A vibrant life of faith can help achieve well-being
Harmony, energy and the right balance in life make for healthy and happy living.
A nurse attends to a patient at a field hospital for Covid-19 patients in Portimao, Portugal, on Feb. 9. The whole world focused on the pandemic in 2020. (Photo: AFP)
For one whole year, 2020, a single anxious thought dominated the minds of all people in all the nations of the world: how to escape the clutches of Covid-19. It was a rare occasion when all humankind focused on just one issue.
Most of the time, however, we lead distracted lives. We take our health for granted and engage in self-destructive behavior, placing our lives at risk. Today, Feb. 11, is the World Day of the Sick. It reminds us that while illness and injury may be part of our lives, we owe it to ourselves and to those we love to appreciate the gift of health and wellness.
How can we do this fruitfully and regularly? Health is not just the absence of illness or injury. A more positive understanding seeks to describe health in terms of three factors.
First, harmony. To be healthy means that all one’s systems — physiological, psychological and spiritual — interact with each other in a smooth and benign fashion. Nothing jars, nothing is missing, nothing is out of place.
Then, energy. A healthy person is always energized, with positive vibrations, and not a victim of fatigue, sadness or debilitating weakness. Energy can be mental, physical, emotional and social, giving us the capacity to act and deliver along a number of parameters.
Both harmony and energy are complemented by balance, which allows us to keep a fine proportion between past memories, present experiences and future desires. Nothing excess, nothing deficient, neither fear nor craving.
Only a moment’s reflection will tell us how our contemporary civilization keeps us far from the healthy life. Instead of balance and moderation, most nations in the world practice excess for their elites and gross deprivation for their masses, a most disharmonious condition for modern living.
Any surprise, then, at the alienation, the simmering anger and the violence which infect the lives of millions of our contemporaries? Any surprise at the pandemics of diabetes, substance abuse and cancers which afflict so many? And now, coronavirus?
Steps to well-being
Recovering a sense of wellness starts with the body — “a healthy mind in a healthy body,” as the old saying goes. This doesn’t necessarily mean fitness, which is often confused with health. Fitness is the capacity for work, for a task. Health, as pointed out above, means harmony and energy, and a balance between these three: diet, exercise and rest. One can be fit and sick, like the many who are victims of diabetes or cardiac malfunction.
Most Indians see the value of an exercise regimen, but for various reasons are not motivated to act. Besides this lack of motivation, there is also the lack of time, availability of resources and the burden of many responsibilities. Further, modern life has a hectic pace of its own, egged on by technology and finance. This creates stress, which in turn affects patterns of diet and rest.
Health may begin with the body, but it must include the mind. A happy, peaceful mind is necessary to achieve one’s goals, be these eating right, running the marathon or climbing the career ladder. While there is a high level of awareness about the ways to cope with stress and failure, the lack of helplines and counsellors prevents people from getting timely professional help. On the other hand, many today are turning to yogic meditation, vipassana and exercises in mindfulness to acquire and retain peace of mind, and this is something positive.
For most adults, work occupies the main part of the day. It is a source of either deep satisfaction and creativity or of frustration and tension. Surveys show that whereas many are aware of the need for a work-life balance, very few achieve this, and it is usually employers who are blamed for it. And yet lack of wellness in the workplace affects not only productivity but also impinges upon the home as well, causing family tensions and break-ups.
Related to work is money, essential to meet both our immediate needs as well as give one a sense of security, so vital to inner health. Curiously, most Indians don’t give much importance to financial well-being, nor are they well prepared for financial crises. This is certainly a prescription for stress and anxiety as uncertainty about the future does not allow one to enjoy the present.
In India, surveys have shown that most people rate family as more important for a sense of wellness than money. The majority feel that they are responsible for ensuring their family’s well-being — consider, for example, how anxious most parents are that their children are “well settled” — but cannot find enough time for it.
This is further complicated by social change today, where adult children wish to decide their own lives — their careers, their choice of spouse and their own separate homes — independently of their parents. The recent pandemic has broken down the borders of home and work, and it has caused confusion and stress where earlier clear demarcations existed.
Importance of faith
One final resource for health and well-being, often overlooked and downplayed, is a vibrant life of faith.
In traditional societies, personal faith as a system of values gave stability and purpose to life. This has changed in many modern communities, where faith has either been rejected or has turned into a rigid fundamentalism. Let us therefore say two important things about faith.
Firstly, as a belief in God or in a supernatural power, it must necessarily percolate towards a trust in one’s fellow human beings. So, faith becomes a relationship of trust, not a dogmatic assertion of self-sufficiency. For trust, not suspicion or hatred, is the basis for harmony, and so for peace.
Then, faith is a growing thing, which progressively enriches the believer. It is not stunted and superstitious. It acknowledges and accepts other faith perspectives, and in this acceptance it finds peace and stability.
This has been a sustained reflection on acquiring and sustaining wellness — a condition not just of freedom from sickness but an opening towards “the abundant life” of the Gospels. We have traced the various factors which either block or encourage us on the path of well-being.
And most of all, we realize that harmony, energy and the right balance in life make for healthy and happy living.
Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.