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Wholeness, yin and yang

Wholeness is the underlying root of the word health.

Wholeness consists of integrating interrelated events. That includes both things that seem naturally in concert, and the dualities of right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark, and disorder and order.

We often describe these in terms of conflict. Could they instead be collaborative forces?

The Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang describes these forces as in balance, with a wave-like interaction between them. It is traditionally illustrated with a circle, divided into two parts, one side light and the other dark. One male, the other female. In balance, together forming the whole - a circle unbroken.

In this time of polarity of thought, economic standing, race, religion and beliefs, it is important to note that the balance of these dualities is critical to make up the whole. Moreover, a balance of contrasting forces is needed for successful systems.

This is true whether we are talking about our universe, our bodies, our cells or our lives.

There is a critical relationship between order and disorder in the entropy of all things. Too much order and the object, organization or person becomes too brittle. Too much disorder leads to chaos.

This is why natural ecosystems like forests, jungles, and oceans thrive by cooperation between animals, plants and trees instead of constant competition.

Gazelles and lions drink from the same watering hole in peace, despite gazelles being the hunted and lions being the hunted. Without this cautious cooperation, both could not have been part of the same evolving ecosystem.

This is also true for our health.

Our bodies need sunshine. But without shade and darkness, we would suffer skin disease and lack the cyclic secretion of melatonin, which helps us sleep.

We need food. Too little and we starve, too much and we suffer obesity.

We need stress. Acute stress helps strengthen bones and muscles, while chronic stress enhances biological aging and can underpin disease by impacting on our immune system.

Thus, a balance of attributes that we may define as “good” or “bad” is likely healthy for us. Too much of good may be bad and the opposite is true for what we consider bad.

How do we define and approach this balance for health?

This is a difficult question and is the source of a lot of science right now.

Dan Buettner reported on the habits of certain populations that live long and well in the Blue Zones.

Many experts have tried to use this to write a recipe of sorts for long life and health. Their logic is that following the specific elements of diet, exercise, connection, purpose and spirituality from the Blue Zones may be critical for a long and healthy life.

I am skeptical of this logic. Trying to follow someone else’s rigid recipe for life may lead to chronic stress. That could well be a net negative for our health.

It is like Dan Buettner said about folks in the Blue Zones, “They never intended to live longer, they just lived great lives.”

They were whole.

Often our science seeks to reduce the whole to pieces to understand how things work. Maybe this is not the only approach to take.

I will end with a parable.

A sage father had three children and asked them what their gift is to the world.

The oldest boy answered, “My mind. I will add knowledge to the world and help people know.” The father nodded and agreed, indeed, that is a great gift.

The second child, also a boy, answered, “My heart. With it I will spread love throughout the world to bring people together.” The father nodded again and commented that a world of feeling and connection to each other through the heart is a great gift.

The youngest, a daughter, answered, “I will not have the gift of mind or heart like my brothers. Instead of a life spent of knowledge or feeling, I want to be fully immersed in experiencing the world and be in awe and wonder each day. I do not want to miss one experience.”

The father stepped to his daughter and put his arm around her.

He spoke softly and said, “You will be greater than all of us and if you can give this gift to the world, the world will be elevated.”

Perhaps the goal of our lives is to come full circle to the awe, curiosity and creativity of a child. To stay in the present and to be afraid less and be in wonder more.

To be on a great adventures without fear or hesitation in the moment, in the now.

I believe that this is a secret waiting to be discovered.

Integrating dualities into wholeness and health.