Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spiritual Resiliency: Nothing New Here

The ball is starting to roll on the development of a 'new' capacity in the Chaplain Branch of Canadian Forces: Spiritual Resilience Training.  We are talking about it, researching it, and trying to build a viable plan to deliver this training to our members.

What is it? Very simply put, spiritual resiliency describes how one's spiritual life (however that is defined) helps a person to rebound and grow in the face of stress, whether it be daily stress or as a result of some traumatic experience.  A person's ability to rebound and grow is a consequence of a number or different factors.  'Resiliency factors' include mental resiliency, physical resiliency, and emotional resiliency, to name a few.  As in the case of other such resiliency factors, they can be more or less effective in light of one's overall 'fitness.'  To use physical resiliency as an easy example, the more robust one's physical fitness plan, generally the more resilient one will be, not only physically, but overall.  Spiritual resiliency is one aspect of this spectrum of overall fitness.

Why is it necessary?  Regardless of how one might define their spirituality, it is a central part of the entire resiliency spectrum.  A person's spirituality answers questions about the meaning, hope and value of life.  Whether one answers these questions from a religious perspective or more secular one, these answers are vital, especially in times of crises.  If one loses hope, other resiliency factors become a moot point.

How will it help?  Encouraging people to examine the fitness of their spiritual lives leads them to an exploration of their core values and understanding of the meaning of their lives.  As a result of this self-exploration, people can more effectively intergrate and align their personal beliefs with the requirements and ethos of military service.  Most personal crises that members go through are neither 'ethical' or 'psychological' - they are crises of meaning and value - in short, spiritual crises.  Engaging people in spiritual reflection after trauma is generally too late.  Without the spiritual resilience factor as a backbone, emotional and psychological damage has likely already occured and must often be addressed before bringing in questions of spirituality.

What contributes to spiritual fitness, and resiliency?  Although descriptions of spirituality tend to be vague and hard to nail down, tools for building spiritual resilience are more concrete and specific.  Connection with a faith/vaule-based community,  prayer/meditation practices, and regular participation in rituals/actions which exemplify one's spirituality/values are just a few of these.

Nothing new here.  At the end of the day, this is old news to Chaplains.  It's been our bread and butter since the beginning of chaplaincy.  It's what we do, day in and day out.  The only difference is that in current Canadian society, and thus military society, we are shifting away from a secularization of religion to an appreciation of the great value which spirituality (religious or not) plays in the lives of individuals and our country.  Rather than slipping spirituality 'under the rug,' or downplaying its role, the CAF is taking a leadership role in acknowledging that core spiritual values are vital to our identity, resilience and well-being.