What does it mean to be “healthy?” It is certainly a common goal most people strive to achieve. Yet, it’s challenging to pin-point the moment we achieve it. Perhaps then, health is a fluid process that ebbs and flows and that over time, hopefully with the right guidance and information, flows more than it ebbs.
I see health as the ability to adapt to change, to the constant daily challenges to its integrity. Failure to adapt leads to stagnation, imbalance and, ultimately, to disease.
Let’s use the Yin-Yang image to discuss health. You see it everywhere, but how well do you understand it?
Figure 1: Tai Ji, the Great Ultimate; Yin-Yang
The white part is yang and represents the sunny side of the mountain, the active, warming, masculine, moving aspect of nature. The black part is yin and represents the shady side of the mountain, the receptive, nourishing, cooling, feminine, quiescent aspect of nature. The opposite color dot within each side suggests there is no such thing as pure yin or pure yang; that yin always contains within it some aspect of yang and vice versa. Notice the curved line delineating one side from the other. If it were like the black and white cookie, distinctly partitioned in half with no hint of the other, you would have the epitome of static duality—yin as separate from yang. But the Yin-Yang symbol is not that at all. That curved line represents the dynamic state of balance and equilibrium that is constant throughout nature. And within that movement, as yin and yang reach their zenith, each transforms into the other. All phenomena in nature ebb and flow, take form and dissolve, and defy futile attempts at static definition. All phenomena in nature can be seen through the prism of yin and yang. There are no straight lines and no end points. There is only fluidity, movement, and change.
When I meet a patient for the first time, for me it’s a beginning. Yet for them, I am but one more stage on their journey toward their particular health care goal. Sometimes that journey has been short; perhaps they have an acute injury. And sometimes that journey has been long; they have been to several other doctors with little to no results and may then come in frustrated and impatient, looking for answers. Within the first visit, I try to provide them with new information to explain why they have been sick and offer my vision of how I may best help them feel better. In other words, I try and discern their patterns of movement within health and imbalance. What factors have lead them from health and what needs to occur to bring them back?
Results often come quickly. Getting them to stick is the challenge. This comes down to how clearly we can identify the causes of their imbalance and whether they have the sincere desire to make the changes necessary to prevent a relapse. I appreciate the challenging nature of what I am asking of patients: to make changes. While I may be their biggest cheerleader and fan, I do try to speak the direct truth. Whether it is around their food choices and eating habits or their stress management, change is never easy. Sometimes, we thrive and embrace change and other times we are reluctant and veer from the path only to pick up the pieces the next day and start over.
But one thing is true: change is an evolution, not a revolution. Change is a fluid day-to-day process. There is no beginning and no end. There is only this given moment, this choice before you, this opportunity to observe where you have been, where you wish to get to, and what path you can choose today to move in that direction. Change is the curved dance of yin and yang.
Goals are important. They are gentle suggestive beacons off in the distance; “walk this way” signs, if you will. But how tightly do our goals govern our present moment? Does the goal itself remind us of where we currently are not? Do we get tight and frustrated that we are not “there” yet? Do we beat ourselves up when we “make a mistake?” If we believe that the goal is a fixed destination, then we will be rudely awakened to find once we get “there”, there will be yet another “there” to get to. When in reality, “there” is actually right here, right now.
In the “choose your own adventure” book that is my life, I find myself, each and every day, making small decisions about my health, my Path, my journey that cumulatively take me to the next moment. Sometimes, I am clear about what this moment offers—thanks to the learning that took place at previous moments-- and sometimes I am not. In those moments, I look beneath my feet and lo and behold, there is my Path. My “there” is right here.
The journey is the destination.