So what is holistic health, and how can women on all sides of the issue come to practice it?
Holistic health is not just eating organically or not eating organically. For if holistic health only accounts for the food we put into our bodies, it is not truly holistic. To be holistic, we must view the human being as a whole—not as many parts. We must see all of that whole—mind, body, soul—as valuable, and perhaps even sacred. Holistic health takes into account consequences to any part of the self or to those outside of the self. It only allows for harm if harm is an unintended consequence of a good action. It never allows for harm for the sake of some good outcome.
To treat the body holistically is to constantly pursue that which is good for the human being with regard for that human being’s total self. If we are splitting the self into parts—seeking the good for only the body, only the mind, or only the soul—then we are not fulfilling the duty we have to our loved ones and to ourselves.
And so I challenge those who fall into the category of the stereotypical holistic health promoters: be more holistic. To those mothers concerned with their children’s fruit and vegetable intake versus their sugar intake—be concerned also with their good intake versus their evil intake and admit that such a distinction exists just as clearly, if not more. For I can guarantee you, from a holistic health perspective, the evil will actually cause more harm than the sugar. To those women (and men) who avidly practice yoga and meditation to bring balance to their bodies and spirits: learn and master the practice of virtue to bring balance to everything. Although I’m pretty sure yoga is helpful, I know with full certainty that virtue is.
The other day I was talking with my friend on the phone about green smoothies. We were sharing tips and various health advice and after getting off the phone with her I thought about how nice it is that we can encourage and even challenge each other in our pursuit of bodily health. But then I immediately thought of how much luckier I am for the conversations I’ve had with her and other friends about our pursuits of moral health. Because this type of conversation is all too rare. In fact, such conversations among friends have become fairly taboo. We figure that moral decisions should be completely up to the individual and that we shouldn’t meddle. And yet, we find it entirely appropriate to meddle in peoples’ health decisions. Most mothers haven’t stopped taking their kids to the doctor. But many mothers have stopped taking their kids to church. Most girlfriends work out together and give each other tips on staying in shape, but most girlfriends don’t give each other substantial tips about how to stay married or how to find deep fulfillment in life. Something seems to be terribly out of balance! (And anything out of balance should not be allowed within the ideology of holistic health.)
And on the other side of the spectrum—those who see the hypocrisy of the stereotypical natural health gurus and therefore completely dismiss such ideologies—I challenge you as well to be truly holistic in your thinking. I speak to the moms who do mind what comes out of their kids’ mouths… but don’t mind so much about what goes into them. Or those who take their children to church, but don’t take their children to see different doctors when maybe the mainstream one isn’t taking into consideration the child’s whole body perspective. To this group (and I used to be part of it)—you know the body is a temple. And that’s not just a quote to encourage fifteen-year- old girls to be modest. It means that God gave you something very precious to take care of and it is your solemn duty to do so. Do whatever research, get whatever second opinions you need—find out how it is best to take care of that temple and do it well. Be open minded because we don’t fully understand the body yet and there are always new ideas coming out about how we can better take care of it. Don’t be stubborn and lazy. Don’t snicker at the juice-drinking, bra-less yoga teacher when she stands on her head. She may have a virtue that you don’t have. Sure, you may have some she doesn’t have. But both the body and soul are important, and as one who understands the soul you should know well the duty you have to your body.
Unfortunately, I cannot find the speaker of this quote, nor the quote in its correct form. But I once read a quote on a tea bag said by an Asian philosopher and it went something like this: Your body is the only house your soul will ever have. If you destroy your body, where will you go? I think it makes a good point to those who like to think they can eat, drink, and exercise or not exercise however they like as long as they go to church on Sunday. Conversely, I know of a Jewish philosopher who once said: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? I also think that this quote makes a wonderful point to those who like to think they can act however they feel according to their changing and relative morality, as long as they attend their yoga classes, drink their juice, and recycle their plastics.
Being holistic isn’t easy. I’m always finding glitches in my program and gaps in my life where I’m not reaching the good for my whole self. Being holistic can be frustrating, and sometimes it may not seem worth it. I’m sitting here typing and my back and legs hurt from the fibromyalgia pain I can’t seem to cure. My head also hurts because I haven’t developed the discipline to go to bed earlier and get the sleep I need. And my soul? What about the courage and patience I wish I had more of? Sometimes I wonder if any of it is progressing at all. But I am ever reminded that holistic health is not a result, but instead, a way of life. Holistic health won’t always “cure” everything. In fact, it may not seem to “cure” anything—and that is in no way our fault. As soon as we worry about the specific results, we become compartmentalized in our thinking and miss the point. And what is that point? That we do the best we can. Because in the end holistic health is about love. About sacrificially loving everyone and everything who has been entrusted to us completely and entirely. And that love has the potential to lift the human person above and beyond the sickness, (even if the sickness remains). The attitude of holistic health won’t always cure, but it will bring about true peace for the whole self, even when the parts may be disjointed, stubborn, or falling apart. It is an attitude that actually sees beyond death—and into a time when everything will be made whole again.
So let us, for the sake of ourselves and all who depend on us, think and act holistically.