A client I'll call Jen talked with me soon after receiving the news that she was HIV+.
'I can't help but ask why this happened to me, even though I'm not really expecting to find an answer. I just know that I want my life to have some kind of meaning beyond an HIV diagnosis. Having that focus is going to help me to get through this.'
Another client, who I'll call Alex, has been living with HIV for many years, and recently changed regimens.
'I came home from my doctor's appointment and I couldn't help but think that I was being given yet another chance at life. I put on my favorite music and it sounded different than it has ever sounded before, almost as if I was hearing it for the first time. I felt connected to the world in a new way.'
Living with HIV forces us to look at our basic beliefs about life, to face the reality of life on life's terms that had previously been abstract. It can make us experience what it means to put love into action, beginning with loving ourselves. These challenges, and the lessons they teach, can be the launching pad for a spiritual awakening which, in turn, contributes to overall emotional health.
Want to explore your spiritual side? Here are some ideas for building more spirituality into your life.
Practice mindfulness. We are only guaranteed this moment in time, no more and no less. Are you making the most of each moment, in the now, or are you focused on what already happened or what might happen? Mindfulness helps you to wake up to what's real, and possible, right now.
Meditate, contemplate or pray. You might find it helpful to develop a regular meditation routine every day, even for a few minutes, to relax the bang-banging going on in your head and let yourself just be. This is the foundation for mindfulness. Or spend some time focusing your mind on the meaning of your life, or on a positive idea or image. Most religions encourage some form of prayer, as a way of communicating with a higher power, expressing appreciation, seeking guidance, and asking for help for ourselves and others.
Read for inspiration. Spend some time reading an inspirational book, even just a page or two, to give you a hand in maintaining an optimistic attitude. Or find some spiritual resources on the web. Build in a few minutes first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day (or better yet, both).
Enjoy what you most enjoy. It's easy to fall into letting life happen around us, or running on that treadmill of work and more work, and forgetting to honor ourselves by doing the things we most enjoy. A medical condition can be a wake-up call to add more balance'including recreation and, yes, fun.
Join a spiritual community. Joining a church, synagogue, temple, or other spiritual community brings you into contact with people who share your spiritual values, who can help you to deepen your day-to-day experience of spirituality and provide emotional support.
Experience nature. The natural world around us is a constant reminder that we are a part of something larger than our daily experiences. It's still summer. Take quiet walks, sit outside and enjoy the sun, the breeze, the sounds of birds chirping or children playing in the park. Or hit the beach and listen to what the waves have to tell you.
Embrace compassion. Accept yourself for who you are, celebrate your personal strengths as well as all the evidence that you are human and not superhuman. And then do the same for the other people in your life. Replace judgment with acceptance. Don't forget, we are all in this world together.
Share, care, volunteer. Put your compassion to work by doing something for someone in need. Help out a friend, family member, or a stranger in need by offering just a few words of encouragement. Lend someone a listening ear. Put in an hour or two helping out with a cause that's important to you.
The joys'as well as the disappointments and sorrows'are a part of life. Having spiritual support for the road ahead can make all the difference in terms of coping with the inevitable challenges that spring up along the way, as well as maintaining a hopeful and optimistic attitude.
Spiritual self-care strengthens your foundation. It helps you to survive and thrive'and makes you a lot less likely to lose your balance when you hit the next bump in the road.
You're treating your HIV. But what are you doing for your spirit?