“Jordan river, is chilly an’ cold, It chills the body but not the soul” are words to an American spiritual, Everytime I Feel the Spirit that I sang when I was in the Glee Club at New York University as an undergraduate. It was not, however, until recently, when I began to ponder these words that I found disagreement with them. Today we know of the body/mind/soul connection and that one affects the other both positively and negatively. A chilled body can affect one’s soul, and a chilled soul can affect the body. Each part of the human being is interconnected with the other in a holistic network that is miraculously synthesized into a beautiful whole being that, most of the time, works well and functions in a healthy manner.
Common sense tells of this mind/body/soul connection and the affect one part has on another. How often have you told someone, “if you don’t get some rest, you will get yourself sick?” How often has someone said to you, “If you don’t stop thinking negatively, you will just destroy yourself and everyone around you.” I once met someone who was dying of lung cancer even though her doctor had given her a good prognosis. When I asked her doctor as to why this was happening, he told me that she was so depressed with the recent death of her husband she no longer wanted to live. I recall when my own great aunt died of what her doctor called a broken heart after the death of her sister, my grandmother. These are evidence of the mind/body/soul connection.
Our tradition knows of this mind/body/soul connection. The prayer for the sick demonstrates this understanding in a most direct way with its words:
השם תשלח רפואה שלמה, ורפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף
God send a complete healing to (name of loved one),
A healing of soul and a healing of body.
Note how this prayer defines its own terms. A complete healing occurs when and only when both parts of the human body, the soul and the body, are healed. The implication is that to have a healing of one part without the other will doom that person to continued illness.
Unfortunately, most if not all of us have had physicians who only treat the body and not the soul. I think I can be quite correct to say that we have experienced one time or another the physician who only sees the patient, maybe you or I, as the gall bladder in room 202, or the lymphoma in room 456. When we have such a physician, we yearn for a doctor who will treat us as a complete human being and not just as a part of the body or an illness.
I can vividly recall visiting a patient in a local New York hospital where I served as a chaplain. After walking in, introducing myself, and sitting down by the bedside, the patient said, “Rabbi, I am so very happy you are here.” After I responded that I was glad to be able to visit her, she said, “I feel this way because I know as a man of God you will care about me from the top of my head to the bottom of my toes. The doctors here don’t see me as a whole person but you will.”
Just as we yearn to have doctors and others in our lives see us as a whole person, if we are to be a complete person than we need to then see ourselves in this way as well. If are physically ill we must see a doctor to have the issues addressed, diagnosed, and, God willing, taken care of properly and effectively. As we then physically feel better, so too will we mentally and spiritually feel better.
The opposite is also true.
If we find ourselves depressed, worried, overwhelmed with negative thoughts and feelings, then these issues need to be addressed. If not, they can make us physically ill or if we are ill, inhibit the healing process. Stress can, of course, contribute to cardiovascular problems. Studies have found a correlation between a significant loss or a significant trauma in one’s life and the onset of cancer.
What can we do if we find that our mind/soul is hurting and in need of healing? We can seek outside help from a Rabbi, other spiritual advisers or a therapist. We can pray, meditate, or find various spiritual teachings either in books or online that help us move toward a place of inner peace founded in ancient teachings. We can look to practices such as yoga or Tai Chi to help the mind/soul find peace in a body that yearns to be well. We can of course exercise that is appropriate for our age and physical abilities or disabilities.
An awareness of the body/mind/soul connection is especially important during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a time of great stress for many of us and if we can analyze our state of being and see if we need a correction in any area of our body, mind or soul, we can make the necessary adjustments. We can then do the necessary work to correct that part that might not be well in order to make the whole person well again.
Let us pray and work for a healing of our souls during this time of great stress and as we do so, we will bring about a healing of our body as well.