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When asked what can be done to enhance the immune function of our children as well as ourselves, I begin by emphasizing the role of psychology within the concept of psychoneuroimmunology. This question takes on significance within the expanding framework of dissatisfaction with reliance on drugs, especially vaccines, to effect immune function. The effects of psychologic stress on immune function has been well characterized by Ader, Felten and Cohen (1) and more recently by Rabin (2). Spirituality lies within the realm of one's psychology but can it play a role in our immune function. Larry Dossey has reviewed the role of an individual's spirituality on their own health as well as the health of others. (3) Do our children then need spirituality in order to best function immunologically? Does accepting the concept of a spiritual-immune connection mean we need to train our kids to become contemplative monks or little theologians? Certainly not.
The word "spirituality" is much misunderstood in our western culture. Rolheiser explains that spirituality is not about going to church, mosque, synagogue, reading spiritual books or praying for that matter. (4) Long before we or our kids do anything remotely religious we must deal with the fire, the desire, the spirit that burns within us. What we do with that fire, how we choose to direct that inner energy constitutes our spirituality. We all therefore, have a spirituality whether we want it or not, whether we are religious or not. Kids running, playing, laughing, singing, etc. are simply expressing their spirituality. And of course, we want to suppress their exuberance or drug them if their "spirituality" interferes with ours or their teachers. The habits and disciplines we use or impose on our children to shape the desire, that burning energy, form the basis for a spirituality regardless of whether these have an explicit religious dimension to them or even whether they are consciously expressed at all. (4)
At odds with one another are this burning desire and the habits and disciplines of control. Allow the fire to go uncontrolled and we break down and burn out. Over control and discipline the fire and the flame gets extinguished. Either extreme serves to stress the individual's spirituality, psychology, neurology and immunology. Imposing a home and school environment on the kids which either allows their spirit to run unbridled or stifles and strangles their spirit will generate unhealthy kids. Either extreme therefore, can adversely affect their spirituality resulting in spiritual dis-ease if you will. Spiritual dis-ease begets interference which catalyzes stress on all psychoneuroimmunological levels.
I recently listened to a program which discussed the consequences of encouragement and labeling in child development. There is a fine line between the two. Encouragement seeks to nourish the child's spirit allowing it to flourish and reveal inner passions and talents. Labeling children initiates a process whereby they rely on the expectations and spirit of others. The child's own spirit, passion and fire are essentially extinguished and they play the roles assigned them. An imposed spirituality is a fictional, false spirituality. It is a spirituality of non-self. Do you suspect that this can effect their immune systems?
I so often ponder why our society leads the world in chronic degenerative diseases which have immune imbalances as their foundation. The hallmark of autoimmune diseases is the body's forgetting self from non-self. Is it any wonder that a psychological, spiritual crises in self non-self discrimination manifests as an immunological inability to recognize and protect self? The process can be so devastating that the immune system can go as far as to direct antibodies against self DNA. Antinuclear antibodies are typically seen in diseases such as lupus.
What ultimate insult for your immune system to wish to eliminate you right down to your own DNA. Dispiriting, labeling can lead an individual to loose the concept of “Who am I?” The immune system is a reflection of this psychological construct.