Reclaiming our physical, emotional and spiritual spaces

Via St Luke's Hospital

A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow // December 31, 2020, 12:43 pm


As the year of unprecedented global upheaval draws to a close, the author, CEO of St Luke's Hospital, reflects on redeeming the three key spheres in our lives that have been affected by Covid-19. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash.

Webster dictionary defines space as a limited extent in one, two or three dimensions (that is, distance, area or volume). This is the physical space that we are familiar with.

Space also refers to the distance from other people or things that a person needs in order to remain comfortable. This is related to emotional space.

In reality, I believe there are three spheres of space – physical, emotional and spiritual – that affect us. It is important to consider how we can redeem these spaces.

1. Redefining our physical space

Wars have been fought over land and space in the history of mankind. This is also played out in many companies as individuals jostle for more physical space which oftentimes reflects one’s influence or importance in an organisation.

However, the pandemic has shown us that we can work around physical spaces. Many workplaces – including ours – have reconstructed our office space so that we can work in multiple zones.

The pandemic has shown us that we can work around physical spaces.

We can innovatively redefine our work space so that we may enjoy a more conducive physical work environment.

At St Luke’s Hospital (SLH), 2020 also saw us move to a new virtual space where we worked with National University of Singapore students and National University Health System doctors to conduct virtual health screenings for Bukit Batok residents who were assessed to be frail or pre-frail.

In the last few years, we also expanded our clinical care space beyond our physical walls to reach out to more communities and other community care providers.

We need to continue leveraging on technology in the ensuing years. This will help us redeem virtual space, improve productivity and, in the case of SLH, innovatively provide care for our patients.

2. Reconnecting in our emotional space

Emotional space refers to the distance from other people or things that a person needs in order to remain comfortable.

When we had to stay home during Circuit Breaker, we might have felt our emotional space being “intruded upon” as never before were we in such constant contact with our families.

I hope that we will invest in building relationships so that our emotional tank will be topped up.

Conversely, being confined to our current location may have also resulted in some who feel low in their emotional tank, especially foreigners who are unable to return home.

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The new arrangements of working in zones or working from home may also lead to some of us feeling isolated. Work can become less enjoyable without the human connection.

To help staff build bonds and connect with one another, we initiated an internal project, Hospitality Begins @ Home. We want to encourage staff to have meaningful conversations in small groups over a meal at one’s home. We hope to share the radical hospitality that we show to our patients to one another in our teams.

I hope that we will invest in building relationships so that we are connected in the emotional space and our emotional tank will be topped up.

3. Renovation of our spiritual space

There are some among us who believe that there is not only a physical but also a spiritual space within and beyond us.

SLH not only seeks to help patients be well but also to be whole. This involves helping them find meaning in life in the context of illness and suffering.

It is time for us to renovate our spiritual space (heart) by stilling our soul.

Covid-19 has hit us in more ways than one. We may have been challenged physically, emotionally and psychologically. More have started to question the meaning of life and what is in store for the future in this unpredictable world.

It is time for us to discover or rediscover the spiritual aspects of our lives and renovate our spiritual space (heart) by stilling our soul.

The lyrics of the hymn, Be Still My Soul, provides us with a clue on how this can be achieved:

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and wind still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below
In You I rest, in You I found my hope
In You I trust, You never let me go
I place my life within Your hands alone
Be still, my soul

2020 has been a year beyond our wildest imagination. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: “What doesn’t kill (or break) us makes us stronger”. Nietzsche was not a Christian, but these words ring true for believers.

We may have been “injured” to varying degrees but we can also emerge stronger from these experiences.

Let us take time to create space in our lives to contemplate where we need to redefine, reconnect and renovate, in preparation for the coming year.

This article has been adapted, with permission, from a letter by the author to the staff of St Luke’s Hospital.

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About the author

A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow

A/Prof Tan Boon Yeow has been working at St Luke’s Hospital as a doctor since 1999, and is currently its CEO. He is also involved in both undergraduate and postgraduate medical education. His wife and helpmate, Low Yee, and their twin daughters, Grace and Gayle, keep him grounded.