People have been defining and re-defining the word “health” for a long time now. Today the word most often refers to physical health, and the phrase “health care” has come to mean primarily care of the body. But it hasn’t always been that way.
For many centuries before ours, the Anglo-Saxon word “hal”, the root word of health, had several inter-related meanings: healthy, whole, holy and healing. And if you were from the Latin speaking part of the world the words “salus” and “salvatio” meaning health and salvation, were just as inseparable. In other words, health, healing, salvation and spirituality were all part of the same package and were almost universally understood as such. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad or backward thing.
Looking for a simple contemporary definition of health, I did a quick web search recently and uncovered this “Brainy Quotes” definition from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Health is not a condition of matter, but of Mind.” Author and healer, Mary Baker Eddy, spent much of her life (1821-1910) searching for a better way to realize and experience health. Her absolute statement about health being God-based rather than matter-based came directly from her own experience and Bible study, and to some degree had its origins in that earlier time when health and holiness were realized as flip sides of the same coin. She may have also envisioned a future movement away from the monopoly of drug and surgery based medicine.
A growing number of researchers and theologians in scientific and religious communities today are exploring the premise that the more we actively practice metaphysical concepts like forgiveness, compassion and gratitude in our lives, the healthier our physical bodies are likely to be. A corollary might be that the more we think of health only as a physical phenomenon, governed only by physiological laws, the harder it will be to find real and lasting health.
I’ve been thinking about Eddy’s definition of health for quite a few decades now and often try it on for size to see if it works for me. I’ve found that it does. Here’s an example:
About a decade ago I began to have a lot of pain in my hips. At one point it became almost completely debilitating. But instead of choosing a surgical solution, I decided to challenge my own thinking about movement and age. Instead of just accepting pain and deterioration as a normal “Boomer” malady I consciously chose a different outlook based on my view of man as naturally and inherently capable of harmonious movement even in old age. After all, I know plenty of people two or three decades older than I am who move very gracefully and easily. They’re still playing tennis; one 80 year old was even still windsurfing! Are such things purely a function of genetics or lifestyle? Or is there more at work determining our ability to age gracefully?
As I’ve done throughout my life, I decided to seek answers through prayer—turning away from matter-based reasoning to seek a divine source of wisdom and intelligence. I began to realize that despite my physical condition, I could continue to express timeless metaphysical qualities of health such as vigor, humor, gratitude, unselfishness and joy. I also resolved to challenge the almost universally accepted premise that age always brings physical deterioration. I found a beautiful and comforting promise in the Bible’s book of Job: “…thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.”
I began to feel encouraged and strengthened by employing a concept of health as a condition of Mind, or divinely inspired thought, instead of just mindlessly accepting status quo theories about age and body mechanics.
Adjusting my definition of health instead of having my hips adjusted turned out to be a good choice for me and resulted in a complete restoration of harmonious hip movement. I began to windsurf again and now I generally go stand-up paddle boarding three or four times a week, hips working perfectly.
As our individual and collective search for health moves forward, our words and their ever-changing definitions will continue to have an impact. And how we choose to define health will continue to play a pivotal role in how we experience it.