Spirituality means something different to all of us. Not only is it different because of the culture we are raised in but also because of who we are and what our souls have grown to be. Spirituality and religion, though often thought of together, are not necessarily the same thing. Healing is a principle that seems to be a part of every person’s spiritual beliefs as well as any cultural and religious beliefs they might have. This paper will compare and contrast three patients and how different and yet how much the same their spiritual beliefs about healing are.
(All names used are fictitious). Mary is Navajo, Betty is Indian, and Jean is Haitian. Each of these women have many different reasons for being in the hospital but all were willing to spend some time talking with me. Mary, however, speaks mostly Navajo so her daughter is helping us with our conversation. Each of them has very different perspectives about healing.
Mary believes that man does not heal us but is the instrument of the ancestors that help in the healing. She believes that humans are connected to and affect each other and that connection extends to the spirit world (Desmangles, 2001, pg. 6). There are many healing things that the Native American uses including healing herbs and the sweat lodge, but more important than that are the rituals that draw the ancestors close to help in the healing. Native American women like Mary also believe that telling stories and visiting among other women of the tribe is a healing experience, sharing meals and walks with them, allowing the spirits to engulf them and help to heal occur.
Mary believes in what is called the power of the breath. Man takes his first breath and when he dies he gives up his last breath. Breathing deeply releases toxins and helps in any healing process (Gire, 2002, pg 20). Laughter releases tension and allows healing to take place. Many times, Mary’s daughter would do something to try to make her laugh as they believe that this effort will help them to heal faster.
Betty immigrated to our country as did Jean. Betty is from India and she is Hindi. Hindi elders are usually financially and otherwise dependent on their families. Most of them do not make their own healthcare decisions and believe that their families will do the best thing for them. She believes that the right medicine for healing is Ayurveda and is not confident in healing in this country. Ayu means life and Veda means knowledge and the system is a belief in mind, body, and spirit. Karma is the law of behavior and Betty believes that if her behavior has been judged as bad, she will not get better and healing will not occur because Karma will determine how one lives and dies. She also believes that her illness is caused because she has done something wrong.
Jean, who is Haitian, has very spiritual beliefs. She practices Catholicism and volume at the same time. She believes that consciousness is a cluster of several parts of the mind, psychological entities which make up the self. According to mythology, the body is made of clay and water and inside that body is a soul that exists in several parts. She believes that when she dies, Mawu will take her se or soul and transfer it to the body of a newborn infant who will carry these. This happens over and over again in life and that is how ancestry is maintained. The Mawu can cure her or help her to heal if it is not time to pass on her se (O’Gorman, 2008, pg 16).
Spirituality and Healthcare
In each of these cases, the way they might respond to different healthcare workers that had different spiritual or religious beliefs might be different. In all three cases, these women believed that their ancestral spirits would tell them of bad healthcare workers that were not trustworthy. The only one somewhat different here was Mary who does not have the trust of the healthcare workers unless they show that they are trustworthy. In Mary’s case, she is more likely to trust you if you sit and talk with her, share food with her, and talk about something other than healthcare before getting around to a healthcare issue.
For Betty, there are some very important things to remember too. Modesty is highly valued among women from her country. Men and women should have minimum direct eye contact. Hindu women will come in wearing a thread around their neck which should not be removed. They will take a very passive role and whatever the doctor says will be right and mental illness is considered a stigma so using that diagnosis should be avoided at all costs, always calling it something else but treating it for what it is.
Jean believes that healthcare workers can make her more comfortable and treat her symptoms but they have nothing to do with whether or not she survives and if she dies her spirit will come out immediately and possess one of her family and say goodbye before ascending to heaven.
Differing Spiritual Beliefs
In each of these cases, the women were glad to have been asking about their beliefs, although in all three cases they were somewhat timid. There was plenty of family interaction in all of their cases. They all felt it was very important for healthcare workers to know at least something about their beliefs and their families were very adamant. The general censuses were that in each case, some taboos could cause them to lose their way in the spirit world or cause them to not get better on this side. If healthcare workers only learned enough to know those things it would be enough.
Though each of our women believes we as healthcare workers must understand their religion or spirituality, they do not believe that we should change to theirs, in fact, in the case of the Navajo, only the Navajo are affected by many of those beliefs. They are appreciative that we have beliefs about a God but in most cases, they also believe in general Christians are not spiritual enough. It should be remembered that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing.
Christians believe, in some ways, the same things. They believe that Jesus and or God will heal them with prayer and support. That prayer and support most often come from their community and their church. They also sometimes believe that if one is bad, God may punish them by not healing them. There is also the belief that the body may not be healed but the spirit would be before the person ascends to heaven.
Spirituality is important and to each of us, it is different no matter what our religion is. Though each of these backgrounds and spiritual beliefs as well as cultures is different the deep connection of these women with their families and with their ancestors is extremely strong. I think we often mysticize these cultures believing that somehow there is something special in their beliefs that we just don’t get but that is not what I saw. What I heard and saw as I interviewed these women was a need for family, a belief in something greater than themselves, and a need to be a part of the world around them. In those things, they found their healing, no matter what they called it.
Desmangles, L. (2001). The vodun way of death: cultural symbiosis of Roman Catholicism and Vodun in Haiti. The Journal of Religious Thought. 32(6).
Gire, J.T. (2002). How death imitates life: cultural influences on conceptions of death and dying.
O’Gorman, S. (2008). Death and dying in contemporary society: an evaluation of current attitudes and the rituals associated with death and dying and their relevance to recent understandings of health and healing. Journal of Advanced Nursing 27. 1127-1135.