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Living from the inside out

Our body is our spacesuit for planet Earth. We cannot come here and have a human experience without a body. Of course, the analogy of the spacesuit is only that an analogy. Our body is intrinsically wedded to and affected by our mind, emotions and spirit. However, there’s value in seeing ourselves as embodied rather than our physical bodies being the identifying feature of who we are.

Our body is an awe-inspiring, self-healing, living expression of our consciousness. We contribute moment by moment to our health by the quality of our awareness and the secretion of chemicals, pheromones, hormones, neuropeptides and neurotransmitters in response to our feelings. Any imbalance or blockage in our spiritual, emotional or mental aspects will eventually be translated via these chemicals into our physical body.

In addition to our genetic predispositions, what we put into and onto our body will determine its health. Are you a friend to your body, cooperating with its own marvellous potential to self-heal? Do you treat your body as if it were the temple in which you reside? Do you replenish it with fresh, simple, whole foods? Do you give it pure, uncontaminated water? Do you fill your lungs with fresh, clean air? Do you exercise it regularly and fluff it up to make it feel good? Do you rest and refresh it through deep relaxation and adequate sleep?

People often spend a great deal of money and endless hours focused on improving the way their body looks at the expense of caring for the being that enlivens it. People might believe they’ve got it together by making their physical body look good or function well. It’s easy enough to fall into the trap of believing that we are our bodies when so much emphasis is placed upon that premise in our society. Attaching our sense of self to our physical body can be tricky, though.

What if we lose our looks or fitness, become sick, disfigured or disabled? What about when we grow old? Our world shrinks rapidly if we use our physical body as our main source of identification. Its part of living from the outside in instead of the inside out.

Many people use their body as a marker for how they’re doing on other levels. For instance, if we focus on improving our physical health with an attitude of having to earn our recovery from an illness, then we may be disappointed if our body doesn’t seem to respond in the way we believe it should. I often say to people with life-threatening illnesses, Don’t drink juice, take vitamins and supplements, improve your nutrition, forgive everyone and meditate so you won’t die. By all means, drink juice, take vitamins and supplements, improve your nutrition, forgive everyone and meditate so that you live today well. In this way we can set about overwhelming ourselves with wellness. The outer action might be the same but the intention and motivation are completely different. Don’t focus on preventing death but on increasing life. Intention is everything.

Having people relate to you as if you are only your physical body can leave the inner being hungry for attention. It is for this reason that I generally prefer to say to people living with grief or the challenge of illness, Do you feel as good as you look? This gives people permission to say, No! I feel rotten and I’m sick of everyone telling me how fabulous I look! To say, You look fabulous! can sometimes mean, I’ve decided that you’re okay, because you look okay. I don’t want to hear how you feel because I might not know what to say and I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. This applies equally to all of us. If we value ourselves only by how our body looks to others or its physical accomplishments, were destined for disappointment if and when our body changes.

Indeed, we might continue this identification with the physical, believing that once we have the right environment around us the right clothes, partner, children, house, jewellery, car, bank balance, holidays, accolades, job, friends, associates, and so on well be happy.

What happens, though, when through illness or other unforeseen event we lose everything the job, house, car, partner, money, accolades, friends, associates all gone because of the unexpected or because were unable to maintain them. If we believe that success is measured by a collection of accoutrements, then were bound to have a crisis of identity when they’re stripped from us.

The emphasis on making our life look good to others dominates many people in our culture. If only we can get our body looking fabulous and our life looking successful, then well be happy. Some people wear their house or car as a badge of accomplishment. Imagine attaching your sense of self to the car you drive, only to feel mortified when it gets scratched!

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having all our physical needs met and being surrounded by beauty and the comforts of our choice. Indeed, its a natural consequence of managing life well that we derive an adequate income to support ourselves and which enables us to physically thrive in the world. The problem arises when we believe our value is dependent on those physical attachments including our body.

To find that peace is possible regardless of what’s going on in our body or physical world is a blessing. Experiencing a deep sense of equanimity and security within ourselves when change and disintegration surround us is an accomplishment were all capable of. All of us who’ve had the physical challenges of serious illness, disability or disfigurement have been faced with the need to reappraise who we are. If were to have peace, we need our sense of self to be anchored in our being, not in our body.

The realisation of impermanence is paradoxically the only thing that we can depend on. The only law in the universe that never changes: that all things change and that all material things are impermanent.

When I had leukaemia, my mind and body shrieked a million things at me. My life as I knew it was ending. My young children would be left without a mother; my parents would grieve another child my middle brother having died through suicide not long before my illness; my eldest brother would mourn another sibling. What had my life amounted to and how could I inflict further pain on those who loved me by dying? The powerlessness and helplessness I felt were an agony. It felt like sinking into quicksand.

In time, through the practice of meditation, my preference became to live on as Petrea but I wasn’t addicted to having to stay in a body in order to have peace. If I could only have peace if I stayed in my body, then death would always be fearful for me. I embraced the feelings around my death in order to lose my fear of them.

Peace is always possible because it’s a moment-by-moment choice. And peace is not just a state of mind; it is a state of physiology one that is positively conducive to creating real health.
Were emerging from a time when we believed health to be haphazard, as much dictated by good luck as anything else, and that we had little to do with its creation. When things went wrong we trotted off to the doctor who prescribed some magic for our ailment.

Over the past 20 years or so, we’ve begun to take more responsibility for the creation of our own health. Through education we know about reducing dietary fat, increasing exercise, eliminating smoking and the excessive drinking of alcohol, and reducing overly refined foods, hydrogenated oils and coffee. Many people have increased exercise, dietary roughage, vegetables and fruits because of this education.

When I began working with people with cancer 20 years ago, cancer councils and oncologists (cancer specialists) proclaimed that diet had nothing to do with the formation of cancer. Now it is widely accepted by those same groups that at least 35 per cent of cancers are diet-related and far more are created through lifestyle factors.

The briefest visit to the zoo shows that veterinarians are passionate about feeding the animals in their care appropriately. There are signs requesting us not to share our food with them because an unnatural diet will make them sick. Their attention to the dietary needs of sick animals is even more stringent.

Doctors caring for our athletes are very particular about their diet the athletes, not necessarily their own! So are racehorse owners. So why would we trivialise diet for people who are sick? It seems an amazing arrogance to believe that were somehow different from other physical creatures and, indeed, are superior to them that we can ingest whatever we like without consequence. It is testament to the extraordinary capacity of our bodies that they process, eliminate or find ways to cope with what many people think of as foods substances that were never designed to be digested by the human body.

For 60,000 years plus, human beings have eaten organic produce off the land or out of the sea. We dried our food or used salt to preserve it. Since World War II we’ve been doing things with our food supply that have never been done before in the history of humankind. We’ve added more than 100,000 new chemicals not previously in existence in the universe to our environment (we develop about 9000 new chemicals each year, which we likewise introduce into our environment, and 90 per cent of all of these chemicals are carcinogenic).

There’s not a human being on the planet now who doesn’t have traces of dozens of these chemicals in their body. That means there’s not a woman on the planet who can provide a toxic-free pregnancy or toxic-free breast milk.

Some years ago medical researchers seeking to establish the effect of chemicals on our bodies looked for a population to use as a control group. They tested the indigenous Inuit people from Alaska in the expectation that they’d be unaffected by pollutants as they adhered to a traditional diet. However, because these people are at the top of the food chain, they had ingested high levels of persistent toxic chemicals. These chemicals find their way to the bottom of the sea where they are ingested by microscopic creatures; these are then ingested by the next size of creature up the food chain until they reach the fish, then the seals, then the polar bears and then the Inuit. Our bodies were never designed to process these chemicals that don’t belong in our environment and some of which mimic the hormones human bodies produce.

We now add chemical preservatives, flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers and sweeteners to our food. Some of these chemicals are already implicated in neurodegenerative diseases of the brain. We don’t replenish our soils with organic compost but with chemical fertilisers. We spray poisons on produce while it’s growing, pick it before it’s ripe, store it too long, transport it too far, then gas, freeze, can or package it. We seem easily taken in by the look of a food without any enquiry about where, when or how it was grown. We’ve been seduced by convenience, jingles and packaging.

Many people no longer value the joy and satisfaction of purchasing fresh food and preparing healthy and nutritious meals. Convenience and the pressures of time mean that many city apartment kitchens are now designed without a stove or traditional oven. The only appliances are of the plug-in variety including a microwave and small refrigerator.

The full outcome of tinkering with the genetic constitution of plants and animals can only be guessed at. What is the motivation of those attempting to dominate, mould and control creation by manipulating genes according to the wishes of those who will finance this manipulation? The argument for continuing to modify plants and animals genetically is based primarily on economics and a good argument can be made, but only if economics is more important than people. Remember that not so long ago it was considered appropriate practice to incorporate animal tissue in the feed of animals that normally ate none. What does your commonsense say about the idea of feeding cows ground-up bones and offal? That too was a decision based on economics. Likewise the introduction into the Canadian environment of genetically modified canola has led to it being the 13th most common weed in that country.

When they develop cancer or another illness, some people choose to eat organically grown produce. However, we could all be agitating for organically grown produce now not waiting until cancer or some other degenerative disease takes hold. Much of our urban lifestyle removes us from the cycles of nature and we don’t have a relationship with the production of our own food supply. Growing even the smallest amount of our own food brings great satisfaction and joy.

Anyone who’ ever eaten freshly picked fruit and vegetables straight from the garden will attest to the sense of fulfilment it brings, as well as the fabulous flavour and excellent nutritional value.
We need to think about what we’re doing now and not wait until it’s been scientifically proven to be detrimental to our health. Learn to listen to your own body and rely on your intuition, reason and common sense in choosing appropriate ways to nourish and replenish your body.

From Your Life Matters by Petrea King. Copyright © Petrea King 2004. Published by Random House Australia..Rrp $32.95.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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