3 lessons from the National Wellness Conference

Two weeks ago, I attended the National Wellness Conference in Orlando, Florida. I joined attendees from all over the world as we celebrated the theme, “The Key to Thriving: Six Dimensions of Wellness.” The NWI Six Dimensions of Wellness are: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, occupational, and social. The key to wellness is recognizing each of the dimensions rather than focusing solely on the physical.

This year’s theme was about thriving. However, instead of promoting high-level wellness — or as I call it, an unrealistic state of perfection — sessions and discussions focused on living life in the trenches with our challenges and learning life lessons. The lessons we discussed were various, and many were profound — things like love, connection, compassion, resilience, and self-care. But there were three additional lessons that I learned this year, and I wanted to share them with you.

Lesson No. 1: We are hungry for spirituality     

In wellness, we’ve talked about the body for decades, and have discussed the mind, as well, but we’ve not yet widely approached the spirit. This year at the conference, we finally started to! There were a number of sessions about spiritual health, including my own.

I had the honor of presenting the breakout session: “3 Perspectives of Spiritual Health – The Dance of Mind and Body” alongside worksite wellness and resilience researcher, writer, and trainer Joel Bennett, and well-being and body awareness coach Lisa Medley. We came together to give the spiritual wellness dimension a new voice. We helped participants identify their own definitions of the human spirit, assess their driving value(s), and process where they are on their own spiritual journeys.

We also discussed myths and truths. The main myth is if we get really good at being spiritual, we will attain health, peace, and enlightenment. The truth is no matter how spiritual we get, we will still get sick, hurt, and will die; we will always have issues and problems to solve; and we will always seek enlightenment. Spirituality is a tool but just like working with the body, it has its limitations.

What our session did was create a safe space to talk openly about spiritual concepts. We helped everyone feel seen, heard, and valued — no matter their beliefs — and we humanized the spirit. We brought the idea of spirit down into the body where it can be felt as energy. Participants were inspired and one even said that the session “changed her life!”

Lesson No. 2: We are struggling with loneliness  

As Joel, Lisa, and I chatted the night before our talk, we got to talking about being on the spiritual path and that it can feel lonely. Sometimes, it feels as though we are the only ones continuously seeking and contemplating life through a spiritual lens. Interestingly though, as we talked to more people, we recognized that many others felt this way, too, but not only about spirituality. Working in the wellness field, in general, sounds lovely, but often is a lonely endeavor regardless of the inclusion of the spiritual component in our work. Just like spirituality, any wellness professional can feel like they are the only one talking about wellness and it can feel isolating.

Even more interesting though, as it turns out, this issue of loneliness is at epidemic levels, and it does not only reside in the spirituality and/or wellness field(s). It’s with everyone in our culture.

I went to the breakout session, “The Epidemic of Loneliness” by Justin Gephart, and wow, what an eye-opener about what we are dealing with in our culture. Justin talked about cellphones, texting, e-mail, social media, dating apps, digital entertainment, and television. He shared the statistics from the Cigna loneliness study and a news story where it was reported that:

  • 1 in 2 people feel that they are alone or left out;
  • 1 in 5 people do not feel close to people (nor feel they can talk to others);
  • 1 in 4 people do not feel that people really understand them;
  • 2 in 5 people feel that their relationships are not meaningful (and they feel isolated);
  • Generation Z is the loneliest generation; and
  • Social media alone is not a predictor of loneliness

(Continued)

 

Although it’s easy to blame social media, Justin explained it’s more than that. It’s anything that disconnects us from communicating and connecting in person with individuals or groups. Think about this for a minute. Think about how the average workplace is set up. We are separated in cubes or offices, all communicating by email or text or social media. Are we lonely? You bet.

Justin reminded us that we are human and that we need human, face-to-face interaction. We connect and communicate with each other not just through our words, but through facial expressions, body language, behaviors, and so on. He asked jokingly, “How many of you have ever written something to someone by text or e-mail and had it misinterpreted?” Every hand went up.

His talk was phenomenal, and his message was important. We are all suffering with loneliness, and we are also constantly creating it through our habits. We need to intervene with ourselves and others. Wellness is about cultivating well-being, and in order to do that we need human connection through face-to-face interactions. We need and want “to love and be loved” — in person.

Lesson No. 3: Life is precious and precarious

We all had such a wonderful time at the conference. There were so many of hugs, smiles, and heart-to-heart connections. We were all on a high. But life, as we know, is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, and together we rode the emotional rollercoaster.

A few days after the conference ended, we all learned that one of our own passed away. Her name was Carrie Phelps, and she was a shining star in the fields of wellness and mind-body medicine. She was a leader, visionary, mentor, and friend to many of us. If you knew her, you experienced her presence.

When I first started going to the National Wellness Conference many years ago, whenever I would introduce myself to people and discuss my perspectives or career interests, they would ask, “Have you met Carrie yet?” Enough people said it that I had to meet her, and yes, she was amazing. She became a role model for me — someone I looked up to. I wanted to follow in her footsteps, and I did, and still am doing so.

Through witnessing Carrie’s journey over the last decade, I learned the heart of the wellness profession. I learned that we can aim to live well, to heal, and to grow, but there is neither a magic wand nor method to take our life’s challenges away. We can, as Carrie taught me, turn toward “loving what is,” quoting Byron Katie’s book.

Through Carrie’s example, we can learn to accept our challenges as they come and follow through with hope, determination, resilience, and grace. We can work with what we have and let go of expectations of specific outcomes. We can learn to live in the moment, enjoy the present, connect to our loved ones, feel gratitude deeply, and cherish small moments.

Carrie, I think I speak for everyone who knew you — thank you! Thank you for being you and thank you for shining your light!

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