Now 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.