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Spiritual care

Spirituality and wairua

Spiritual care involves caring for the wairua (spirit) of people and everything connected to them. Sometimes spiritual care needs to be tended to above all other forms of care. Spirituality can be entwined with religion, however, they are not the same, and for Māori they can mean very different things.

Coline, who was providing long-term care of her father, commented on her understanding of spirituality; for Coline, spirituality is deeply connected to and intertwined with everything in her life… like breathing… and it is present in everything she does with, and for, her beloved father:

[Caring for Dad] it’s not an obligation. It’s like breathing. I just had to do it… after [doing] that for two years I could hardly sleep. I’d always be worrying ‘who’s looking after my Dad?’…

Hmm, it’s funny because when you say that [word ‘spirituality’] you say it like it’s separate. But it’s part of you… Yeah, it’s like ‘how important is your hair?’ It’s like ‘Well it’s really important!’ Or ‘how important are your eyes?’ Like that… it’s like everything else.

Whaea T. (community health professional) spoke about how when she is working with whānau, she sometimes has to explain the difference between wairua and Pākehā understandings of spirituality:

Well spirituality is more like their hāhi [religion] you know. For using Māori kupu[s] it’s about… your wairua [spirit]… it’s about your feelings and that, the emotional stuff and what you really need to do in terms to get to that other end. Or, you’ve got something [inside] you know… but you can’t [express that] because you might be too whakamā [embarrassed] or something. Or you don’t know, or you haven’t got any knowledge or you’re just too whakamā… to get help and things like that. So, it’s about that wairua that need…

Whaea Christine identified that spirituality was paramount to the Māori whānau that she and her husband work with. She spoke about how she was baptised as an Anglican, but believes in something greater, out in the universe:

I was baptised as an Anglican to marry Tom… However, I believe in the greater wairua and there’s something greater out there whatever we call it, whatever the individual says it is, that’s up to them yeah.

Kaumātua Tom gave a definition of ‘wairua’ and what he understands it to mean:

Well when you look at the word ‘wairua’, ‘wai’ is water and ‘rua’ is two worlds. That’s how I look at it… For the wairua, well, we’re born in water. Water is, I mean without it, mēnā ki te kore ki te wai - none of us would be here… That’s only simple.

The thing is we use these words, but we don’t actually look at the true meaning of them. If you have a look at real meaning of those words, then the secrets come out.

GP A. expressed that she trusts in her inner guidance and she can hear messages that come in the form of a story through colours and signs to guide her with caring for her patients. She explains how she works with wairua:

Yeah, I’m not matakite. I wouldn’t say that. At times I would think, people would think I am because of what I can tell them. But I’m not… I don’t see things. I don’t see spirits or any[thing] but I feel, and… and then I get a sign. Um. How do I describe this? So, I see colours and I get signs, and I know what those mean. And… I do see things, but they’re not like, I don’t see a [spirit] person. I might see an outline of such, so I’ll know someone’s tall, or that’s a tall person. You know like before coming here I knew there was a tall man that guards this door. Like I just know these things and so before I come here, I know that you know, I need to mihi to his mauri [life force] and make sure that everything’s okay in order to be in this space. So, if someone’s coming into my room, beforehand, if I know they’re palliative it’s different. So, if I’ve clicked on their file and they come ‘it’s a palliative patient’, I know that first and foremost they’re going to need as much time as they need. I can’t shut that down. So, my day could turn terrible because everyone’s going to have to wait. You know? But, because that’s really important, how can I not give time to those in need? Everyone needs time, but I think, in particular, their wairua is just a little bit different at times. Like because there’s so much going on for them, so I need to be able to tune into that. So, I do look at their file because that’s part of my job, and through looking at that I get a sense; and that’s not wairua stuff or spiritual stuff, I just get a sense. And generally, as I walk out to the waiting room I will know. I will know who that person is, or, and know what’s necessary, generally. Not always. So, I get the sense of, yeah okay, and I pretty much know exactly how much time it’s going to take me, what’s going to happen, like I’ve already had it. The story’s been told to me. That’s probably it. I get a story. Something they’ve [tūpuna] told me, ‘This is what’s happening.’

GP A. needs to be in the ‘wairua space’ for the stories to feel the stories but sometimes it’s too difficult in a busy clinic to experience this, especially with only a 15-minute appointment time:

So, some Tūpuna of some sort [is helping me] …not my tūpuna. It’s just like, this is the story, this is what’s happening. So, I kind of get guided into what needs to happen. And that doesn’t always happen, like I need to be in the space sometimes, and sometimes I, I protect myself because it’s just too much happening in my day to day, 15-minute appointments to be able to do that. But if I’m prepared it’s easier, and sometimes I’m not prepared, and I think I’m prepared, and it doesn’t turn out. So, I get a story, that’s exactly the words I was trying to find. It’s not I see things, someone sends me a story of some sort of, and how that may look is like, glimpses of pictures and that, and time. I don’t get time frames, but I can approximate timeframes and just glimpses of stories… pictures that I know, ‘Yep that’s their story. Okay this is what’s happened. This is where they’re at. This is what needs to happen today.’

GP K. understands whānau and knows when something is wrong from their body language and āhua (appearance):

I guess my ability to read the whānau. So, I can, you know, just reading body language, knowing when something’s just not quite right or when it’s really right um… Yeah, I can, I definitely can sense the ah not, not that sense, but I can sense the āhua of the room… and when to… I think working here for 10 years and knowing where you can step in and where you just need to be quiet and gentle and calm and careful. You know so it’s a- I don’t think it’s like a sixth sense, what I’m talking about more is the ability to understand and read a situation, the room, who is who. And, and knowing how to approach that.

Whaea Linda (hospice kaiwhakahaere) highlighted that Māori believe that the wairua (spirit) is still around the tūpāpaku until it rests when interred at the urupā next to its relatives:

That’s the understanding that we [have]. That’s what our, you know, our spiritualists talk about. They’re not resting.

Whaea Linda shared her story about her father being cremated:

My dad got cremated and that was just odd for a kaumātua. Yeah, didn’t like it. No. Oh, well he remarried. That will teach him. 38 years he’d been married, re-married yeah, and he got cremated. They made it. Because they’re both going to be buried together, and ashes.

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