I don’t claim to have a particularly healthy lifestyle. I drink, I smoke, I’ll pay for organic food if I can get hold of it conveniently but I will pretty much eat whatever is put in front of me. I eat a lot of fast and convenience foods. I eat meat. I am happy to cook things in the microwave. Sometimes I snack a lot and eat on the run, while other times I am indulge myself with big meals in expensive restaurants. I don’t do any regular sports although I walk a lot and like swimming. I never go to the gym. I used to do ballet and jazz dance and still practice a bit but probably the most athletic/aerobic exercise I get these days is during sex; and that doesn’t happen every day!
I have been thinking about this because this week I was working with a born again health freak. We had to share a self catering apartment for several days while working in a remote part of Styria in Austria. She made me question my lifestyle because she seems to be the opposite of me. She is a lovely lady actually but looked pretty scornfully at me during breakfast as she tucked into a mountain of fresh fruit and yoghurt while I had a cereal bar, a ham roll and then snuck out for my coffee and cigarette. During the next few days I would have happily eaten out at restaurants or eaten out of tins or anything you could cook in the microwave. She, on the other hand, scoured the local shops and markets for fresh organic fruit and vegetables and prepared fresh salads of all descriptions every day. She was a great cook, or at least a great preparer of food, and I enjoyed many of the salads she prepared but they did not fill me up. She was also keenly into yoga (something I have always been interested in but lacked the time or commitment to take seriously). She walks a lot, even more than me, and occasionally goes mountain hiking. I don’t think she is interested in fitness or health clubs but she goes cycling and rides a horse. She doesn’t smoke and only drinks moderately.
On the surface it would seem that she should live to be well over a hundred and I should be on my last legs already! But it isn’t quite like that… Strangely and perhaps unfairly, I seem to be in much better shape than she is. We are approximately the same age but while most people think I look quite young for my age, I think that she could easily pass for being ten years older than she is. Frankly, her skin is in terrible condition. She has spots, blisters and blotches everywhere. She was complaining about that and I offered her some of my creams and cosmetics. She refused politely saying that she never used such products and that she only ever used balms that she made herself or bought in legitimate organic health stores. She also had a hacking cough (sounding much more like a heavy smoker than me) and again when I offered her some of the drug store medications I always keep with me she refused politely but forcefully; as if to take such things were an insult to a healthy mind and body. Yet, she doesn’t look healthy at all, and even psychologically she seemed much more harassable and susceptible to stress than me.
But why? I’d be the first to admit this doesn’t seem fair. I rather admire and respect her commitment to organic food, natural products, clean living and a healthy lifestyle but it doesn’t seem to be working for her. On the other hand I know my own lifestyle does not seem particularly healthy and yet I am fit and in good condition. What is going on here? What am I doing that is right? What is she doing that is wrong?
I think one of the things that keeps me in good physical and mental shape is that I am generally busy and active. Sometimes it is a bit too much and leads to mild stress, but overall I think it is good to be busy and to have both important and trivial things to occupy my mind. Writing and painting give me a valuable creative outlet, without which I think I would be much more stressed. I do meditate and have done for a long time; not in an elaborate way but in a practical way that helps me to calm my mind and focus when necessary; I think that is beneficial. I have a spiritual dimension to my life which I know is healthy for me, although it is hard to explain why. Perhaps practicing witchcraft gives a person a sense of power, control and security that is lacking if you don’t have a similar thing to fall back on? Generally though probably the healthiest thing I have going for me is a sense of balance and moderation. It’s a cliché but it’s true; “a little bit of what you fancy does you good!” I also don’t have guilt, which I think eats people up from the inside. That doesn’t mean that I don’t do things wrong or feel sorry about mistakes or bad things that I do; it is simply that I don’t let those feelings dwell and fester; I try to deal with them instead and make things right where I can. Of course, not being Christian or adhering to Christian values means I have less to feel guilty about in the first place!
For all her good intentions, my health freak colleague seems to lack balance. She seems to be so obsessed by a set of values she has adopted that she is blind to anything beyond that. She is oblivious to the fact that she is patently and obviously in poor health. She is so determined that her idea of “natural” is best that she does not avail herself of cures and remedies that are possible and normal in the twenty-first century. Moreover, I think her diet is probably lacking some essential vitamins and nutrients. As for what is going on in her mind, I don’t know her well enough to guess, but I suspect that she is not at peace with herself in some way.
This is all guess work and supposition of course and I am the last person anyone should turn to for health advice. However my conclusion is that spirituality has an impact on health and that balance is the key. If I am right, the good news for my colleague is that if she just got the balance a little better she might well live in good health well beyond her century!!