We can all reorient ourselves to the wholeness of body, mind, and soul
Most of us go through life, especially childhood, not thinking too much about our health. I went to the pediatrician for my checkups, inoculations, and for the few times when I had something like strep throat. I remember the polio shots we got in elementary school. But those were mostly inconveniences and I had more important things to think about like baseball and camping. All of that changed in my thirties when age and genetics started catching up with me. Eating habits also took their toll, especially in terms of sugar and fats.
But I was never taught as a child the importance of my health as it related to diet, mind, and movement. I got plenty of exercise as a kid, but I did not learn to be aware of my body and how I might have cared for it.
One of the fascinating things about Buddhist teachings on human health is the understanding that health is not just a matter of keeping your appointment with your doctor. Buddhists teach us that health is the body, mind, and soul connection. It includes healthy foods, balanced movement, and the centered mind. Our environment is also important to our health, both physically and socially. That includes the health of our air, water, earth, and even media. There is so much poison in the media it can make us all ill.
One of the vows of Mindfulness training offered by Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh reads: “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.” We are invited by this teacher to pay attention to what we put into our mouths, our ears, our eyes, our noses, our hands, and our minds. Will it promote or destroy your health?
Most of us practice a different understanding of health and think of it only in terms of medicine and trauma. We expect our physicians to heal bodies that have been abused and neglected over a lifetime. Some people are very resentful of their oncologist who cannot cure their lung cancer after decades of cigarette smoking.
In the health care setting we often talk about the “compliant patient.” That is the patient who follows the doctor’s orders, takes their medications, maintains a healthy diet, and exercises regularly. We see very few patients who are compliant. Why is that? I think it is because we have never been taught how to live a holistic and balanced life, physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Or to put it another way, lifestyle always trumps compliance.
Some of us have done some real damage to our bodies. But those wounds can be amended and we can move toward wholeness. Diabetics can better manage their disease, alcoholics can step into recovery, and families can assess their dietary habits and cultivate in their children an appreciation for healthy consumption. We can all reorient ourselves to the wholeness of body, mind, and soul.
Chaplain Gary Blaine, D.Min., provides Pastoral Care at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital. He received his Doctorate of Ministry from Emory University, and holds certifications as a grief counselor and a grief group facilitator. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.