Health and Wellness

Vitruvian Man: I included this image of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man image in a blog entry called New Beginnings. Since my earlier Adrenal Burnout entry had used the Vitruvian Man with a frowny face, I used this as a way of establishing continuity with the previousNow that another year of my life has come and gone, I find myself thinking deep thoughts about life, death, the meaning of it all, and the direction that I”m headed in. The lessons that I’ve learned lately and the thoughts that I’m having lately will lead to some definite changes in the way that I approach social and ecological projects. I’ll have more news on that soon, once I’ve sorted out more of the details. In the meantime, I have a bit to say on the importance of health and wellness in any quest for personal empowerment and/or social transformation.

Good health is one of the most tangible, enduring, and foundational forms of personal empowerment available to us. With a healthy body, mind, and heart, each of us becomes a master of our own destiny, possessing the material and spiritual resources necessary to face any challenge and accomplish any goal. Of course, a person with no money, no political power, no companions, and so on will face many more challenges and delays than a person with wealth, power, and numerous allies. But even a pauper without a friend in the world can often accomplish great things if they have the energy, the vision, and the passion to do so. All of these qualities and more bubble forth from the wellspring of good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

But how is such health achieved? This question has been on the minds of much of humanity for millennia. Really, there isn’t a simple and universal answer. Each human is a unique creature, and the health needs of our species in general have been complicated and mutated by millennia of toxic foods, toxic psycho-social dynamics, and other forms of “unnatural selection.” As such, there is no cure-all approach to health and wellness that can solve all of humanity’s health problems, or even necessarily the health problems of any individual.

The good news, though, is that there are specific and tangible things that each of us can do to improve our health and the health of our communities.

I think that for a lot of people, the first step is to change the way that we think of pursuing good health. Many of us, myself included, tend to see the pursuit of good health as some sort of burden or buzzkill, kinda like homework or chores. And if you’re rigid and uncreative about it, healthy living really can be seem like some sort of masochistic self-punishment. But really, even if you achieve some sort of diet or exercise goal that way, you’re still not achieving emotional health in the process, otherwise you’d be happier about what you’re doing.

On a personal level, I think it’s important to think of health as something empowering and exciting rather than a chore to be worked on. For a long time now, I’ve been depressed and pessimistic about my health challenges, so I allowed myself to start viewing physical health tasks such as diet and exercise as chores. For the sake of my emotional and mental health, I abandoned these chores in favor of more fun activities such as spending time with friends, spending time online, and eating comfort foods that weren’t contributing to good health.

But lately, I’ve been starting to bring the fun back into good health practices. I find that I actually have more fun and feel better about myself when I’m well-rested, well-fed, and participating in healthy forms of physical activity such as yoga and casual exercise/sports with friends (frisbee, whiffleball, walking, climbing trees, etc). Now, instead of seeing the pursuit of good health as a burden, I’m starting to see it as a foundation for all of the good experiences I have in life. I look for forms of exercise that are fun, healthy foods that are delicious, and social activities that are emotionally and intellectually stimulating. This more integrative approach to pursuing and maintaining good health releases me from all of the counterproductive guilt and rigidity of a more chore-oriented health program, while also releasing me from the aches, exhaustion, sickness, and anxiety that result for me when I completely abandon any thought of health or wellness.

This renewed pursuit of good health is still new for me, and the more integrative approach to healthy living is even newer for me. But I feel like I’m already seeing some of the benefits, and I’d really like to see other people I know talking and thinking and acting along similar lines.

This isn’t a purely individualistic issue, though. Good health can be immensely satisfying and personally empowering, but it’s also a crucial social issue. Individuals who are robustly healthy are able to participate more effectively, productively, and creatively in society and social change movements. And a society that neglects the health and wellness of its citizens is putting itself on the fast track to epidemic illness, social unrest, economic recession, and ultimately self-destruction.

Currently, we live in a culture of consumption, extraction, and destruction. Emphasis is placed on the quantity of economic growth, not the quality of human development. This logic of infinite growth and consumption is the logic of a cancer cell, tearing mercilessly through its host — in this case, Planet Earth — without considering the consequences for individual humans, human societies, the species as a whole, or the planet. This way of thinking and living permeates every aspect of our culture and every aspect of our personal, social, economic, and political lives. If we want to turn the tides on this trend and create human societies that embrace the cycle of life, death, and birth, then we have to draw the line somewhere.

As societies, we can draw that line in all sorts of complex and comprehensive ways. As individuals, though, the final point of no return is you — your body, your mind, your heart, and your spirit. If you really want to challenge this logic of global destruction, you must start by challenging it in the innermost recesses of yourself and your life. And the challenge starts with finding approaches to health and wellness that are both effective and enjoyable.

So far, my practice of this way of thinking is still in its infancy. But I hope to talk with other people about it too and see what we can come up with together. And especially since we live in a society where health insurance is a scarce resource, I think it’s essential for us to talk about health with each other and see what we can do to co-create health in our families, among our circles of friends, in our communities, and ultimately in our societies.

I’m excited about this. I want to spend more time on personal and social activities that make me feel healthy and happy and active and empowered. I want to start some sort of informal group that seeks out physical and social activities that strengthen our bodies and open our hearts. We can be urban and arboreal adventurers, seeking out games, hikes, and other forms of recreation that are fun, exciting, energizing, and supportive of our physical fitness and social togetherness.

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to do whatever it is that you feel will help you to become both healthier and happier. Maybe that will be yoga for you as it has been for me. Maybe it’ll be jogging, or sports, or getting enough rest, or improving your emotional or social health through time with friends or creative/inspiring activities that you don’t usually make time for. Whatever it is, though, take heart in the knowledge that no matter what else may be going on around you, there is something you can do to make yourself healthier, happier, and ultimately more prepared for whatever else the world may be sending your way.

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Poll: Short Stories

I’m thinking of publishing short stories individually: $1 for PDF with a print/PDF compilation for $10-ish, What do you think?

Vote in the Poll

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Spring Equinox 2008

I am pleased to wish you a happy Spring Equinox! At 12:48 AM CDT, the sun crossed directly over the equator. From this point forward, our days will be longer than our nights, and the flowers and buds of Spring will be flowering and budding all around us. This is a time for new life, new hope, deep healing, and reawakening passions and pleasures. HOORAY FOR SPRING!

On a sadder note, I am dramatically less pleased to announce that today is also the 5th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. About 4,000 U.S. troops — our family, friends, and neighbors — have died in this war, and many thousands more have been wounded, permanently disabled, or otherwise harmed. I would cite how many Iraqis have been killed or wounded, but as the illustrious General Tommy Franks said, “We don’t do body counts.” The number of Iraqis killed and wounded, though, is many times higher than our own losses.

So take a moment, if you will, to bear witness to the horrors of war that have been unleashed and sustained by certain heartless men in Washington DC and their accomplices across the nation. Take a moment to mourn for the fallen, and take a moment to act in some way to ensure that this occupation will end, the killing will stop, and our family, friends, and neighbors will come home.

But once you’ve taken your moment to bear witness, and to mourn, and to act, remember that today is the Spring Equinox — a day of new life, new hope, deep healing, and reawakening passions and pleasures. Remember to be joyful on this day, because after all that the war mongers have already done, we must not let them take the joyful celebration of Spring away from us. This is not their day; this is our day, and this is the Earth’s day. Go outside, enjoy the warmth and the sunshine, and celebrate the fact that even with all of the troubles in the world, the land is still teeming with the exuberance and excitement of Spring.

Seize the Day! Spend time with the ones you love, explore the great outdoors, and enjoy all that life has to offer! This is our moment in the sun, and we should enjoy it while it lasts…

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Sunrise at Woodhenge (Cahokia): Sunrise at Woodhenge (Cahokia, near Collinsville, IL). Photo Copyright © 2005 Elizabeth A. Kassly. is upon us! The days are longer; the snow is melting; the sun is shining; the temperature’s rising; and it looks like the worst of the winter weather has finally broken. As the sun and the warmth return to the land, I find my energy returning. My heart is filled with a new sense of hope, and my goals and visions and plans are returning to the forefront of my attention with a renewed sense of urgency.

Some of this rising inspiration is of a deeply personal nature. With spring in the air, my two most powerful personal drives right now are to run wild through the woods and to find a woman to join me in my search for a life filled with love and passion. But this ecstatic experience of life’s inherent beauty is also driving me forward in my visions for social, economic, and political action.

After all — if the people and the land have enough beauty and inherent worth to inspire me to poetic spiritual ecstasy, is it any wonder that they also inspire me to struggle passionately in their defense and service?

There are many ugly, terrible, horrific, almost unspeakable things in this world. But there are also many things of beauty, of wonder, of value, and of hope. At times, I let myself be stunned into despair or inaction by the former. But now, with the energy of the sun rising above me and the energy of the land rising beneath me, I feel like I’m riding on a tidal wave of passion and power, inspired by my sense of wonder to do whatever it takes to defend that which I hold dear.

Therefore, as Spring Equinox approaches, I feel inspired to issue a Call to Action.

Do you appreciate the beauty of the natural world? When you look into the eyes of your fellow human beings, do you see the potential, buried though it may be, for great freedom, great vision, great community, great harmony, great beauty? When you look out into your community, do you see the potential for people to open their minds and their hearts to the possibilities of a life of true freedom, true democracy, true harmony with each other and the land?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I call on you to join me in taking strategic non-violent direct action in the service of creating a better life for yourself, your community, and your world. In particular, I call on you to join me in seeking out what Gandhi and others have called the Constructive Program — the effort to further the goals of nonviolence, social justice, ecological integrity, etc. by creating communities and societies that actively embody and promote these principles.

I know that this may sound like a lot of work. And really, to be perfectly honest, some of it may involve the most difficult personal and social challenges that you’ll ever experience. But think of the sense of joy, the sense of wonder, the sense of excitement, the sense of personal growth and fulfillment you’ll experience when you’re finally living your life for something more than “just getting by”! Think of the tragedies that will befall us all if we take no action on issues such as war, oppression, climate change, and dependence on fossil fuels! Think of the rewards that will be ours if we really do manage to create dramatic changes in our lives, our communities, and our world!

If you don’t feel that there’s any hope left, or if you don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with the society that you live in, then you are welcome to continue with your usual routine. But if you feel that something’s gone terribly wrong with our social/economical/political/ecological relationships, and you feel that the problems can indeed be solved, and you feel that this world is indeed a place worth fighting for, then I urge you to join me in taking strategic non-violent direct action in pursuit of a more free, more democratic, more ecological, more peaceful, more liberated world.

I know I’m not alone in what I see and what I feel. I know that there are plenty of other people right now looking for some sort of positive change. And what I’m hoping for — what I’m calling for, and struggling for — is nothing less than a Surge of citizen action in the service of this change for the better.

If we don’t act now, the moment will be lost, and the old patterns of apathy, conformity, consumerism, and complicity will reassert themselves. But if we as citizens organize in the service of our shared social, economic, political, and ecological values, then we all have a shot at creating lasting change for the better. Therefore, I’m calling on everyone, myself included, to take part in a Surge of renewed inspiration and action while the light is at its brightest this year: from the Spring Equinox (March 19-20) to the Fall Equinox (September 22), a time when days are longer than nights and most people’s energy is at its peak.

So, where do we start?

I talk a lot about high-falutin’ ideals and visions and principles. And that’s all well and good when we’re looking for inspiration and direction. But when it comes time for action, we must start where we’re at — in this moment, in our current life circumstances, in our communities as they exist today, in the world that we have inherited from our parents and their parents. So, rather than try to outline my ideals of what a perfect society might look like, I’m going to mention a few specific projects or groups that I consider to have tremendous potential for creating positive change.

Your own way to create change for the better will be unique to you and will depend on your personal circumstances, beliefs, desires, dreams, skills, and so on. But the following list will show you where I’ve been looking to for inspiration and action, and where you may want to look for a starting point in your search for ways to make a difference. Even if you only devote an hour or two a week to one of these efforts, you will be a part of the Surge — and together, we can create a better world.

  • Free Soil. This is the latest incarnation of a project that I’ve wanted to jump start for several years now. I’ve talked it over with numerous people, but currently there is no set working group. The basic premise is to create an “ecovillage” or “intentional community” here in Southern Illinois. This community will contain a small number of long-term members (about 4 to 15) who live and/or work together on a regular basis; a significant number of people (10 to 20) who play a fairly active role in leading workshops, doing community service projects, etc; and a large number of people (20 or more) who stay in touch with each other to a degree and occasionally show up for events such as potlucks, workshops, games, parties, movie showings, field trips, etc. The goal of this project would be to gather social and economic resources together into a community of like-minded individuals where people could support each other in finding the inspiration, information, skills, and resources they need to create change in their lives and their community.
  • Project X. I’m working with two other people on a project that will combine computer technology with social activism in order to create a specific type of online resource that will be fun, dynamic, interactive, social, creative, and supportive of various social and ecological causes. This is currently a private project, though, until we get a bit further along with the details, at which point we’ll be looking for many people to participate. If you’d like to know more, let me know, and I’ll talk to my partners about it and see what I can do… 🙂 In the meantime, know that if I’m spending time on the computer rather than participating in an event, this may (or may not) be the reason why.
  • Student Environmental Center. SEC here at SIUC is doing some very important and exciting work right now. Among other things, they’re struggling to implement an ecological sustainability project called Eco-Dawgs on the SIUC campus. They’re also working on other issues such as addressing global climate change, exposing the myths of “clean coal,” and expanding the Saluki Cycles program. Perhaps most importantly of all, they are learning (and teaching) the basics principles and practices of strategic action that will ensure that their efforts are as effective as possible. This is a good group to work with right now, especially if you’re an SIUC student.
  • Gaia House. University Christian Ministries (UCM), the group that runs the Interfaith Center, has come up with the most innovative, promising, and inspiring eco-social project that I have ever seen in Southern Illinois. They are planning on creating “an environmentally sustainable living-learning community that is intentional, spiritually based, wholistically health oriented, globally multicultural, and fully supportive of academic and personal development.” Contact them to find out how you can get involved.
  • Southern Sustainability is a group that works on sustainability issues in Carbondale and Southern Illinois. Among other things, they are the hosts of the regional Heartland Bioneers conference. I am a member of their board, and I encourage anyone in Southern Illinois with an interest in ecological issues to check them out and see how they may be inspired to get involved.
  • Beyond the Heartland. If you don’t live in Southern Illinois, you may be wondering what places in your region are hubs of social and ecological activism. Well, to be honest, I really don’t know much of the political landscape beyond Southern Illinois. But luckily, there are plenty of ways that a resourceful person such as yourself can find these groups and projects. For example, try doing an internet search for any of the following terms that catch your eye, adding the name of your city, state, or region if you’d like to narrow it down a bit: permaculture, bioneers, nonviolence, renewable energy, independent media, direct democracy, feminism, reproductive justice, GLBT, co-op, intentional community, ecovillage, forest defense, culture jamming, cohousing.
  • There’s a lot of apathy, suffering, and oppression in this world that will fill us with doubt, despair, and defeatism if we let it get to us. But remember — action is the antidote to despair. And whether you are the wealthiest person in the world with infinite free time or an exhausted poor person on the verge of collapse, there is always some action you can take, big or small, that will improve your lot in life and help others to do the same.

    So, I encourage you — nay, urge you — to do what I did today. Go outside, take in the warmth and the light for a few moments, talk to someone who you love and respect, and use these positive outward experiences to rekindle and reawaken the inner spark that fills you with renewed inspiration and vision. No matter how good or bad you think you have it, once you reconnect with this inner spark, you will slowly but surely feel a shift in your life and find yourself awakening to the dawning of a new day.

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    My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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