From the Editor: 25 Years of Spirituality+Health

From the Editor: 25 Years of Spirituality+Health


Our returning editor-in-chief shares what it was like at the very beginning of Spirituality+Health 25 years ago, and explores our vision for the next 25.

25 Years! Wow! How times flies!

We launched S+H in Manhattan. What happened is that Trinity Church Wall Street celebrated its 300th birthday with a national survey to ask what America wanted. When the answer came back “spiritual development,” the Episcopal church where Alexander Hamilton is buried—and that launched Columbia University—funded this magazine. Our original editor, T George Harris, was a WWII artillery scout, a reporter for Time, and the creator of Psychology Today and American Health. T George was friends with people like Abraham Maslow, who launched the Human Potential movement, and Martin Seligman, who began Positive Psychology. I studied philosophy at Yale and spent my senior year becoming a 1980 Olympic rower and writing The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence. Sharing that manuscript with T George got me my first job, and we worked together for decades. With Dede Taylor and Robert Scott at Trinity Church, we created a team to explore body, mind, and spirit.

Our definition of spirituality came from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk famous for gratitude practices. He defines spirituality as “Super-Aliveness!” which morphed into “Total Aliveness!” as we included the planet. Our motto came from Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia: “It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.” On a good day, it still seems that way—especially since we can toss seemingly impossible questions to Rabbi Rami and get good answers (page 8).

Our magazine has been supported by several owners who share the mission. Like vinyl records, we’re still around because you subscribe. As editor, I have been fired twice! Popping up again makes me feel like a Whac-A-Mole, but I love this job. Dancing with the world’s rituals and practices and faith traditions and theologians and neuroscientists is hard to do well for long.

Last October, my wife Mary and I were experiencing Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Goop at Sea, a celebrity cruise along the French Riviera, when I got the call to come back for the 25th Anniversary. The cruise was fun, but suddenly I felt born again! I couldn’t wait to get home. But first we had to check with the Oracle at Delphi and convince my brother Brady, an archaeologist in Athens, to write about the world’s first double-blind experiment—created because the Oracle at Delphi was thought to be bribed. It’s a great story. It shows that some problems are as old as time (page 26).

This issue—my first in four years—is filled with old friends and family swapping stories about the nature of the storytelling animal. Evolutionary neuroscientist Peggy La Cerra, PhD, looks further back than Delphi to explain how alternate facts arose at the very beginning of storytelling (page 18). Brain surgeon Allan Hamilton, MD, gives a harrowing and hilarious account of being intubated without sufficient anesthesia, a tale that explains why some stories flash back and reveals the minefield that is PTSD (page 40). Wellness pioneer Joel Bennett explains an ultimate path to savoring one’s own life story as a “connoisseur of time” (page 48). And Olympic gold medalist Oliver Fix tells of finding Hooponopono Ke Ala, an effortless path to happiness (page 24).

My story, “The Origins of The Declaration of Independence” (page 30), was carried for hundreds of lifetimes to Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim, the last keeper of the Takelma Salmon Ceremony at Ti’lomikh Falls on the Rogue River in Oregon. Reporting the story has taken me a lifetime as well. I’ve been a kayaker since I was eight, and I had a near-death experience in Ti’lomikh Falls the same year we started the magazine. In 2000, I bought the land along the rapids to build a natural whitewater park. Then, in 2006, “Grandma Aggie” came in search of “The Story Chair.” I was adopted into the ancient story, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to fully understand why so many great women risked so much to preserve it. The answer, to borrow from Abraham Lincoln, is so that the “Right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness should not perish from the earth.”

Total aliveness is visceral! That’s why we’re still in print. Please use the QR code to give subscriptions to friends and family. And when you’re done reading, pass this issue to a friend—or leave it in a place where it may prove helpful.


Stephen Kiesling
[email protected]

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From the Editor 25 Years of Spirituality Health

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