by Dr. Daciana Iancu
2020 will go down in history as a remarkable year. As our world is changing before our eyes, we might be wondering what the new normal will be like. While there are many challenges right now, there are also opportunities. We are at a crucial time in the history of humanity when we can help co-create the new normal that is to come.
Even before the pandemic, the health of our world was crumbling: climate change, increasingly toxic agriculture, racial disparities, economic shifts of greater wealth for a select few at the cost of less wealth for everyone else. And since the health of our bodies is affected by the health of our environment, we are seeing increased rates of cancer, decreased fertility rates in men and women, increased rates of allergies and auto-immune diseases, and rapidly growing mental and emotional health issues. The health of our planet has been declining on all levels.
So how do we stay healthy when our environment is so disturbed? How do we remain sane and resilient when we can’t get a break from stressful events: pandemic, fires, online schooling, social injustice, unemployment, separation from our community? How do we maintain health in the face of a possibly life-threating viral infection? Even more importantly, how do we heal ourselves and heal the planet at the same time?
Health as Balance
These last few months have given me the opportunity to observe nature more than ever before. I appreciated observing the constant balance between life and death, creation and destruction: the abundance of summer and fall is replaced by the scarcity of winter, then the death of winter is followed by the birth of life in spring. Hot days are followed by fog. Spring brings the birth of many baby birds, but many of them die. Plants in the garden are conquered by pests or diseases, but the ones that do survive produce strong seeds that will make sturdy future plants. The vibrancy of the garden eventually wilts and turns to compost, which in turn generates new life.
Just like life in the garden, health is a constant movement, a flow, a balance between life and death, creation and destruction. Nourishment helps us create new cells in our body which then get broken down in order to create energy and movement. We constantly shed old skin cells and create new ones. Too much creation in parts of our body can cause illness (cancer, gigantism, obesity) and too much destruction can also cause illness (degenerative diseases such as arthritis or cardiovascular disease). Health is the balancing movement between creation and destruction. Illness is part of the health balance. Some illnesses are more beneficial than others. We get childhood illnesses in order to develop a strong immune system. When we are overworked and stressed, we get a cold that forces us to rest and detox. Cold weather causes fever illnesses that warm us up. Everything in life is constantly pushing us towards balance. Sometimes the symptom of imbalance is small, like a headache that forces us to rest, and sometimes it is more serious, like a chronic illness. Yet even chronic illness can bring health
and balance: cancer survivors often say that cancer was a good thing that happened to them because it forced them to get out of a situation where they felt stuck (like a terrible job), or helped them to start taking care of themselves when before they ignored their own needs. It brought balance!
Health is the balancing movement between life and death, between creation and destruction, between harmony and disharmony. While the preservation of this balance is important, the restoration of the balance is the most essential part. Since everything in life is movement, we cannot just stay in balance at all times. We have to be comfortable moving between balance and imbalance, between harmony and disharmony. The preservation of harmony is important, but the most essential part is that we figure out how to restore the balance. It is this restoration of balance that gives us the tools to live a healthy and harmonious life, the tools for health creation. Going through the difficult task of restoring balance gives us the wisdom and appreciation for maintaining the balance.
Illness is Part of Health
The restoration of balance is not always easy. Healing takes energy and determination. We have to both surrender our expectations and engage our will forces. Usually, it is more than what we can do alone. If we view illness as something bad that happened “to us”, the task is much harder. While occasionally some of our illness might be due to an imbalance that we have unconsciously created for ourselves, most of the time the cause is much bigger than us. It is never one’s fault! Illness can be due to our toxic environment (which is from our collective contribution), or due to our ancestry (i.e. genetic illnesses), and often due to past trauma in our biography and in the biography of our ancestors. Usually it is a combination of multiple things and we can never fully comprehend the entire reason why we get sick. But illness is not something that “happens to us”. We are not victims. Illness is life’s attempt to restore balance. And we are life’s essential instruments in this dance of restoration.
It helps to realize that illness is not an external enemy, a punishment or an insult that has been bestowed upon us by some external force. Illness is simply life’s attempt to restore balance. Then it can be seen as an opportunity. Through illness we can bring balance into the world. Every time we heal, we become more resilient. Every time we heal, we restore balance, not just in our bodies but for the earth, because we learn to live in ways that are also more beneficial for the environment (like eating healthier foods).
We don’t have to have a great loss or a great illness in order to build strength and resilience. Life gives us these opportunities to learn resilience all the time. These days, life is presenting us with many opportunities to learn resilience and restore balance, both in our bodies, our emotions, and within our environment.
How do we create health?
We create health by maintaining and restoring balance within ourselves and our environment. The current world situation shows us what happens when we are out of balance with nature. Now it is our task to find our way back and restore harmony with the environment. A very simple tool to help us restore this balance is to connect to our physical body and to nature.
Connecting to our physical body
We can use the breath to bring awareness to our physical body. The simple act of paying attention to our physical body can help bring in a sense of safety and security. Unless you are in a dangerous situation right now (like being chased by a bear), chances are that you are safe in your body. Feeling our extremities helps bring our attention to the body. This may help us release the contractions of the mind, which tends to keep us in a stress loop. Conscious exercise, walking out in nature, walking meditation, and body centered mindfulness practices are active examples of this.
The consistent practice of bringing awareness to our physical body can help us develop a stronger mind body connection, which in turn can help us recognize sooner if something is out of balance in our body. This practice also helps us increase our awareness about how we need to take care of our body, like what foods we should eat. When we are in tune with our body, we make choices that also help the environment, like eating fresh, local, organic and biodynamic foods.
Connecting to nature
Not only does nature help us connect to our physical body, but it also helps us connect with our energetic body and our rhythms. We breathe easier when we are out in nature. We feel safer when we are out in nature, and we also learn to recognize our body’s response to real danger (like being caught in a storm). Nature also nudges us to slow down and be quieter. Since nature can be very subtle, the more connected we are to nature, the easier it is to recognize the subtle sensations in our body.
Gardening, bird watching, hiking, fishing, forest-bathing, raising animals, observing the plants in your back yard, even caring for house plants are examples of connecting to nature. Consider going for a quiet walk on the same nature path every morning year-round; you will notice the subtle rhythms and changing of the seasons. The key is to be quiet and observe.
When we connect to nature on a regular basis, we also experience the reality of life: dirt, death, illness, parasites, fungi, draught, floods, etc. We stop expecting constant perfection from ourselves and others because we realize that life is messy. We learn to recognize the inter-relatedness between ourselves and nature and how we are a part of the ecosystem of the earth. This in turn will help us respect nature more and support practices that bring healing to our environment, like sustainable farming and renewable energy. Otherwise, these sustainable practices are just ideas with no connection to reality in our world, which makes it much harder to support them.
In the past we were much more connected to nature, because we were aware of our dependence on nature for our survival. Our technological advances have fooled us into believing that we can overcome nature. But the state of the world in 2020 has made it very clear what happens when we abandon our relationship with nature. This does not mean that we should let go of our technology and go back to our old ways. Rather it is time to bring more consciousness to how we use technology and incorporate
our reverence for nature into it: slow down, observe our rhythms, simplify, develop a relationship with the soil and the plants rather than consuming out of greed or fear of scarcity. There is enough abundance on this planet for all of us and more, but only if we live in balance with nature.
Connecting to our physical body and connecting to nature are simple effective ways towards healing ourselves and healing the Earth. As we become more adept at slowing down, getting quieter, connecting to our body, our rhythms, and the rhythms of nature around us, we get to know ourselves better and what our inner world feels like. The more we connect to nature, the more we can increase our awareness of the other, because nature is full of beings: birds, insects, animals, plants. As we increase our awareness of the other, we can become more compassionate to the other human beings around us. This is important because in addition to connecting to ourselves and connecting to nature, we also need relationships and community. And these simple few practices can help us experience that we are an integral part of something bigger than ourselves, something that weaves everything together.
We can compare our current world situation to an illness. But if we see illness as life’s attempt to restore balance, we can see this situation as an opportunity. How can we improve balance in our world right now? By returning to ourselves, strengthening our self-awareness, and remembering how to honor and respect nature we can create health within ourselves, our community and the Earth. It can begin as a quiet morning walk in the park