There are so many different dietary opinions and trends in the modern world—some of which completely contradict one another—and with all of this conflicting information, it can be hard to determine what exactly is the best way to lead a truly healthy life. Given these circumstances, perhaps one of the most important things we can ask ourselves is, “what exactly is health?” What does it mean to truly be healthy?
In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, one of India’s oldest and most influential pieces of literature, it is written:
“Om purnamada purnamidam purnat purnamuda chyate purnasya purnamadaya purnameva avashishyate.”
Translated to English, it says: “That is the Whole. This too is the Whole. The Whole comes out of the Whole. Taking the Whole from the Whole, the Whole itself remains.” This statement conveys the essential principle of healing: Wholeness.
Essentially, we are already whole, as we are one with the Whole of Nature. We are multi-dimensional beings, so in order to heal and embody our essential wholeness, we have to bring all aspects of our being into balance—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, financial, etc.
To be healthy is to live in balance—to have balance of body, mind, and spirit. So, let us look at each one of these aspects of our being and see how we can create balance for ourselves, rather than disharmony.
The body is made up of the elements of nature. It is composed of earth, water, air, heat, and space, and without these elements, the body could not exist. Being completely dependent upon and interdependent with the natural world, the health of the body depends upon the health of these elements. If the soil that grows our food is deficient and full of chemicals, if the water we drink is polluted, if the air we breathe is toxic, how can we truly lead healthy lives?
First and foremost, the health of our bodies depends upon the health of the planet, which is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to preserve the health of natural ecosystems, and to remember our fundamental connection to them.
No matter what diet we consume, if we wish for it to be a source of health and not disease, we should do our best to consume foods that are as close to nature as possible, that are grown organically and sustainably, and that do not have a bunch of added chemicals and preservatives. We should drink water from clean sources, breathe fresh air, and spend time in nature whenever possible. It is also ideal to eat foods that are local and seasonal, as they are the most natural foods to eat in whatever climate and region we live.
To lead a healthy life calls upon us to be responsible for ourselves, and to really investigate what it is we are consuming, and what it is we are supporting through our consumption. Even if the food we consume is healthy, if the way it is produced causes harm to the natural world, then we are supporting that industry and its practices, and supporting the destruction of the natural world. Is that really healthy?
The modern agriculture industry is one of the greatest contributors to environmental destruction, which is why it is so important for us as consumers, and producers, to make wise decisions and know how our actions are affecting the health of the planet, for the health of the body is intricately tied to the health of nature.
If we wish to be healthy and happy individuals, we need to have an awareness of our minds, and observe whether our thoughts are creating happiness or misery.
The mind is similar to a garden with many dormant seeds laying in the soil—seeds of happiness, peace, joy, gratitude, compassion, and seeds of sorrow, suffering, anger, greed, hatred, and so on. Every thought that we think waters the seeds in our garden. Whatever seed we water most is the seed that will grow, meaning whatever thoughts we think most will become the things we experience most.
If we wish to be happy, we need to water the seeds of happiness within us. Choosing to think positive and constructive thoughts, rather than negative and destructive thoughts, can help us to experience more peace and well-being. Since, the body and mind are intimately connected, when our mind is calm and relaxed, our body functions better, and we are generally healthier.
The mind is the source of all our joy or misery, so awareness of our thoughts is essential for happiness; and when our mind is relaxed, we shift from the sympathetic nervous system of fight-or-flight, to the parasympathetic nervous system of rest-and-digest. Rather than releasing excessive amounts of stress-related hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, we release hormones like dopamine and serotonin, naturally increasing the health of our bodies, and the peace of our minds.
If there is anything as controversial as health and diet, it is the topic of spirituality. There are many different beliefs and forms of spirituality, and some choose to completely disregard this aspect of life.
Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia, said that:
“We must stop confusing religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of rules, regulations and rituals created by humans, which was supposed to help people grow spiritually. Due to human imperfection religion has become corrupt, political, divisive and a tool for power struggle. Spirituality is not theology or ideology. It is simply a way of life, pure and original as was given by the Most High of Creation. Spirituality is a network linking us to the Most High, the universe, and each other…”
Essentially, what Selassie is pointing out, is that true spirituality is not religious dogma, it is your personal connection with the Divine—whatever that means to you. The point is that we take time and space to acknowledge our connection to something greater than ourselves. This can be the whole of the Earth, as well as the Universe, that we are inseparable from. It can be the total field of energy that makes up the universe. It can be the Creator or Spirit. It can be your true Self, and finding out for yourself exactly what that is.
The purpose of connecting with something beyond our individual lives, is that it liberates us from the prison of ego—of being solely concerned with ourselves, our self-image, our success, our happiness, etc.—and it opens us up to the total field of existence in which we live. Naturally, this generates a feeling of intimacy with life, a sense of shared connection to all living things, and the wish to be a source of happiness for those that we share this existence with.
Being aware of what is greater than our small lives, invokes feelings of love, kindness, and compassion, and these are the true foundations of happiness—not an abundance of material wealth, sensual pleasure and financial security.
When we are happy, we can relax and enjoy the life we live. We make decisions that contribute to the health of our bodies and minds, and we act in ways that benefit and preserve life, rather than destroy it. This is what it means to truly be healthy, and the cultivation of health is a decision that only you can make.