The Nature of Wellness
In my graduate studies in philosophy and religion, I learned that all the world's major spiritual teachings converge on a great number of important insights into the nature of existence and the fundamental causes of human suffering. For example, a version of the Golden Rule -- do unto yourself as you would have them do unto you -- appears in not only in the Christian Bible, but also in the sacred scriptures of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and many others. In today's world, as throughout most of human history, religious leaders have tended to emphasize the doctrinal differences between spiritual teachings. And the differences abound -- if one chooses to focus on the minutiae. Holy wars have been faught -- and continue to be faught -- on the basis of these perceived differences.
Religious intolerance stems from the attitude: (1) that my faith is completely correct, and therefore yours must be completely false; and (2) that any perceived differences in your faith are unacceptable and downright dangerous. I am one of God's chosen people; you are a panderer of evil in the world, and therefore must be converted, disenfranchised, or destroyed.
There exists an alternative perspective to this antagonistic mindset, one broad enough to honor and embrace the profound insights of all the world's spiritual traditions. This perspective, sometimes referred to as the perennial philosophy (or simply, perennialism), chooses to focus on the commonalities, the shared insights that the founders of these religions all hit upon more-or-less independently. As I already mentioned, one of these insights is the Golden Rule, which is the fundamental ethic of reciprocity that naturally grows from living an authentic spiritual life.
I deliberately began with this preamble because wellness is another perennial spiritual insight, indeed, one that lies at the very core of the perennial spiritual world view. For, wellness is our natural state of being. Why? Because we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and on the spiritual level, nothing that happens to us as humans that can harm our true nature. We are always-already whole and complete.
Why, then, do we so often not feel whole and complete? Why aren't we well? Because we forget Who we really are. This happens through a trick of consciousness, by which we become so deeply involved in our human experience that we completely identify with form: my body, my career, my illness, my worldly woes. When we over-identify with our human experience, we get lost in it. When we get lost in it, we are completely subject to the vicissitudes of the world of form: we see violence in the news , and we feel the violence reverberate throughout our being; a driver cuts us off on the freeway, and we feel a surge of injustice and anger that upsets our equilibrium for a moment -- or an hour; the stock market goes down, and we feel the loss personally, at least on an unconscious level. As long as we remain identified with our outer life, there will be no end to the causes of our suffering. We will move through life constantly vacillating between feeling well (when outward conditions are just-right) and feeling disturbed to one degree or another (the rest of the time).
Unwellness is but a game we play with ourselves -- face it, the drama is kind of fun. We get a rush of adrenaline from getting ticked off at that driver who cut us off, from the self-pity or outrage we feel when things aren't going the way we would like them to. But consider this: when we are not feeling well, we are essentially playing hide-and-seek with ourselves; we are pretending to be something we are not. In actuality, we are fundamentally well, always. We don't need to find it, achieve it, struggle toward it; we simply need to remember that wellness is Who we really are, and nothing that happens can even touch that.
Knowing that wellness is our natural state of being simplifies the process of reclaiming it in our lives. It becomes a simple matter of re-training ourselves to relax and stay open. This can be a journey in itself, but it's really very simple:
Remember Who you are! You are awareness, not the objects of your awareness. As Michael A. Singer, author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself, points out:
It's pretty easy to see that you're not the objects you look at. It's a classic case of subject-object. It's you, the subject, that is looking at the objects. So we don't have to go through every object in the universe and say that object is not you. We can very easily generalize by saying that if you are the one who is looking at something, then that something is not you. So right away, in one fell swoop, you know what you're not: you're not the outside world. You're the one who is inside looking out at the world.
Relax! Having remembered your true nature -- the Witness of everything that happens in your life, not what happens -- you now can begin to dis-identify from the thoughts and events that your consciousness has been getting overly absorbed in. When you re-center yourself as the Witness, it becomes clear that nothing that happens has any power over your state of being. You can stop worrying. You can stop reacting. You can relax.
Release! Because most of us live most of the time in a state of over-identification with the objects of awareness, we become very tense and anxious. That tension is stored in our body-minds, manifesting in myriad forms of psychic and physical dis-ease, and eventually needs to be released if we are to reclaim the feeling of wellness that is our natural birthright. Here, as with everything, awareness is the key. The light of awareness has the power to dispel pent-up tension just as well as ignorance.
In all three steps to reclaiming your natural state of wellness -- Remembering, Relaxing, and Releasing -- you have many allies available to assist you with the process, ranging from nutritious diet, to life coaching and counseling, to yoga and meditation. A truly "integral life practice" incorporating a balanced synergy of such tools can help you to quickly master the art and science of wellness.
Since I am a massage practitioner, I will focus here on the power of massage to help you with all three steps:
Remember. One of the main benefits of bodywork is that it brings you back into your body. In this fast-paced age, most of us tend to move through life lost in thought. We ruminate over the past, worry about the future, and regard what's happening in the present as an obstacle or at least a means to a future end. Bill Cosby said, "The past is a ghost, the future a dream -- all we ever have is now." Does that resonate with you? It does for me. How often are we fully Here and Now, in the wonderfully simple and yet astonishingly rich present moment, appreciating the beauty all around us, enjoying our aliveness? Getting out of our heads and back into our bodies and our breath, we reconnect with our inner vitality and our joy, which always arise from the present moment. We come home to ourselves.
Relax. Once again present, we are freed to participate more consciously in our bodywork session, noticing areas of tension and helping them to release through directed awareness and deep breathing. We are more in touch with our body's needs, and more likely to give our massage therapist constructive feedback. And we bask in the pleasure of being touched and cared for, grounding ourselves deeper in the roots of our natural vitality. We face the rest of the day and week with fresh perspective, our bodies more supple, our minds more still and alert. Life seems easier now, and that's because we are resisting it less.
Release. Relaxing and releasing are closely related; when you relax, you release, and vice versa. But some tension is stored so deeply or so cleverly in our body-minds that it's still there, holding us in a subtle state of contraction, even when we think we are relaxed. Basically, we have many layers of stored tension/contraction, some requiring specific stimuli for their release. In many such instances, various forms of bodywork can provide just that stimulus. Effective bodywork can help release those "stuck" points in your body-mind (called samskaras in Eastern teachings) that keep you from relaxing ever more deeply, expanding ever more gloriously, than you previously imagined possible.