Is Health a Physical Experience?

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Let’s start by defining the feelings we have when we know we’re healthy.  Those are positive feelings, sometimes physical, sometimes not physical, and sometimes a bit of both.  Feelings like:  Awe, wonder, appreciation, enthusiasm, energy, strength, power, effectiveness, satisfaction, love, inspiration, adaptability or the ability to recover, confidence and self-esteem, connection and meaning, wealth, ease, work and reward, joy, relaxation and rest.  


The list could go on.  These create feelings of strength and the mobilization of energy in our body mind.


In contrast we could feel: fear, worry, pain, confinement, unappreciation, meaninglessness, depression, tiredness, weakness, a lack of safety, lack in general, isolation and disconnection, frustration, like there is no place for us and no opportunity for our unique expression.  


This list could also go on–and it also creates a suite of sensations in our body mind, sensations that drain us.  And what they drain us of…is health (or qi, or prana or vital energy)


Health is generally not all or nothing, it’s more of a spectrum.  We need to know, in our bones, the real and tangible feeling we are trying to move toward.  We need a point of reference so we know when we’re having this feeling and when we’re not.


It can be easy to get focused on something we’re trying to move away from, like pain.  But if we’re just trying to get away from something, we could end up anywhere.  It’s more powerful and effective to have a vision, or a feeling, to guide us.

There may not be any feelings that are purely physical.


Isn’t it curious how ingrained it is to look for a cause in the body when we have a feeling in the body?  And yet, if I’m experiencing anger or stage fright, that’s called emotion.  Are emotions physical or non-physical?  I know I feel them in the body; in the stomach, the cheeks, the throat, the nape of the neck.  I know they are also affecting places that I’m scarcely aware of.

In the list of positive experiences I just gave, few of them would be considered purely physical.  In fact, there may not be any feelings that are purely physical.


If I have a persistent stomach ache it may seem natural to go to the doctor and look for some clue in the tissues of my stomach.  Or to try changing what I’m putting through my gastrointestinal tract.


And if I have a persistent pain in the neck, then it seems natural to look to the muscles and nerves of the neck and shoulder as being probable causes.  And to try and adjust my environment so my body can be more at ease.  Though when we think about adjusting our environment we sometimes only look at the height of our computer screen, or the type of chair we’re sitting in.


I like logic, but it can lead to assumptions that trap us.  I’m also very fond of creativity.  If I had to put my money on either logic or creativity I would choose that which creates over that which reasons according to a set of constructed rules, any day of the week.


We can toy with this idea, that health emerges from the sum total of the good feeling we derive from all the areas of our life.  Let’s look at the whole picture and–regardless of what logic tells us–see if we can identify what could be better.


Once we start to disintegrate our assumptions, a world of possibilities opens up.


I’ll give two analogies.  The first will be a financial analogy, inspired by my recent reading of the blog over at YNAB (You Need A Budget).


Let’s say your household is spending $5,500 each month on expenses and try as you might you’ve only managed to find a way to knock about $250 off of that figure.  But the rest is going toward essentials, the mortgage, groceries (which have been shaved slightly), the car payments (2 cars actually), the gas and parking.


Or let’s say that you’re into backpacking and you’ve been doing it for a few years.  You’ve heard of ultralight backpacking and so you’ve tried to cut weight out of your pack.  You bought a lighter headlamp and traded out your Nalgene for a disposable plastic water bottle, but try as you might you can’t get your base weight below 18lbs.


End of story.  You’ve reached a complete impasse.  You’ve “tried everything”.


Or have you?


What you’ve actually done is reached the point where assumptions get highlighted and examined, systems get torn down and rebuilt, and a fresh, new experience reveals itself to you.  If you look.


Are the mortgage, the car payments and the cost of transportation really fixed expenses?  One could just begin to entertain some wild and crazy ideas. You can just play with those ideas, you don’t have to commit to them to just think about (and even talk about) them.


What if you move into a smaller house with a smaller mortgage?  What if you move to an area that has public transit to your place of work?  What if you telecommute a few days a week (everybody knows how to do this now, right?).  What if you sell your second vehicle?  What if either you or your spouse stay’s home?


All of these are big changes that are going to have effects on other elements of your lifestyle.  But they might not be the most obvious solutions.  It might be hard to imagine a life where one partner doesn’t work, or where your family of four fits into a smaller space.


And to drop your pack’s base weight by several pounds, rather than an ounce here and there you’ll need to examine the big items.  Could you switch from a double walled tent to a single walled tent that’s 2 pounds lighter?  Switch from a sleeping bag to a sleeping quilt?  Try a non white gas stove?


It can actually be quite fun to examine every item on your budget, or in your backpack and see if you can name the assumption that makes it seem unchangeable, and then try to envision what it would be like to change it, and what that change might look like.


And it’s okay to not change things.  I decided that although not bringing a way to make coffee with me when I go backpacking would save me a little weight…I wanted to have coffee, and it was worth it to me.  Some things just make you happier.  Though I think they make us happier when we see them as luxuries that we’re actively choosing, rather than foregone conclusions.


If there is some part of your own health story that feels like it’s hitting an immovable wall, then you’ve reached a place where you can start to bring some visibility to every assumption.  You don’t have to change it, but just see it…and envision a different possibility or two, just for an exercise in creativity.


If we toy with this idea that health emerges from the sum total of the good feeling we derive from all the areas of our life.  Then let’s look at the whole picture and–regardless of what logic tells us–see if we can creatively identify what could be better.


Once we start to disintegrate our assumptions, a world of possibilities opens up.


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