of the psychological impediments to our relationship with God.Chametz, leaven, represents one of those obstacles — it’s puffy, inflated, like our egos (and like Pharaoh’s self-obsessed refusal to submit to the power of God) — and our egos stand in the way of all our relationships, preventing us from putting the needs of others first or subjugating ourselves to a higher power.  The goal of Passover is to free ourselves from these impediments so we can wholeheartedly develop our relationship with others and with the Almighty and so we can stand up for what we believe. “Let my people go” is an important beginning. “So that they may serve me” is the definitive destination.

The recently completed Fall holidays of Sukkot / Shemini Atzeret are the continuation of the freedom narrative, as we recall the journey through the wilderness and entry into the Promised Land – both of which provided the Israelites with pause to recognize the role of God in their lives, and to cultivate a discipline of Torah in order to safeguard the basic freedom to “serve God.”

Finally, Professor David W. Blight (2018), director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, explains that freedom, while undeniably part of the American tapestry, is an elusive prize:

Freedom and tyranny, wrapped in the same historical bundle, feeding upon and making one another, created by the late 18th century a remarkably original nation dedicated to Thomas Jefferson’s idea of the “truths” of natural rights, popular sovereignty, the right of revolution, and human equality, but also built as an edifice designed to protect and expand chattel slavery. Americans do not always like to face the contradictions in their past, but in so many ways, we are our contradictions.

The biggest obstacle to teaching slavery effectively in America is the deep, abiding American need to conceive of and understand our history as “progress,” as the story of a people and a nation that always sought the improvement of mankind, the advancement of liberty and justice, the broadening of pursuits of happiness for all. While there are many real threads to this story—about immigration, about our creeds and ideologies, and about race and emancipation and civil rights, there is also the broad, untidy underside.

As we prepare to exercise our options in the 2018 Election – an event which will place great power in the hands of all freedom-loving Americans – let us review the pathway to the undoing of slavery’s persistence through the passage of Amendment A:

 

  • Genuine freedom is only possible in the American context after realizing that it must become divorced from tyranny
  • The soul’s freedom is made possible by its liberation from the “Pharoah-nic ego”
  • The heart is liberated, renewed, and purged of sin when its host embraces the Living Spirit of God
  • Freedom is a celebration of a sacred discipline of “independent mastery” and creative thinking … and a ticket to wellness.

 

Works Cited:

Blight, D.W. (2018, February 14). “All Our Terrible and Beautiful History”: Teach American History as a Human Story. Teaching Tolerance. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/all-our-terrible-and-beautiful-history-teach-american-history-as-a-human-story

Braverman, E. (2003, April 5). Let My People Go – Where? Aish.com.  Retrieved from http://www.aish.com/h/pes/t/f/48942331.html

Correa, V. (2018).  The Freedom is in the Discipline [web log post].  Retrieved from https://thepersonalwellnesscenter.com/the-freedom-is-in-the-discipline/

Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) (2018), Seven Dimensions of Wellness.  Retrieved from https://www.grcc.edu/humanresources/wellness/sevendimensionsofwellness.

Shipley, C. (2009). What is True Freedom? The Life.  Retrieved from https://thelife.com/what-is-true-freedom#comment-3495999609