In 1982 I was pregnant with twins. Almost midway through the pregnancy one of the twins died which signaled my body to end the pregnancy and I began to hemorrhage. For the next three months I was on bed rest trying to save the other baby, but on January 31st, 1983, I went into labor. Despite efforts to stop labor, the baby continued to come. She was early, but babies her size had lived so I wasn’t too worried until suddenly my heart rate shot to 300, every muscle in my body began to shake uncontrollably, my temperature reached 106 degrees, and my white blood count 25,000. While all this was happening to me, my baby’s heart stopped beating.
My husband was sitting in a chair next to my bed–only inches away from me, his head in his hands. As I looked at him in that distressed pose the thought came to me that I was also going to die. Immediately I thought, "There’s no way he can raise eight daughters alone!" and I felt myself fight to stay alive. There are no words to describe what happened in the next few moments, but I fought on. They delivered Sonoma stillborn, and whisked me to another floor of the hospital. More doctors came, they hooked me to machines and four different antibiotics that clanged against an IV pole near my bed. For the next twenty-four hours, a nurse checked me often. One of those times she pulled back the covers and discovered that the entire bed was soaked in blood. There wasn’t a white spot of sheet showing anywhere. Quickly doctors were recalled and packets of blood replaced the bottles of antibiotics on the pole. With all this care, I stabilized, ten days later returned home, and am alive to ponder and learn from the experience.
One lesson I learned is the importance of monitoring. The nurse checked my vital signs every 15 minutes that first night. Assessing my temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure told her whether I was coming out of danger or encountering more. It helped her know what to give me to keep me alive. The culturing of the bacteria that had entered my blood stream and caused the problems told the doctors which antibiotic would work. But especially, if the nurse hadn’t been checking frequently, I would have bled to death.
This monitoring is important not only when we are ill, but also when we are healthy. It is much easier to cure an impending disease than it is to cure a full-blown one. Therefore, besides vital signs, blood work and other tests are done to discover hidden problems. In short, keeping in good physical health entails monitoring our bodies.
What we don’t as often recognize is that spiritual well-being requires constant monitoring. And what is it we monitor? Our feelings. Feelings are the vital signs of the spirit. Positive feelings such as joy, happiness, love, kindness, and delight all indicate that the Spirit is with us and all is well. Negative feelings such as jealousy, hatred, animosity, vengeance, and self-pity indicate that the Spirit has withdrawn. There are other feelings that can be positive or negative depending on the motivation behind them. Such feelings include grief, sorrow, boredom, fatigue, and worry. Only you can determine if these are positive or negative in any given situation.
When we realize that feelings are vital signs of the spirit, we recognize that one way to insure spiritual health is to stop frequently during the day and monitor our feelings. If we feel positive emotions then we should rejoice and give thanks. If we feel negative emotions we need to take the "medicine" that will heal us and restore us to the positive. And what is emotional medicine? The three most powerful prescriptions for negative feelings are gratitude, forgiveness, and serving others. When our spiritual vital signs indicate there is a problem, we can use any one of these three "medicines" to pull us out of the dark caused by negative feelings and into the light of positive feelings and a healthy spirit.