A World Unto Yourself: The Ecological Nature of Health
awareness ecology health
Children of the Earth
This is akin to viewing the planet as a fixed system with simple problems and similarly simple solutions. When Australia introduced the cane toad to control sugar cane pests, they failed to account for the wide-reaching impact this would have. They thought it was a simple problem with a simple, unidirectional solution.
Instead, it turned into an environmental nightmare, with the toad ravaging everything but the target pest.
This is the nature of ecological systems: you cannot change just one thing. If you do, you run the danger of breaking the system.
Compare this to the man who planted a forest in India. He didn’t just stick a bunch of trees into the soil and hope for the best. He spent his days wandering the area, learning the needs of a forest ecosystem, and developing an internalized, intuitive understanding of the system he was cultivating and was a part of.
He learned what plants were needed to prevent erosion of the sandy soil, which insects to introduce to bring balance to the system, and the interrelation between the climate and the trees. By holding all of this in his mind at the same time, he could make the necessary changes without breaking the system.
Health works the same way. In order to cultivate vibrant health, you really do need to be fully aware and honest about yourself.
It’s fine to follow a set system for a little while, but eventually, you will need to start making your own decisions about your health, based on a wide-reaching, intuitive sense of your individual ecosystem, not just in the present moment, but in the context of time as well.
What does this mean?
- It means that you don’t get caught up in the latest fitness fad. You are on your own health rhythm. Just because ‘getting beach ready’ is in fashion this month doesn’t mean you derail your own longer-term health goals to fit in.
- It means that you don’t follow a diet at all, but instead eat according to what your body needs at any given time. Perhaps you need heavier, heartier food in the winter. Maybe a 5 pound steak is exactly what your body needs to recover from a week of hard work and worry, and maybe a light salad is what’s called for after your heavy lifting session, or nothing at all.
- It means that you don’t subscribe to the fitness buffet concept, where you just pile your plate with random fitness classes in a perpetual quest to get a “good workout.” Instead, you move with intention, choosing your exercise to meet your goals.
- It means you learn from experts, but your don’t rely on them, and you are the arbiter of your own health. After all, no expert can know the sum total of your mind-body system and what it needs at this particular moment like you do (or should). You may need to rely on a trainer or coach to start hearing your own signals, but their goal should be to make you independent.
As you progress on your health journey, you will discover that what you need to do to grow is not always in accordance with the party line in health and fitness. The latest dietary research may be exactly what you need, but if you know you’re not ready for it just yet given your mental, emotional, and physical state, trying to buy in too soon will only hurt you.
Athletes run into this problem all the time. With competition constantly looming, they may try to improve quickly to meet the arbitrary deadlines, ignoring the ecological effects of excessive work until they get injured. A better option is to maintain a slow pace that allows their entire system to grow in balance, making steady progress for years and attaining shocking levels of performance through consistent training.
How do you attain such depth of insight into yourself?
Trial and error plays a big role. After all, the best teacher is experience. If you are patient, diligent, and attentive, you can learn a lot by testing your response to various choices and behaviors.
Research is another important element. Many have come before, and while we are all unique, we are also part of a larger community. Do enough research that you understand the principles underlying the thigns you want to accomplish, then figure out how to apply them to your own life.
Practicing integrity is the third element necessary to self-insight in health. You need to be able to trust your own judgement, often in the face of others telling you that you’re downright wrong. You need to have the integrity to stick to your principles. You have to be willing to take on responsibility for your own health, instead of handing it over to the whims of circumstance, a doctor, or a faceless health industry.
It also requires the wisdom not to deny the ecological realities. I may want to master handstands this weekend, but I know that my wrists aren’t up to it, even if my muscles are. I denied that reality the first time and ended up injured for months. Now, I take it slow, and I’ve made more progress.
Photo credit: FlyingSinger on Flickr