Reflections on Holistic Health
A healthy human being is someone who enjoys good health at all three levels of our being—physical, mental and spiritual.
By Yoginder S. Sikand
Who are we really—the real ‘I’? Is the real ‘I’ the body? Or the mind? Or a combination of both? Some people think that is just what we are—body and mind. But if the body is in a constant process of decay and we have to vacate it one day and if our minds are constantly swinging this way and that, can we, who intuitively feel that there is something about us that is permanent and everlasting, really be reduced to the temporary body or the ever-changing mind? If we reflect on our own selves deeply, we may discover deep down that our real ‘I’ is something else, something beyond our body and our mind.
Many religions tell us that the real ‘I’ is the soul, and that when the soul is manifested in this world, it is encased in a body-mind organism. Hence, while we are in this world, we human beings have three levels—the bodily or physical level, the mind or mental level, and the soul or spiritual level. Each of these levels has its own needs, the fulfilling of which is essential for our healthy functioning.
Our physical needs are the needs of our physical body, such as proper food, shelter, and clothing. Sexual needs are also a physical need (for most people, though not everyone).
Our mental needs are about cultivating our mind, including our thoughts and emotions, so as to ensure our healthy growth. Our spiritual needs are about the needs of our soul. These needs can be met by cultivating a personal relationship with God. This is something that is taught in different ways in various theistic religions.
A healthy human being is someone who enjoys good health at all three levels of our being—physical, mental and spiritual—with the needs of the body, mind and soul all provided for adequately and in a balanced manner. Going by this holistic definition of health, it should come as no surprise that a great many of us suffer from various degrees of ill-health, even if we don’t know it. One reason why this happens is, if we ignore or do not adequately provide for the needs related to one or more of the three levels of our being. The same also happens if we fall prey to excess through over-indulgence at one or other level of our being.
Take my own case, for example. For many years, I paid no attention to the needs of my soul. It was something I completely ignored. I was sunk deep, like in a pit of quick-sand, at the bodily plane. It was as if the only reason I was alive was to maximize sense gratification. In my obsession with this, which I took to be the purpose of my life, I completely ignored the needs of my soul. Not once in all those many years did I think of God or care to turn to Him, even when I was really down in the dumps. It was hardly surprising, then, that very soon I was struck with a major psychological crisis.
This is precisely the sort of thing that happens when one ignores or fails to adequately meet the needs of each of the three levels of our being. As was the case with me, many people are stuck at the physical or bodily level, believing that pandering to the demands and desires of the body is what a ‘good’ and ‘successful’ life is all about. ‘Good’ food, ‘good’ looks, ‘good’ music, ‘good’ clothes, a ‘good’ job, a ‘good’ house’, a ‘good’ car, a ‘good’ bank balance, ‘good’ movies, ‘good’ holidays, and so on—all these, they think, is what human life is about and for. Today, this tendency is actively promoted by all sorts of forces, including the mass media, the educational system, the advertising industry and corporate houses.
Too Much in the Mind
Ill-health can also result if you are too much in the mind, if you are living mainly at the mental level while ignoring the needs of the other levels. For instance, some people who fancy themselves as ‘intellectuals’ completely ignore the needs of their soul. Inevitably, this leads to disease—physical, mental and spiritual—that is manifested in different ways.
We can consider ourselves truly healthy not only if our body is free of physical ailments but also if our mind is sound (if we’ve trained ourselves to think positively, for instance, and are emotionally secure) and our soul is in good shape (which can only be when we have established a close relationship with God). True health is thus comprehensive, including all three levels of our being—bodily, mental as well as spiritual. Only by addressing, in a proper and balanced way, the various needs of all three levels—the needs of our body, the needs of our mind, and the needs of our soul—can we be truly healthy.