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Total Wellness Must Include the Spirit

Total Wellness Must Include the Spirit


In the midst of a growing epidemic HIV continues as a threat that has crossed every cultural, socioeconomic, and political barrier and boundary, tearing through the very fabric of our nation and our world. But our response has been one marked by panic and dismay, fueled by denial and fear, and defined by stigma and discrimination. Advancements in fighting HIV disease can really be measured only through our ability to heal our communities from the inside out'but our healing process is impaired. Endless frontline battles have been waged to further research and pharmaceutical developments over the years. But one piece that has been missing'a piece that provides the healing element of a nontraditional approach'is spirituality. The very term often unnerves conventional medical practitioners. Too few open the dialogue with their patient population about mind, body, and spirit. Yet people who are living with HIV are increasingly becoming interested in pursuing the strengthening of their inner spirit, their oneness, and one's deepest self. Prevention too needs a spiritual foundation in order to save our communities. The core of HIV prevention work is people joining together in a time of great need. It is the oneness in our hearts that allows us to fully recognize HIV's devastation and to remove the blinding denial that continues to fuel the disease's spread. If we do not find and foster this spiritual connection with each other, we will lose much more than we already have. A great spiritual teacher, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, taught me the lesson that pain sticks to pain'but that joy sticks to joy. Ma's teachings center on the breath'simply breathing in and out, being aware of every moment. The breath itself becomes a spiritual pathway of healing, of eliminating pain. Many who live each day with the struggle of managing HIV disease experience overwhelming pain, both physical and psychological. Through a spiritual approach, this pain can be stripped away layer by layer. This also holds true for family members, friends, and loved ones who face the difficult effects that HIV and AIDS levy. A great many people who live with HIV disease also face a deep spiritual crisis. Feelings of guilt, shame, and fear too often lead to isolation and to social stigmas that create isolation. Embracing spirituality begins the process of healing oneself from the inside out, shedding the loss one may experience because of a positive diagnosis or in learning of a loved one's diagnosis. Further, the anguishing pain of providing care for a loved one is lightened through a spiritual embrace. In order to move forward, to strip the layers of pain away, to find clarity and peace, this healing process must begin. It brings great comfort and consolation when the pain seems overwhelming. Too often we meet the madness of the medicines, the endless clinical appointments, and the painful realizations void of a spiritual embrace. Spirituality helps to make sense out of this madness and to maintain awareness and clarity. Where should our spiritual journeys take us? Simply put, they take us home to where, proverbially, the heart is. Spirituality opens our heart. The pathway to healing begins there. Spiritual growth brings mindfulness; mindfulness brings awareness; awareness is the key to healing. It is the breath inside of the breath. Cohen is president of the North Miami, Fla.'based United Foundation for AIDS, an organization that provides a range of HIV prevention, education, advocacy, and social services.

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Marc E. Cohen