Fear is such a terrible disease. It used to keep me from sharing what I had with others for fear of having my gifts rejected. I now understand that whatever gifts we have should be thrown out into the ether, no thought as to what we might receive in return. It’s true, there’s a lot of pain out there. Some people are like tornadoes that will suck up our offerings and spit them out all twisted and deformed by their own fear and suffering. Love them anyway. It is the tornado-like souls who need love most. But sometimes what we throw out there will boomerang back to us in the form of love. It’s our own love amplified by the beauty in the heart of another.
“These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us. These are plain treasures, kindly and native to us. We come to our own and make friends with matter…the mind loves it’s old home: as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the ground, to our eyes and hands and feet. It is firm water: it is cold flame: what health, what affinity!”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson from his essay, “Nature”
Frankly, this is not something I’ve ever struggled with. I love nature. And I know I’m not alone. What so many of us do struggle with, however, is the fact that our home and our bodies are being polluted. This is where the simplicity of wellness becomes…a little complicated. Because ideally, if everyone loved everyone and everything, the only reason left for the kind of mess that we’re in now would be simple blunders. And blunders that harm the earth and it’s creatures would be remedied quickly by people who care.
But because love is not what makes the economic world go round we have people at the heads of monolithic corporations making potentially harmful, even devastating, decisions based on the principle of unlimited growth, which is another way of saying greed (or cancer). For any action that does not make human sense, all we need do is “follow the money.”
“A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.”
― Wendell Berry
It can be depressingly difficult to try to protect ourselves from the pollution spawned by the corruption of our economic system. Even so, love for the natural world can help us to heal because there are choices that we can make, truly doable things, that not only protect our health, but also happen to protect the health of the planet. I’m sure that many readers are already doing some or all of them.
So here are what I consider to be the top five actions we can take that protect both our health and the planet:
1. Spend time enjoying the outdoors.
“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
― Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays
One day I was struggling with the pain and tension that so often plagues me, and I decided to drive to the hills. In my special place overlooking the entire valley where I live, I was finally able to exhale. Breathing the clean, sage scented air, feeling the wind on my skin, seeing the way the light played on the clouds and the land, I finally felt free. My tension drained away as if someone had pulled a plug.
We need experiences like that on a regular basis. It’s what keeps us sane, calm, grounded.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life”
– John Muir
Wonderful experiences in nature engender affection for wild places, wild things. This, in turn impels us to think about our actions. Do they show respect for this perfection, this beauty? When we love a place, we do not want it destroyed or defaced. We feel protective, sometimes fiercely so. It becomes clear that what is so good and so necessary for our own minds and bodies is also necessary for the earth.
(Each action in the list of five will be posted separately. Coming up next: 2. Grow and Cook Your Own Food)
“The heart of the matter is that it is the heart that matters.”
–Dr. Cynthia Thaik, cardiologist
Jesus said that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” There is a lot to that seemingly simple statement.
Just like self-love, love for others heals. How we feel about and treat ourselves will radiate out to those around us. Conversely, how we treat others will influence the way we feel about ourselves.
Paul Simon wrote a song about self-imposed isolation called “I Am a Rock.” “A rock feels no pain” say the lyrics, “and an island never cries.” Not true. Don’t ask me how I know. No one is a rock or an island, and when we try to be, we wither. We need love like we need air.
Blogger Lisa Collier Cool says that “love actually can make us healthier, so much so that if you could bottle it, you would have an incredible wonder drug, a Nobel Prize, the thanks of a grateful population, and more money than Bill Gates.” Why? because, as she explains, a growing body of research seems to indicate that “love can lengthen your life, ward off stress, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, protect you from colds and flu, blunt your response to pain, hasten wound healing, and lower your risk of dementia in old age.”
Do we really need science to tell us that? Don’t most of us understand on some level that love is life? Nearly every wonderful thing we do, we do for love. And some of the not-so-wonderful things we do are done because of a misguided attempt at getting the love we need. And so we come full circle to the words of Jesus that I quoted at the beginning: “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” Give love freely with no thought as to what you might receive. Do this, and as Jesus said, “people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing.” (Luke 6:38)
Self-love is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. I am still learning. It is also one of the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced.
“I’m so stupid!” How many times have you said that, or something like it? If you say never, I want to meet you because you are extraordinary. I don’t know many people personally who haven’t said it or felt it at one time or another. I used to say it constantly. I sometimes hated my body for the way it seemed to constantly fail me.
I didn’t know at that time what I was doing to myself, but I do now. I now understand the full implications behind ancient king Solomon’s words: “death and life are in the power of the tongue;” (Proverbs 18:21) I had been killing myself slowly.
It was when I came right to edge of my ability to endure suffering that I began to teach myself a new way of thinking. I had nothing at all to lose and everything to gain.
At first, I did not believe that anything I said to myself could possibly make a dent in my suffering. Everything I had tried so far had failed: herbs, vitamins, supplements, drugs…hospitalization. It had all failed. My body had become so sensitized that I was reacting negatively to everything I put in my mouth or on my skin. So what could words possibly do?
Even so, I tried. I began to change the way I spoke to myself. My mind was like a very frightened child in desperate need of love and affection. It needed a mother, and that mother would have to be me. I cherished myself as I would one of my precious babies. I reassured myself every day that I was getting better and better, that I was safe and healing.
At first it felt false. I went on anyway. Eventually I began to believe myself. Instead of automatic negative thoughts, I was having automatic positive thoughts. When I felt sick or frightened, I was able to calm myself quickly. “It’s okay,” I would say, “because I’m getting better and better. I am safe now. I am healing.”
I began to feel better, not just in my mind, but truly. My energy began to return. Pain decreased. I started having some days when I felt almost normal. It was clear to me that my fearful, negative thoughts had helped to keep me sick.
I am still sick. But the difference now is that I know I can and will feel better. And I know that if there are some things that never go, it will be okay. I know how to live well with pain. And I know how to love and forgive my faithful and patient body.
“One of my graduate students told me she had gone for a walk on the beach in the late afternoon. As the sun was setting, she climbed onto a boulder at the water’s edge. Gazing out to sea, she felt herself slowly becoming one with nature–with the sun descending toward the horizon, the waves crashing at her feet, the pastel colors that streaked the western sky. She said, “In that moment I felt eternity. I knew these things had gone on for millions of years before I came and that they would go on for millions of years after I’m gone. It felt good to be alive, to be part of all this. I was deeply moved and began to cry.”
Contemplation, meditation, prayer, rituals and other spiritual practices have the power to release the “life force” in the deepest levels of the human psyche, levels that secular interventions cannot reach. Indeed, new evidence shows that religious and spiritual interventions can help when everything else has failed.”
– David N. Elkins, Psychology Today
Spirituality is indeed the most potent healing force in existence. Many people assume that this is due to the fact that most spiritual practices promote deep physical relaxation and a sense of mental peace. But is that all there is to it? Is it just our own life force that is being released when we pray? Many spiritually inclined people would say no. It is true that forms of spirituality that do not involve a belief in a personal God are becoming more and more popular. As The Watchtower of October 2010 stated, “some people look to themselves or to their fellow humans to fill spiritual needs.” Then it posed the question: “Do you not sense, though, that humans are just too limited to help adequately?”
Our longing for a spiritual connection goes beyond a need to feel one with our surroundings or to learn compassion or to empty our minds of clutter. We crave a spiritual connection to the mind who is responsible for our existence. The one who knows us. The one with power to help. Many people feel, rightly I believe, that it is this one who provides them with “power beyond what is normal”. (2 Corinthians 4:7) There is no more powerful road to well-being than a close, loving relationship with the source of our lives, the creator of everything, the God who is love.
The God of love showed me on many occasions and in many ways that he wanted to help. A person who has never learned to pray might find it difficult to conceive of being able to communicate with a powerful invisible being. It is something that a person must experience to understand. And to experience it takes a humility and open-mindedness that I was not born with. I had to learn. It is something that only suffering could teach me.
(Simplicity of Wellness will be a series of short posts that will eventually become one long article with its own page. This is my first installment. I hope you enjoy.)
“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I have learned the key to health the hard way. I’ve tried repeatedly, and mostly unsuccessfully to “get healthy” by all manner of contrivance. I gobbled the vitamins, herbs,and “nutriceuticals”. I bopped along to the exercise tapes. I bought the air purifiers, tested my water, tossed the Teflon and plastic, and bought organic. I even felt self-righteous about my efforts because I was, as I thought, doing it naturally. But I was trying to build a house without a foundation, and for that reason I was bound to fail.
What is health? Websters dictionary defines it as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit”. The opposite of health, then, is the condition of being unsound in body, mind or spirit. As a society we intuitively understand this, as is evidenced by our metaphors for poor health. We “fly to pieces”, “come apart at the seams”, and “come unglued” when we are not well. Poor health is a state of disconnection, disintegration.
What is the antidote? In a word, love. We cannot be healthy in the absence of love. It will not matter how many pills we swallow, how many organic carrots we munch, or what kind of water filtration system we buy if we have not learned love. God is love, which means that love created the universe. It is the true foundation of everything, including us.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that a loving connection with the creator, with ourselves, and with other creatures is where all healing journeys begin and end. We must begin at the beginning.