Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Final Perspective on "Health" - Blog #3

Well, folks, here we are at long last…the end of my blogging week. So, what has been my purpose? Well, I’m not quite sure…

(Kidding of course!)

I hope that I have made the case for defining health in a way that is culturally relevant AND appropriate. Equally, I hope that I have convinced you that a definition of health should include the tripartite notion of “mind-body-spirit.”  

…But, since I am so very long winded, I have a bit more to say about “mind-body-spirit.”
I suspect most of you are familiar with the historical antecedent of the “mind-body” (yes, I know “spirit” is absent) characterization of we “humans.” However, just in case you are not, let me give you a very brief history: the historical antecedent to “mind-body” was the Scientific Revolution and the main player of interest in the modern view of “mind-body” was our French friend, Rene Descartes. As I’m sure you already know the “mind-body” view was made popular in the mid 1600’s by Descartes, who believed that what happens “in our mind” is altogether different from those things that have substance – literally those things we can touch. For the philosopher AND scientist AND mathematician – Descartes – “mind-body” was nothing more than differentiating that which does follow the laws of nature (i.e., the “body”) from that which does not follow the laws of nature (i.e., the “mind). This “mind-body” view of human nature has quite literally dominated Western thought – and medicine – and health – since the mid 1600’s.

So there you have it then: a “mind-body” view of health completes our picture – case closed! (Thank you, Descartes!) J

NOT SO FAST, folks! What has been traditionally absent in the Western view of health, and what has been a key feature in the Eastern view of health, is the seminal role of “spirit.” For Eastern health practitioners our “spirit” (i.e., our essence including our values, morals, desires, and our connectedness with nature or the universe) shapes the type of health we have, the type of illnesses we may contract or develop, and our ability to heal.

Well, “so what!” you shout at me.  Well “hold your horses,” I shout back. There is something quite important – and historical – about the Eastern view of “spirit” in health and well-being. As it turns out, we are seeing an integration of traditional Western views of health (i.e., “mind-body”) with the importance that traditional Eastern practitioners place on “spirit.” Hence, what has been held constant since the last days of Descartes, our “modern” view of health and healing as a “mind-body” issue, seems to be going through what Thomas Kuhn has called a “paradigm shift” – the change from one way of thinking about “something” to another way of thinking about that same “something. The “mind & body” is evolving into the “mind & body & spirit.” This is what is often meant by an “integrated” approach to health. It should come as no surprise when I tell you that some Western and Eastern health practitioners are choosing to define health as a function of our “mind” and our “body” and our “spirit.” Sadly, if you are lacking in any of these areas you may not be as healthy as you think you are (I invite you to revisit the characters from our first blog as a “case in point.”).

And so my friends, we have the opportunity to “ride the wave” of change as we move from a Western, dualistic notion of health, to a more integrated view of health - a view that encompasses the best of the West AND the best of the East! So, I leave you to ponder the nature of “mind-body-spirit” and how adopting an integrated approach to health and healing may be our single best chance to come to any understanding – any definition – of the ubiquitous nature of “health.” Sincerely,  ~Kevin         


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