Information overload combined with a lack of clear answers can be confusing, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s tempting to think it would be so much easier if life were black and white, if someone else could tell us the precise course of action to guarantee the results we want. But that won’t be happening any time soon.
And really, that isn’t the point of life, as far as I can tell. From my viewpoint, life is about learning and growing. And health issues certainly provide us with opportunities to do that.
So it’s on us to be conscious and engaged when making health-related choices. Here are a few thoughts to consider.
1. We are organic, not mechanical, systems.
Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process. Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on the one correct thing to do.
2. It helps a lot to adopt an experimental mindset.
Because maybe there isn’t just one perfect answer. Maybe it’s a zig-zag path to where we want to be.
In this culture, we tend to look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution. This search can have the unintended consequence of preventing any action at all because you can never be really sure you’ve found the correct one.
On the other hand, an experimental approach allows us to be curious. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a time-honoured approach, as illustrated by this story from Thomas Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory.
I said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”
With an attitude like that, there’s no need to feel like a failure when you try something that doesn’t work. After all, you were just testing a theory, not staking your reputation for success on it.
3. You’ll be a lot more confident in making health decisions once you learn to access your innate self-knowing.
Self-knowing is the key to being able to rest easy with your decisions. It’s the aspect of decision-making that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how you can marshal your resources to know what to do. In the meantime, here are The Delta Rhythm Boys to sing us out…
Organic. Not mechanical. That means we need to think differently when trying to fix problems in the system. Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process.
Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on one correct thing to do when you have a health issue.
Last week I wrote that we are complex organic systems, each with a unique combination of inherent constitution and life experiences. Under such conditions, the best way to address health issues is with an individualized plan.
In this model of achieving wellness, you are the subject in the study of you. Of course, a study also needs someone to direct it, and that is you too, since the medical system hasn’t yet embraced this approach beyond trying one prescription and then something else if that didn’t work.
Curiosity is the antidote to being stuck in that awful place when you know what to do and can’t make it happen. You are stuck, and might be inclined to beat yourself up about that. Instead, get curious about what is going on that’s keeping you stuck.
It might be that you’re not hurting enough yet to want to make the effort to get unstuck. You might be afraid of losing something when making lasting changes. There are a lot of gains we get from doing things as we’ve always done them, or doing what we know we shouldn’t be doing. Or you might feel you “should” do something, but part of you is resisting.
Whatever the case, this is an invitation to find out what’s really underlying your resistance to making a change. Being more self-aware and understanding ourselves is our superpower…when we use it.
As I pointed out last week, the consumer culture is structured to propel us to buy, buy, and buy even more, without thinking. From the consumer side of the equation, it’s so easy to react mindlessly to the demands of the culture and then find ourselves dealing with the consequences of excess.
Why does overconsumption matter? Because there’s too much collateral damage when purchase decisions are dictated by businesses that have a vested interest in getting us to buy more than we ever thought we needed.
Collateral damage from the profit-at-all-cost paradigm
Over-indebtedness, which leaves us with no capacity to cope with emergencies such as interest rate increases and job losses. In March 2017, Statistics Canada reported that the country’s average household debt-to-income ratio hit a record high of 167%. This means that Canadians owed $1.67 for each $1 they generated in disposable income, In everyday terms, this suggests that many Canadians are living beyond their means or, at best, are just making ends meet.
Environmental impacts, in more ways than most of us can imagine. Air pollution, climate change, and overpopulation are familiar issues, but a list of 25 on Conserve Energy Future reminds us about others such as light and noise pollution, urban sprawl, and medical waste.
Chronic health issues, caused by stress on many levels. Overconsumption leads to the emotional stress of over-indebtedness, the physical stress of eating food contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals, and the mental stress of trying to sort through overwhelming amounts of information in an attempt to figure out what to do to remain financially and physically healthy.
What can we do?
We can start by taking responsibility for our part in this dysfunctional system. As long as we continue purchasing what corporations sell, we are reinforcing their bad behaviour and they will continue doing what they’re doing.
In this culture, where technology makes a lot of things possible and affordable, we North Americans are inclined to embrace new things wholeheartedly. Some would say we’ve thrown caution to the wind in the rush toward new and improved.
If we stopped to take a breath, we might decide that sometimes the precautionary principle is called for. The Canadian Environmental Law Association defines it this way: “The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in.”
[tweetshare tweet=”Instead of asking how much harm we are willing to permit, the Precautionary Principle asks how little harm is possible.” username=”LauranaRayne”]
Sometimes it takes a number of years for harm to show up. By then, many people have been affected. By the time we experience these unintended consequences, the product is entrenched in such a way that banning it becomes an epic struggle. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one example. Read this blog for more about toxic ingredients in non-food items we use regularly.
We’d like to think that scientists can do a study and find definitive proof of the safety (or not) of a product. Not so. Scientific uncertainty is a fact of life, and scientists word their statements cautiously.
Years ago, when I was investigating the relationship between food additives and children’s behaviour, I watched a film in which a highly placed Canadian health official talked about food additives and safety. He said, “We can never definitely prove safety. At the most, we can say that, in the quantities given and under the conditions of the test, a particular additive is probably not unsafe.”
I remember his statement so vividly because it was one of those pivotal moments when a bubble burst for me. Before then, I had lived under the happy illusion that if something had been tested and approved, then it was clearly safe for consumption. In that moment, I realized this is not true. Stating that something is “probably not unsafe” is quite different from providing an assurance that it is safe.
By allowing new products to be widely used until proven harmful, we become inadvertent test subjects. What if we changed our attitude and created a culture of preventing harm instead? We could ask how little harm is possible instead of how much harm we are willing to permit. The precautionary principle is based on this important distinction.
[tweetshare tweet=”Instead of waiting for proof that something is harmful, what if we created a culture of preventing harm?” username=”LauranaRayne”]
Originating in Germany in the 1970s, the precautionary principle has now become part of international law. We can hope that our governments will use this principle to guide their decisions and avoid unintended negative consequences from new chemicals being introduced into our food and environment.
In reality, this doesn’t always happen. Many products in the marketplace are detrimental to our health and well-being. So it’s important that we take individual action to look after ourselves. That’s what healthy deviance is about.
But we need to keep a sense of proportion…
Conscious consumption challenges us to choose judiciously rather than react in a knee-jerk fashion. We need to keep a sense of proportion. Automatically shunning everything new is as shortsighted as mindlessly adopting everything that comes along.
Someone who generally takes a balanced view is Dr. Alan Christianson, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) who writes a useful newsletter. One thing I appreciate is that he’s an independent thinker. Rather than repeating the common wisdom, he investigates by reading research studies and forming his own assessment. Sometimes he does a direct investigation himself.
In the video below, he is looking into the level of electromagnetic fields generated by appliance and devices in his house. Many of us wonder if we should turn our wi-fi off when it’s not in use, or if we should be concerned about carrying a cellphone in our pocket. He measures these and much more.
The video received a lot of response, so the following week he posted another one to answer the questions that arose.
I’m curious what you think. Looking forward to comments.
***Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Sifting and sorting…as much as you want to.
Last week I wrote about knowing when enough is enough. That post was about medical treatments at the end of life. However, the concept of “enough” also applies to our possessions, and that’s what I’m addressing today.
In either case, determining what is enough—and what is excess—challenges us to think about our values, what’s important to us, what we cherish.
What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways. …Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things.
Well…now is that time!
Curating my surroundings has been high on my mind recently. It started when I had to clear everything except six large pieces of furniture out of my living room and dining room so the ceiling and two walls could be repainted. Because the picture hooks were removed and filled in, I started thinking about how to arrange art and accessories in different ways. That gave me ideas for tweaking the furniture arrangement. Before I put anything back, I assessed what would stay in the space. My criterion was “Does this say something about me?” And the result is perfect for me!
Sifting and sorting…
I have a long-standing interest in the idea of knowing ourselves to shape our environment. My first aha moment came more than twenty years ago, before clutter clearing and downsizing were in our vocabulary. I was living for a few months at Schumacher College, a centre of transformative learning for ecological and social change in the south of England.
I know! I’ll keep only what I can care for exquisitely.
So said Jeanne, who had spent a week grappling with what was, for her, a very big problem. Too much stuff, accumulated in the six years she had spent in the same flat. A gypsy at heart, she’d lived most of her adult life in a caravan (travel trailer). She felt weighed down and didn’t know how to sift and sort her things. When the solution hit her, it was clear—keep only what she could care for exquisitely.
The current version of the same principle is expressed beautifully in Marie Kondo’s books, in which she talks about keeping what sparks joy and thanking our things as we let them go.
Marie Kondo is Japanese, and these attitudes are embedded in her culture. Not so for Westerners, who are generally less tuned in to invisible energy. The following video gives a flavour of Marie Kondo and her approach, starting with a demonstration of what it feels like in your body when something “sparks joy.” You also get to see her signature method for folding clothes, which includes an energy compnent.
Despite finding it odd when she talks about showing respect for your space, feeling how your belongings affect your energy, and putting love into your clothes as you fold them, North Americans embraced Marie Kondo’s Netflix series (January 2019).
In Spark Joy, her most recent book, she offers a lot of practical tips in addition to explaining the rationale behind her approach. Below are a few key ideas, but I recommend reading her book to get the whole picture. It’s a quick read and available in most libraries.
A few Marie Kondo principles and tips…
Having spent most of my life looking at things of every description, including those in my clients’ homes, I have discovered three common elements involved in attraction: the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value).
Tidy by category, not by room. Categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items (includes photos). Bring all items from a category into one room and sort them all at once.
Tidy in the order listed in the previous point. Clothes are the easiest and you can gain experience by starting with them. Sentimental items have the most attachments so it works best if you tackle them at the end.
Finish discarding first, before you organize what remains.
When tidying papers, a “pending box” is essential for all papers requiring action (bills, letters, etc). Put them in it as you find them and forge ahead with the main job of tidying. Your papers will be safe there until you can get to them.
“As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them.”
“If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.”
Tidy before moving. Note for elders who may be anticipating moving to smaller quarters: This is very good advice.
Do not keep something because “it might come in handy.” It never will. (I plead guilty, and she is mostly right. But I’ve been vindicated once or twice!)
If you have trouble telling if something sparks joy for you, compare it to other items in the same category. Find your top 3 in the pile in 3 minutes. This will help you hone in on what it feels like when something sparks joy in you.
“I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum.”
For more of Marie Kondo, I suggest this delightful interview for further insights into her approach. Of course, she isn’t the only person with advice about dealing with your belongings.