“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and hands; and then work outward from there.”
- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
“Nothing is separate” might sound like the musings of a mystic or a wise old Zen master, but it is also one of the fundamental principles at the heart of holistic medicine.
That simple phrase has immense implications when applied to questions of health. It helps us make sense of so many things, such as how poor dental health is associated with diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis, or how food and drink choices can be related to inflammatory processes such as arthritis and allergies. There is even evidence that the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the air we regularly breathe may be contributing to the obesity epidemic. Wow.
The truth is, the connections between our states of health and our environment are practically endless. We are intimately and profoundly responsive to our surroundings on many levels, all the way down to which hormones and neurotransmitters get produced, and even how our genes express themselves. These internal messengers, in turn, affect how we look, think and feel, not to mention other important measures of overall health, such as quality of sleep, sense of well-being, and energy levels. The dance of life between each of us and our environment is amazingly elegant and intricate.
An awareness of how intimately connected we are to our rapidly changing world presents us with a host of challenges too numerous to list here. However, we also begin to recognize countless opportunities to maintain and improve our health. For example, some simple and effective antidotes to a few of the plagues of modern life include spending ample time outdoors, getting regular exercise of some sort, and consciously breathing deeply, pausing to appreciate just that simple action. Of course, the list goes on and on, and for most of us might include drinking more water and a variety of living drinks such as kombucha, kefir and apple cider vinegar, eating more fresh and fermented vegetables, laughing more freely, noticing the beauty and grace in our lives, and forgiving ourselves and others more readily.
Actions like these will almost undoubtedly improve individual health, as both science and intuition tell us. We advocate for these foundational behaviors every day with those who come to Sojourns for care, usually in conjunction with other parts of a treatment plan. It is a good place to start for most of us, “in one’s own heart and hands”. As we do, we are also led to some difficult realizations, such as how the air we are breathing deeply is often less than pure, and the water we may be drinking more of may have a whole host of contaminants that have been carelessly put there. And yet, these are still steps in a good direction.
Beyond improving our health, these types of actions can help us recognize just how inseparable we are from the world around us. Caring for ourselves in this manner reveals the importance of caring for our air, our water, our food production methods, and ultimately, our whole planet. In loving and caring for ourselves and our families it becomes incumbent upon us to extend that sentiment to include the things that sustain and nourish us. As author and environmental activist, Sandra Steingraber, puts it, “What we love, we must protect”.
So, start with yourself. Breathe deeply. Drink our good water plentifully. Eat fresh and local food with gusto and appreciation. Laugh it up; celebrate. Be gentle on yourself and others. Do these things for yourself and for your loved ones. And then, “work outward from there”. After all, nothing really is separate.
Clif Steinberg is a Naturopathic Physician at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic at (802) 722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org.