What does it mean when we say we are “healthy”? In the west it may often mean that we through any number of means (medications, diet, etc.) don’t have anything that is too problematic physically. To a lesser extent in the west we might also consider our mental health in that definition. And to an even lesser extent we might consider our ability to connect with others, our ability to have rewarding relationships with our family, have our roles be fruitful for our society, for the world. While this clearly gets to a large view very quickly, shouldn’t it be? Can we truly consider ourselves “healthy” if we aren’t deeply connected to each other and our environment?
From the perspective of the underlying theories of Chinese Medicine, all of our interconnections and relationships should be considered in our definition of “health” – of the picture of “health” that we strive for.
I think about these issues daily as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, as I try in my own limited way to look deeply into where the issues that people have are truly coming from. Without some aspect of appreciation for the many layered relationships which help to form us and our experience there would be limited responses from acupuncture in my opinion. Even issues as seemingly straightforward as “pain” can be wildly complex and be experienced in such direct and clear ways with no underlying physical causes – even when it seems obvious where it should be coming from.
Researchers from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine recently published an opinion piece in the “Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine” regarding a perceived discrepancy between west and east in what should be our goal for “health”. They felt the definition of health should be changed from our western idea of the mere absence of labeled disease to something more along the lines of the following (as best the translation can do):
“Health” is a state of physical and mental harmony of different individuals in the life process with the environment, and good self-adaptive and regulation ability to natural and social environment
That sounds like a wonderful goal at the base of it, doesn’t it? But what would this entail? For westerners generally it would require a break from our collective conscious force towards dominance and superiority towards one that is based on harmony and collective benefit. Perhaps some of what Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has in mind at least from a political/societal standpoint. People putting in place systems that are for the benefit of the collective good and not for the few dominant individuals/groups/systems.
But, wait, sneaking politics into a discussion of health? Well I’m not particularly political so to speak, but these issues matter greatly. Part of fostering health in people is having an environment where it can be fostered. This also includes educating for this ideal – which means educating for moral and social capacities in addition to scientific, mathematical, and language skills. Would health be fostered by educating for a more moral world as equally – or more, or less – as by continuing our focus on math and science education?
The Nobel Prize winner, HH the Dalai Lama, has a vision for our social systems along these lines. The internationally recognized psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman, recently covered these in A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. This text discusses a different vision that doesn’t necessarily involve removing capitalism or other more comprehensive revolutions so to speak. It discusses how within many of our existing constraints we can begin to head towards these new ideals. Towards a new definition of “health”. There are amazing stories in this text of people defying the constraints of their social environment (being a woman, being physically disabled, etc.) and working directly towards a new environment with less constraints for others and by default for themselves as well. In essence moving towards both collective health and as a by product individual health.
From the Chinese literary side, in the Tao Te Ching it says:
The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men’s weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.
Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.
This more “yin” side of our western “yang” would obviously need to be balanced in relative terms with the capacities of our society and our cultural mindset. While these are societal constraints, read the above passage from the Dao, then think of terms that we use in the west with regards to health issues – “fighting cancer” or “beating depression” or “mind over body”.
These all illustrate our western consciousness of dominance over disease, rather than an appreciation of the very likely fact that disease comes predominately from ignoring our natural relationships and inter-connectedness. Not that I am unhealthy because I haven’t found a way to “beat” the disease yet.
The other aspects to help widen our consideration of what constitutes “health” come from a complete consideration of how important our environment and our relationship with it is, including our diets. More of this is covered in the basics of Chinese Medicine, explored for lay people in texts such as Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine.
The basics of this is to first appreciate it that our role is not one of dominance, that our health does not rely on subduing the aspects of nature or molding them to our needs. Perhaps it does? But personally I think not. No, I feel our health is directly influenced by how well we work within the constraints of our natural world – working as a part of it.
After that fundamental is established in your mind you can move into wonderful aspects of Chinese Medicine with correlations between seasons and our emotions and our physical organs, etc. While these may not be 1000% correct, they at least give us a framework within which to view and appreciate these relationships. Many of these are covered within our five element theory basics section. Certainly the entire underpinning of Chinese Medicine is to help guide all of these influences within us and external to us into harmony which by all accounts improves our “health”.
From this approach you could propose a definition of “health” as the absence of friction within ourselves, within our environment and amongst eachother. Considering the costs of mental health issues worldwide, this general viewpoint and the systems that would be altered and developed to support it would change the health of the world. Perhaps the entire course of it.
What is your view of health? and what systems would be helpful for you to develop that level of health?