What constitutes a healthy life? Is it money, fame, friends, lovers, sex, family, acceptance, jobs we love, entertainment, drugs, nature, massages, sleep, music, cars, dancing… What is going to be the next thing we jump to where we say, “Yeah, that! That’s what will make me happy!” And then just like taking on a new diet where we cut out meat or eat only meat or only kale with a side of kale, that fad and energy spurt eventually peters out as a river does not quite reaching the freedom of the ocean. We are left in somewhat the same situation we were in when we started but usually as our problems keep coming up with repetition and cyclical behavior the problems fester to greater heights like strengthened bacteria in our bodies from unfinished antibiotic treatment (the strongest who didn’t die are now breeding). Now what’s inside of us will take more of our strength to overcome.
The cultural trance many of us find ourselves in relates to very tangible intellectual pursuits. I’m not talking about pursuing classics or reading Homer or knowing philosophy (although those things definitely are a part of it), I’m talking about being able to measure our lives against others and “see” and have proof that our lives are better. What happens when the comparing and the cultural trance disappears? We are left not knowing what to base our lives on.
Most of the problems we face are from not being emotionally intelligent/balanced/healthy because we don’t learn such things in school and are streamlined with the opposite with advertising all around and most people we do meet are tranced in the same way because they grew up in the same environment we did! It takes a big effort to see through the swamp, to stop reacting to the trance, to catch ourselves when we unknowingly cater to what our brains have always known. God dammit, you’re telling me I have to go against my brain? Who does this guy think he is?
It’s not necessarily going against our brain that is the solution but in giving our brain back it’s freedom. In using the ocean analogy again, it’s finding some sort of enduring energy pathway that will deliver us from a river of narrow thought that usually dries up in some desert somewhere to instead delivering us to the expansive ocean of experience. There are many ways to get there but even more ways to come up short and forever be stuck in the millions of dried up rivers.
Specifically, it is interesting to observe what happens to our bodies when we encounter fear. We emotionally and physically become inflamed. If we go to the doctor we are prescribed a cure. If we don’t then we apply our own cure. Both usually involve short term numbing of the pain. The numbing makes it easy to continue to participate in doing things we’ve always done; watching tv, drinking or using drugs to oblivion, scrolling through facebook or tinder, having jobs or relationships that don’t serve us, having the same conversations you know the outcomes to, having the same friends you’ve always had, relying on safety and security and comfort over vulnerability, not growing overall, etc. It’s a lot of work to dive and lean forward in your life and reminds me a lot of learning to snowboard. At some point, it is important for one to face and lean downhill. There will be falling downhill crashes from leaning forward down the mountain but that process teaches you the proper balance point of how to stand, use your equipment, and balance yourself. It teaches you that being fearful and afraid will always make you fall backwards and you will never fully learn what you’re supposed to. Fall forward for once! If for no other reason than to experience something different. There will be ups and downs. Ups are no problem but the downs can be devastating where we freak out, get injured, crack and will do anything to get back to that comfortably place before we were hurt. Yes, getting hurt sucks but not getting hurt sucks even more if you were to look at your life as a whole. Damn over protective, fear fearing brain. It’s rooted in gnarly survival and 100,000+ years of adaptations where our brains survived based on stressing us out and making us do the easy and secure and protective thing. Only in the last couple hundred years has happiness been something we are basing our lives off of. You expect your brain to overcome in a few hundred years what it learned to do in over thousands upon thousands of years? That grand timeline is relative to the timeline of your life in the moment of when you want to feel better vs what you’ve learned your whole life. How do you expect you’re going to act? Growth is not something you read about and are told, it is something you experience.
Being largely an emotionally unexplored society, most of our disease comes from emotional distress. There are a few basic things we can do to go against this kind of disease. I like to call them the “unsexy big duhs” only because they often go overlooked because they are so simple that people don’t give them credit. Mostly people think their problems can only be made better by more complicated solutions because, well, we think we are complicated people so easier solutions go overlooked or are not exciting enough, hence following into the cultural trance of what healing ‘should’ look like. One never likes to tell people that they’re starting this new, cool therapy and it’s called ‘sleep and eating well.’ So unsexy. The “unsexy big duhs” are regular exercise, nutrition, and sleep. However, a lot of people don’t really know what these three things actually mean so it’s good to try to talk to people about how to effectively interact with each. For example with nutrition, people often believe they just have to eat three meals a day and then can go out drinking as much as possible. First of all, three meals a day doesn’t mean anything if you’re eating depleting or inflammatory foods, and with how much our culture consumes alcohol, we might as well be consuming something like heroine as the cultural trance believes the latter is a major problem while the other is ok and fun getting ‘fucked up.’ Before embarking on life changing decisions or thinking you have a dramatic problem or spending loads of money in therapy, take an intentional approach to cater to these three things and then see how you feel. And along the way, eat as many beets, apples, turmeric, and carrots as possible!
Approaches to emotional well being are a little less obvious and include being able to recognize negative stress and trying to avoid such scenarios. That is a hard one as again we often get into ‘reactive mode’ and partake in things and then don’t realize when we experienced stress but definitely know we did as our bodies and minds easily tell us. Prayer and/or meditation or positive mantras are good practices. How do you get out of your own head? How does one positively repeat things to yourself to the point where it feels stupid but makes you believe in what you’re saying? Your brain is ultimately a muscle that responds to muscle memory like any other muscle in your body. If you do arm exercises your arms will get stronger, if you do brain exercises your brain will get stronger. You’ll create new pathways in your brain and won’t give in to self criticism as easily, and rather give in to your positive mantras more. Left to our own mental devices we are much more negative to ourselves than we would be to anyone else. We are our worst enemy and we need ways to not let our overly critical internal dialogues take over.
I would recommend anyone to see a therapist or counselor or at least try to talk things out with friends who are willing to listen and not be judgmental. The pathway to emotional health is coming out with it and being vulnerable. Silence produces submission. If you remain silent about your emotional distress you will submit to it and give it power. One needs to strive towards empowerment and open up and talk to others even if they feel eccentric or like they’re a burden or cracking at the seams. After all, the symbol of life or rebirth for most creatures is symbolically cracking out of an egg after an extremely stressful effort of getting out.
Overall, It’s important to educate yourself on the content of which you are pursuing. What do people do to overcome? How is emotional health achieved? You probably don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Whatever you’re curious in go forwards to it. Create and give paths to the motivations within you. Try to do what you think you love and enjoy your life. If people or institutions hold that against you then they are not serving you to have them around and it might be time for a change of direction. And probably the most important element in all of this, and what I’ll leave you with for engaging more in later, is recognizing that unlearning is more important than learning. Once something is learned it is hard to get it out of our heads or actions. Unlearning is what really projects us positively forward and allows us to actually grow from being the behaviors and reactive selves we learned as children or ‘before’ in our lives when we engaged in what we ‘now’ think is not leading us to where we want to go.