“Health is a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." - World Health Organization (1).
Traditionally, individuals are considered healthy if they are free from any disease or chronic illness. Despite this, the majority of those with chronic conditions rate their health as good or excellent (2,3). So if health is not necessarily the absence of disease, then what is it?
The perception of well-being, the true concept of health, encompass a balance of everything that is happening right now to us. Well-being is a complex construct that concerns optimal experience and functioning: it is a fine combination of the appreciation of pleasurable events, attainment, and coping with pain.
Well-being also asks that individuals do or be a part of something that has sustained meaning – something that is bigger than us. When we do this we are contributing with our existence, even when suffering from a disease. This drives people to the self-realization they are fully functioning human beings, despite their disease.
Then health may be found when an individual has established balance within themselves and with their life conditions, and from that equilibrium they are able to get the most they can from life, regardless of their disease-status (4).
When health is regarded in this way, health becomes possible for everyone.
HEALTH & MINDFULNESS
Regardless of whether we desire our current experience to be what it is, accepting it as our own (despite liking or disliking) is possibly the first step to a state of balance.
Accepting in this way does not mean that we will be passive… it simply means that we are aware of our experience, and interact with it as is. By surrendering the "need" to control our circumstances, we release a large source of stress from our lives (5). Something to whisper in your ear: having control is an illusion, it is like trying to find Neverland.
Difficult experiences and situations will always exist in everybody’s life. You always have a choice: you can either be miserable, or you can choose acceptance and make a disagreeable experience into an opportunity to grow. The choice is yours, and yours alone, to make (6).
THE OBSTACLE IS THE PATH: STRUGGLE AS THE ROOT OF PROGRESS
Illness, struggling, suffering… these words tend to get a bad reputation, often being equated with failure. However, these experiences – when observed patiently – are ripe with meaning and may provide us the opportunity for expansion to a different level of understanding.
Although rough, illness can serve as a transformative door, resulting in adding meaningfulness to life (7).
It is our perception, the lens through with we view the world, that is most important. If we simply change our frame of reference, then we can see the opportunity in every situation – even those we deem most disagreeable.
SO HOW DO YOU FIND CONTENTMENT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF DISEASE?
One possible way is to stop for a few minutes every day, and in the context of the awareness of our simple breath, pay a non-judgmental attention (without liking or disliking) to what is happening to you in the present moment. The cultivation of this kind of awareness is the cultivation of mindfulness, and it can be transformative.
So how can you practice mindfulness? There are many ways… no single one better than the other. Any activity can become an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Do not worry about it, just do what feels right for you.
We wish you well.
(1) Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June 1946, and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
(2) Stuifbergen, AK. (1995). Health-promoting behaviors and quality of life among individuals with multiple sclerosis. Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, 9(1), 31-50.
(3) Canada. (1987). The active health report: Perspectives on Canada's health promotion survey 1985. Ottawa, Ont.: National Health and Welfare Canada.
(4) Sartorius, N. (2006).The meanings of health and its promotion. Croatian Medical Journal, 47(4), 662–664.
(5, 6, 7) Newman, M. (1994). Health as expanding consciousness (2nd ed., p. xxii-29). New York: national League for Nursing Press.
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