“I” is a ripple in a network of networks.
We often talk of our health as an independent entity that we can control, hoping that if we eat sensibly, be physically active, sleep well, etc., we will live long, healthy…the atmasvasth way.
But every now and then, it is a good idea to take stock and understand the wider influences that affect our health, some of which, we have control over and some that are completely out of our control.
Everything in this world exists only in relation to everything else. Jainism, Nagarjuna and quantum physics all say the same thing…everyone and everything is interdependent and we exist only because of our interdependence, as part of many many networks. And so it is with our health.
Surrounding us however are all the other factors that we generally have no control over, whether it is the immediate outer circles of family, friends, our neighbors and our work-places or the larger circle of our environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the kind of society we live in, whether progressive or regressive, the noise we are subject to, physical or digital and then the outermost circle, that seems almost deterministic, whether it is our genes, the year of our birth, the country we live in or the Government and its priorities.
The air we breathe, for example, is an important factor that determines our healthspan and lifespan. For the most part, this is not something you can control. Where you live, the policies of your Government, the behavior of the people around you, all determine the quality of the air you breathe, showing us how the interdependence plays out across these circles. You may change your residence in the same city or change the city or even the country that you live in, or improve the air quality in your house or work-place, or shift to a higher floor, or wear masks, but in the end, when you are out in the open, you will still breathe the same air that others around you breathe. Whoever you are, you cannot escape the consequences of being in that same polluted air, whatever you do.
It is the same with the water you drink and the sewage you produce. Unless you live in a co-operative society that believes that everyone should have access to the same, safe drinking water and that all sewage should be treated equally, the quality of your health will depend then on which particular strata of that society you are a part of. If you live in a slum, where the sewage goes into a local canal that is uncovered and is next to your house or where the drinking water mixes with the sewage, you will never be as healthy as someone who drinks cleaner water and has a functioning separate toilet, where the effluence goes into covered pipes.
You may turn around and say, why should I bother about the health of the slum dweller. It is all about our interdependence. Your help comes usually from those slums. And if your maidservant keeps falling sick and does not turn up, your life turns topsy-turvy on the days she is absent. If she contracts a communicable disease, say tuberculosis, because of the poor state of the surroundings she lives in and the poor health of the people she lives with, she can easily pass it onto you or your family members.
We are all connected and everything matters.
If the Government you have believes that the overall health of the country is a priority then everyone benefits. When infant and childhood and maternal mortality reduce, the generation that follows is healthier and stronger, and leads to a better workforce, which improves the economy, the overall wealth and eventually everyone’s health. Rich countries are healthier…period.
And even then, some issues are so deterministic that there is nothing you can do to change them. You have no control over your birth and your death. Your health is also a function of the genes you inherit from your parents and your gene pool. Perhaps in the future, these could be modified to make you be born healthier, but yet, the decision of how healthy you will be, is still someone else’s and is completely out of your control…you have no control over your own birth. All you can do is to build upon who you are and the cards you have been dealt and try to improve your hand.
One way of then looking at things is to turn around and say that if my health is the result of influences both deterministic and otherwise that I have no control over, why bother. Or I can turn around to a glass-full scenario and say that while there is so much I don’t have control over, I will maximize and amplify the effect of the factors that I can control, to live long, healthy.
That is what atmasvasth is all about. Taking control of the things that we can control in a world that is largely uncontrollable and often seems deterministic. In a world where “free will” often feels like a mirage, taking small steps to improve your health based on common sense and data allows you a modicum of control and the sense that what you do in the context of what is around you does matter and does make a difference to how you will age and fare in the years to come.
And if you think about it, this philosophy is not just about your health. It applies to everything you do in life, doesn’t it?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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