"The secret to happiness is freedom...And the secret to freedom is courage." -Thucydides
With Independence Day coming up this week, my mind has been tossing around the concept of freedom. So obviously the freedom that our nation celebrates this week is about remembering the U.S.'s declaration of independence from England. In fact, since 1776 (when the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence and adopted the Declaration), July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence. However, the kind of freedom I've been contemplating is less about our identity as free Americans and much more about our ability to experience freedom in different areas of our lives, as individuals. Isn't pursuing holistic health the journey of living free in every area of life, after all?
According to my understanding and experiences, holistic health is best represented as a complex and interconnected web of a person's spiritual practices, mindset, nutrition, physical condition and relational/social health. The pursuit of wellness in each of these areas is better represented by the idea of a journey than by a cut and dry starting and ending point. In other words, to pursue wellness is to choose to courageously take steps in a positive direction in one (or more) of these areas. It's one of those simple, yet not easy things, and I've discovered that there's a common denominator in every one of these areas. Freedom. To be able to take steps in a positive direction, we have to break free from the chains that hold us back, we must turn from the negative patterns that keep us in bondage, we must replace the lies that ensnare us with truth. We need to be free.
You might be wondering what exactly I mean by experiencing freedom in all these areas of health. In the area of nutrition, for instance, freedom can mean a variety of different things. For one person, freedom might look like overcoming the urge to binge and purge. For another, it might look like stopping a pattern of eating foods that are known to be inflammatory, or stopping a pattern of eating to combat boredom or sadness or anger. In the area of physical health, it might be breaking free from an addiction like smoking or overusing pain pills, or incorporating regular exercise despite fears of failure or self consciousness. For relational health, it can look like pressing through fears of rejection or temptations towards isolationism to dive deep into community with others. With our mindsets, it is literally reprogramming our minds, choosing to replace lies with truth, giving ourselves permission to try and fail, practicing compassion with ourselves and others. What I have personally experienced is that any progression forward that I've experienced in any of these areas has been greatly influenced by my spiritual practices.
While I can't speak for anyone else, I am often in need of a source of strength greater than what I'm capable of mustering up on my own. Through my spiritual practices, I am able to connect to a source that fills me and allows abundance to overflow into these other areas. Conversely, when my spiritual life suffers, the rest of life often becomes a struggle. I've realized that the power to break away from the things in life that hold me back and harm me is not simply within me--I have to draw from somewhere else. In my spiritual tradition, there's a beautiful Psalm that describes this flow so perfectly. It reminds me that so long as I'm connected to this greater source I am "like a tree planted by streams of water" and that I'll yield fruit and not wither. In all that I do, I'll prosper. When I'm struggling in a particular area, I find hope in knowing that fruit will come, the fruit of freedom is within reach. Sometimes it just takes us some time to realize the freedom we already possess. And, as I mentioned already, this holistic health journey is an interconnected web. The relationships we dare to enter into can be the very thing that help us to see what freedom looks like. Taking care of ourselves physically and with adequate nutrition can be what allows our minds to think clearly. As my whole health education instructor often said, "Every thing is Everything."
This Independence Day week, I challenge you to look inward at your own life. In what areas are you experiencing growth--in what ways are you living free? What areas are you currently experiencing bondage? What might be your next step toward freedom?