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About this book

The steady increase in economic, social, environmental and political hardships experienced by many around the globe has led, in recent years, to a corresponding growth in the importance ascribed to finding meaning in life, and to addressing the bigger questions. As deliverers of care and assistance to people across many different faiths and cultures whose lives are impacted directly by these hardships, current and future social workers must learn to apply concepts of spirituality in their own professional practice.

In this unique and inspiring book, a diverse group of authors draws deeply on their own experiences of spirituality in practice, providing a fascinating and often moving exploration of how meaning is derived in a variety of different contexts. Topics discussed include:

• Mindfulness, meditation and the practice of Falun Gong
• The interaction between spirituality, social justice and professional practice
• The role of spirituality in the provision of palliative care
• Indigenous spiritualities, interconnectedness and human-animal bonds
• The role of spirituality in providing hospitality and acceptance in practice.

Enriched by a wealth of case studies and a strong focus on critical reflection throughout, Practising Spirituality is an important and thought-provoking read for students and practitioners across the full range of health and social care disciplines – from social work and counselling to nursing, youth work and beyond.

Table of Contents

1. What Is Spirituality and How Does It Relate to Professional Practice?

For several years I have been incorporating the topic of spirituality in direct practice courses I teach in a university social work programme. I do this despite the fact that when I was a social work student I was only taught how to conduct biopsychosocial assessments rather than biopsychosocialspiritual assessments. The three-dimensional model continues to be the norm in many programmes that aim to educate practitioners within the helping professions in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America and Australia. Yet Cook, Powell and Sims (2009) of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom suggest it is necessary to add the fourth dimension, that of spirituality, to this biopsychosocial model. Spirituality is a distinctive, potentially creative and universal dimension of human experience arising from both within the inner subjective awareness of individuals and within communities, social groups and traditions. It may be experienced as relationship with that which is intimately ‘inner’, immanent and personal, within the self and others, and/or as relationship with that which is wholly ‘other’, transcendent and beyond the self. It is experienced as being fundamental or ultimate importance and is thus concerned with matters of meaning and purpose in life, truth and values. (Cook, Powell and Sims, 2009, p. 4)
Laura Béres

Critical Reflection and Spirituality


2. Finding Fundamental Meaning through Critical Reflection

I have come, somewhat shamefully I feel, to appreciate the role of spirituality in peoples’ lives rather late in my own life and career. As I say this, I realize this is not entirely true. I was actually raised as a devout Seventh-day Adventist, and this did colour the way I viewed spirituality. This was from the perspective of organized religion, and looking back on it now, I fear I mistook much fundamentalist culture and dogma for spirituality. In my early twenties, I forsook my religion in favour of just thinking for myself and experienced this as entirely novel and not a little bit liberating. I had developed a severe suspicion of organized religion, especially of the fundamentalist kind. In some ways it meant I gave up thinking about explicitly spiritual matters. This stance was never challenged within the social work program I studied in the mid-1970s, when much social work education was very secular in orientation. (Indeed, I recall in my first year of study how I failed an essay on personal values because I wrote about my Christian values.) Despite an ongoing suspicion of organized religion, however, I have had an interesting relationship with both spirituality and religion since that time. In some ways perhaps, given my early negative experiences, this was more of a relationship than I care to acknowledge. It is challenging to reflect back on this now. Over the course of my life, I have had the good fortune to have very close friendships with people who both espoused and practised a quiet yet substantial spirituality. In some cases this was coupled with a formal religion and the churchgoing that entailed. Their religion provides a circle of like-minded people, and a framework from which they contribute to and try to make our world a better place.
Jan Fook

3. Spiritual Influences on Practice: The Interaction between Being a Quaker and the Development of a Critical Spirituality

My current social work practice is as an academic, including provision of training and supervision in critical reflection and critical spirituality. This is both a theory and a process which ‘requires workers to use all of themselves, to take into account the emotional, social, mental, physical and spiritual. This process is one that includes recognizing and working with emotions and thoughts, recognizing the influence of social context and the physical world and the impact of what is meaningful’ (Gardner, 2011, pp. 70–71). What I hope is that for both practitioners and their clients this opens up possibilities for working holistically, including the spiritual, in the sense of what is meaningful for them, in practice. This critical reflection process asks practitioners to work with a specific experience of significance to them in two stages, first to unearth its meaning and secondly to articulate how to put this new understanding into action (Fook and Gardner, 2007). I hadn’t thought about using that practice in writing this chapter, but when I was thinking about how to write it, I remembered a spiritual experience I had when I was about ten years old. Initially, I was surprised that so distant a memory had surfaced, but the more I thought about it, the more it illuminated the changes in my interests in religion and spirituality over the years and in some ways also how these linked to being a social work practitioner and an academic interested in critical reflection and critical spirituality. I found it fascinating to see how many parallel processes reinforced the connections between these different aspects. So I have chosen to use this experience to ground my exploration of how my spiritual self connects to my experience of practice and in the process to highlight how critically reflective practice can provide useful theory as well as processes to foster understanding of spirituality.
Fiona Gardner

Holistic and Indigenous Spiritualities


4. What Spirituality Can Contribute to Social Work Education: Reflections on Teaching and Living

I am a social work educator. The classroom is the primary setting of my professional practice. Students are not individually my clients, but their education is my client. The future clients that they will serve are, by extension, my clients. Although my spiritual practice is rarely formal or associated with organized religion, it is nearly always organic and integrated into my daily living and professional practice. My spirituality, whether revealed and shared, or concealed and obscured, provides me, as social work educator, with centring and support for the difficult work of teaching, as well as providing a foundation that is useful for developing and maintaining professional relations, including student engagement. However, the institutional situation, professionalization and ongoing struggle for the legitimacy of social work education as manifested by an emphasis on evidence-based practice and a positivist outcomes-centred approach creates dissonance and dilemmas where my spirituality is concerned. Never before in my professional life have I been asked about my spirituality. To write about it feels transgressive and dangerous. There lies a boundary here that once voiced and crossed could serve to separate me, again and more, from the many. What lies on this side of the boundary is a sense of safety that requires invisibility of that which makes me authentic and whole, whereas on the other side of the boundary is perhaps a form of liberation. To speak of myself and to name my connections to purpose and spirit is a necessity and a burden. The disinterest that I have experienced, that approaches prohibition, of speaking about the practice of spirituality in the professional realm leads to my difficulty in writing this piece.
Rose Pulliam

5. Mana Moana: Healing the Vā, Developing Spiritually and Culturally Embedded Practices

To be in life is to be in relationship. For centuries among the atolls, islands and archipelagos across the Pacific Ocean, the quality of your relationships was understood to be synonymous with the quality of your life and health. ‘Vā’, or ‘wā’, is a word that is Austronesian in origin, still spoken in 22 languages in Oceania. Vā means relationships. However, it also means space – the space between us. Albert Wendt, the Samoan writer, tells us, ‘Vā is the space between, the between-ness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the unity-in-all, the space that is context, giving meaning to things’ (Wendt, cited in Refiti, 2002, p. 185). This is the space that we ‘feel’ as opposed to ‘see’ (Mila-Schaaf, 2006). Health and well-being is associated with the quality of our : the quality of our interconnections with land, with sea, with sky, with family and other people and with spirit. It is not possible to leave spirituality out of the health and well-being equation. In this chapter, I focus on the way that spirituality permeates indigenous Pasifika therapeutic and restorative health practices and beliefs, illustrating how spirituality is deeply intertwined with health and well-being within Pasifika cultures. This provides an example of how important it is to be aware of culturally distinctive understandings of spirituality and well-being. It also provides an opportunity to broaden the scope and understandings of how humans all over the world have constructed and approached health and spirituality in different cultural contexts.
Karlo Mila

6. Being Different with Different Beings: Social Work and Trans-species Spirituality

This chapter is about a core dimension of my spirituality that imbues both my personal and professional selves – human–animal interactions (HAI) and bonds (HAB) – and how, in particular, they inform a sense of interconnectedness to all, which in turn informs my understanding of social work and sense of justice. HAI and HAB are the threads that weave my professional and personal worlds together into one life guided by the spiritual lessons1 learned from the daily interactions I have with other species and the natural world.2 Having the opportunity here, in this designated public space, to delineate these interconnections is welcome and indeed remarkable. Ironically, although HAI and HAB constitute for many an expectant topic that resonates readily in our diverse everyday lived experiences, increasingly supported by an unprecedented groundswell of popular interest in our relationships to other animals3 and the natural environment,4 HAI and HAB are virtually absent from the field of Canadian social work as well as from health care contexts more broadly. With a mere few scholars and practitioners, including this author, advancing HAI/HAB and social work in Canada, the topic by comparison enjoys extraordinary attention in the United States.5 Such scholarship and activism are supported by a developing body of discipline-specific and multidisciplinary scientific literature, and an ever-increasing number of human–animal studies (HAS), university and college programs, legal centres for animal issues, conferences, journals, individual courses, listservs, databases, museums, animal-assisted therapy programs and HAS organizations for collaborative research.6 The prominent US-based Animals & Society Institute provides a long list of such entities that spans an impressive number of countries, including, in addition to the United States and Canada, Australia, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Cassandra Hanrahan

Eastern Influences in Spiritual Practices


7. A Cultivation Journey with the Falun Gong

I emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1992. I submitted my application to the Canadian embassy the day after the 4 June 1989 massacre in Beijing which crushed the student democratic movement. Tanks moved into Beijing, rolling towards Tiananmen Square, where students had peacefully gathered for seven weeks, merely to ask for a more open and non-corrupt government. My family and I decided to give up a comfortable middle-class life in Hong Kong and ventured into an immigrant life in Canada. As resonated by many immigrants, there is much to learn but also to give up by moving to a new country. In my search to reconnect to my Chinese cultural roots in the Diaspora, I learned about Falun Dafa (commonly known as Falun Gong) at a time when the persecution against this meditative practice had just been launched in 1999. Falun Gong is a body-mind-spiritual practice which upholds the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance (in Chinese, zhēn, shan 善 and rěn 忍). Falun Gong (translated as ‘Practice of the Law Wheel’) is also known as Falun Dafa (translated as ‘Great Way of the Law Wheel’). The practice can be traced back to the Buddhist and Daoist philosophies in the Chinese tradition (see Falun Dafa Information Center: www.​faluninfo.​net/​). Falun Gong practitioners practise a self-cultivation based on the moral teachings of zhēn, shan and rěn to search their paths in order to ‘return to their original, true selves’ as ‘human beings are actually lost in a maze’ (Li, 2000, p. 5).
Maria Cheung

8. Mindfulness for Practitioners: Bringing Attention and Awareness to Personal and Professional Experience

From an early age I can recall seeking moments of stillness and quiet. Growing up on a farm, where work naturally ebbs and flows with nature, may have leant me towards this disposition. Dedicating time for quiet is a relative rarity in modern professional life, whereas busyness and action tend to dominate (Wilkins, 2007). In fact, ‘doing’ is so important in many cultures that it is impossible to envision life without it: People spend their lives almost constantly engaged in purposeful ‘doing’ even when free of obligation or necessity. They ‘do’ daily tasks including things they feel they must do, and others that they want to. Human evolution has been filled with ongoing and progressive ‘doings’, which, apart from enabling the species to survive, has stimulated, entertained and excited some people and bored, stressed, alienated or depressed others according to what was done. (Wilcock, 2006, p. 64) Doing makes up the bulk of our lives: a pleasurable leisure pursuit, a stimulating job or the intimacy of caring for young children. Many people fail to notice that life can, and perhaps should, be more than this constant activity (Kabat-Zinn, 2005a). In this chapter, I argue that perpetual doing, to the point where other ways of living in the world are subjugated, may be particularly problematic for professionals who work in health and social care. Being, as another mode of life, is introduced as a potential corrective. I discuss the inherently spiritual nature of the being mode and offer mindfulness, a contemplative and reflective way of engaging in the world, as one way to tap into being. I conclude by using examples from my own life as a working mother in both academia and clinical practice as an occupational therapist to exemplify how mindfulness, as a spiritual practice, has helped me live a more authentic and purposeful life.
Lisa McCorquodale

Celtic Spirituality and Monastic Influences


9. The Rule of Saint Benedict: Considering Hospitality, and Welcoming Spaces in Contemporary Therapeutic Practice

When I first took up my current position as a social work academic at a Roman Catholic liberal arts university in Canada, I would from time to time meet with the Roman Catholic campus minister to discuss any questions I had about the role of Catholicism in the university and to chat about issues related to spirituality more generally. During one of these chats, in relation to having mentioned a recent pleasant evening when a colleague had popped in for a visit, he suggested that one of my gifts seemed to be hospitality. I have the distinct feeling that at the time I was not particularly impressed with this thought; I think it just seemed too mundane, ordinary or perhaps too much of a mainstream expectation for a female. It is therefore somewhat ironic that since that time I have become more and more interested in the concept of hospitality and what it might offer as a skill for health and social service care providers. Since then I also have become interested in Celtic spirituality, or Celtic Christianity, and have visited communities in Iona, in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, and Holy Island Lindisfarne off the north east coast of England. This has involved learning about the role of monasteries in the development of Celtic spirituality’s beliefs and practices.1 So, perhaps it is not all that surprising really to realize these two interests have come together in my current interest in the concept of hospitality in the Benedictine monastic tradition. There has, indeed, been growing interest in the concept of hospitality and what it suggests as an ethical manner of engagement in contemporary society (Cotter, 1996; Derrida and Dufourmantelle, 2000; Homan and Collins Pratt, 2007; Kramer, 2011; Pearson, 2011).
Laura Béres

10. Utilizing Availability and Vulnerability to Operationalize Spirituality

In this chapter I introduce the concepts of ‘availability and vulnerability’ (A&V) and offer a rationale for adapting these concepts and using them as a framework for operationalizing spirituality in practice. I reflect on the concepts of A&V, describe how they have come to have personal significance for me, provide findings from a recent research study and suggest how they are helpful for integrating spirituality in nursing, social and psychological care. The Northumbria Community is a dispersed Celtic Christian monastic community with a ‘mother house’ based in Northumberland, United Kingdom. (Readers who are unfamiliar with the language of ‘monasteries’, ‘monastic communities’, and ‘monastic “Rules”’ may find it useful to read Chapter 9, in which Laura Béres gives a background to these ideas prior to describing the concept of ‘hospitality’ in the ‘Rule of St Benedict’ and implications for practice.) I became a companion, or member, of this community 17 years ago, and have chosen to integrate their ‘Rule of Life’ and embrace the concepts of ‘availability and vulnerability’ into my own life and work as an advanced nurse practitioner in primary care. The Northumbria Community is a dispersed Celtic Christian monastic community with a ‘mother house’ based in Northumberland, United Kingdom. (Readers who are unfamiliar with the language of ‘monasteries’, ‘monastic communities’, and ‘monastic “Rules”’ may find it useful to read Chapter 9, in which Laura Béres gives a background to these ideas prior to describing the concept of ‘hospitality’ in the ‘Rule of St Benedict’ and implications for practice.) I became a companion, or member, of this community 17 years ago, and have chosen to integrate their ‘Rule of Life’ and embrace the concepts of ‘availability and vulnerability’ into my own life and work as an advanced nurse practitioner in primary care.
Melanie Rogers

Looking Back to Move Forward


11. Spirituality in Palliative Care

This chapter is an exercise in reflective enquiry that spans most of my working life. For the past 40 years, I’ve been involved, in one way or another, with spirituality and palliative care. These twin themes have shaped my professional practice, first as a research student, then as a minister of religion, a professor of practical theology and now a public health palliative care academic. What I hope to do here is outline how the experiences of working in these fields can identify some core developmental themes and key practice issues that may assist others involved in spirituality, palliative care, and health and social services more generally. I am certainly not claiming that my experience typifies those who practise and write in this area. Rather, I offer these reflections to invite others to reflect in a similar way upon their own life projects. Many of my ideas have changed over the years, as have my allegiances and practices. But one thing that has remained constant is my view that spirituality describes our experience of and stance toward the world. Spirituality is expressed through relationships with places and things, with aspects of our selves, with other people, with communities of practice and interest, and with ideas or beliefs that transcend us (Lartey, 1997). Because it emerges within and is expressed through these various aspects of our existence, spirituality weaves them together. It is an integrative, not a separable, aspect of our lives. But because it is integrative, it can also deconstruct our analyses: spirituality transcends and confronts our attempts to capture it in one dimension or in the confines of a single discipline. My challenge, then, is to discuss what seems to be central without unnecessarily imposing boundaries.
Bruce Rumbold

12. A Few Concluding Thoughts

I have found the process of writing for, and editing, this collection of chapters an enriching and interesting experience. I hope readers will have found it just as engaging. Having asked people to contribute to a book titled Practising Spirituality: Reflecting on Meaning-Making in Personal and Professional Contexts, and then having only tentatively suggested what each author might like to write about, has allowed us all the freedom to follow our interests as they unfolded in the reflecting and writing process. This has meant the whole process for me was a little like setting out on an adventure where my path crossed with the authors’ paths from time to time as we engaged with ideas presented in their chapters. We had a rough idea of where we were headed, but we could not have known ahead of time what we might learn on the way. Although I have grouped chapters in certain sections that highlight some of the communalities between those chapters, I also believe there are other themes which cut across the majority of chapters; I highlight these broader themes in this concluding chapter. In Chapter 11, Bruce Rumbold comments that personal formation goes hand in hand with professional development, and indeed each of us in our respective chapters has reflected on the links between our personal and professional lives. In particular, we have examined how spirituality has inextricably woven these two areas together, regardless of whether the professional practice is teaching, counselling, community development or advocacy for social justice.
Laura Béres
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