Health as Practice, Not Strategy

Posted by Dr. Reisman on December 1, 2014

The great and central challenge of human life is developmental change. The world in all of its detail continues to change. Our experience of life is most successful when we are reflections of the evolving nature of this world. The question is then one of how we evolve and thus remain authentically reflective.

The human body and mind, in being connected to a dynamic ecosystem and universe, will undergo changes no matter what. The key issue here has to do with what sort of changes they are. When we look carefully at the various courses a life may take, it becomes clear that we have important choices to make.

One of the most critical areas in this regard is how we relate with each other. When we are younger, we tend to be more careless. We are less mindful in relationships. This is only natural because we are less experienced. We don’t know ourselves so well. We don’t know how to be in the world so well. So we tend to stumble about, saying and doing things that do not readily contribute to fulfilling experiences of relationship.

A second essential arena is that of health. In a way that parallels our social skills, we tend to be somewhat awkward in our choices in earlier years. Habits of sleeping and eating may not get the degree of conscious choosing they hopefully will later on. In general, though, these human vehicles are usually rather forgiving. For many years we may tolerate questionable lifestyles without any significant compromise to our health.

As we age, a number of interesting changes take place. One that we may not often notice regards our perception of time. When we reach the age of two, the amount of time we have been alive has doubled in the past year, an increase of 100%. At our 51st birthday, the previous year has added a mere two percent to our life.

We may not realize it, but the mind is deeply impacted by our being awake to a constantly changing world. As each passing year is a smaller and smaller fraction of our existence, it appears to us that we are accessing less and less time. Each successive week, month, and year seem to be getting shorter, and to be passing more quickly, simply because they are being added to a longer and longer past. It then becomes highly beneficial for the mind to slow down. This particular kind of slowing down means observing everything more carefully and developing a greater degree of attentiveness.

One pleasant side effect of becoming more mindful is that we make smarter choices. However, the primary gain is in our becoming more awake, more present, and far more appreciative of what it means to be alive. The toll that aging takes in gradual loss of physical capacity is more than balanced by what we may gain in a sense of what it means to flow from moment to moment with the wholeness of life.

The endeavor to slow down and wake up is no doubt a daunting challenge. And precisely because it is such a difficult project, we must approach it with the utmost patience and kindness. One area in which we may apply this is our chosen lifestyle, or health habits: eating, exercise, and resting.

In our current world of electronic technology, we have great access to a wealth of information. This has yielded us extensive opportunities for education about health and illness. One of the pitfalls is a temptation for us to live life as a disease-prevention strategy. This is kind of like the equally misguided opposite of living in a self-destructive way. In the latter we are being disrespectful of our body, while in the former we are being disrespectful of our mind. The mind in its true nature is best honored when used mostly as an apparatus of attending to the immediate environment, and only occasionally as one of strategizing, calculating, and the like.

So the orientation to mind-body health that serves us best from all angles is one that includes some awareness of health-promoting choices. However, at least as important is our living moment to moment fully awake and attentive. Eating food, moving the body, investing time in effective restfulness — these are our immediately available opportunities to celebrate being alive.

As it turns out, this endeavor of becoming more present and awake is our most subtly powerful means of developmental change. Once we have reached full physical development in the earlier stages of life, it remains our major and unique opportunity as humans to tend to the calming and clearing of the mind. That is the form of development that renders us a greater and greater capacity to find fulfillment in simpler and simpler things. In that way life may become an adventure into the unique content of each complete moment that greets us.

In every moment of activity we can practice being fully focused, fully present in this very time and place. It may be sobering and encouraging to remind ourselves that the only time that is real is now. The only place that is real is here. Everything else is imaginary, either memory or imagination. To our great good fortune, we have years and years of life, day after day of perfect opportunities to practice slowing, acknowledging, and appreciating the immediate truth, the only accessible experience of our individual living reality.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. It is offered as a contribution to a clinical relationship between a patient and a practitioner of health-promoting medicine. It is specifically not meant to substitute for the quality medical intervention and partnership that is the proper means of lifestyle change.

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