It's my contention that most of us spend the majority of our time living in the small space above our neck. It's easy to do, since our brain and 4 of our 5 senses (sight,smell, hearing and taste) reside there. But living in our heads is kind of like living in the capital of a huge country with beautiful and varied terrain...and never venturing out of the city.
It's easy to govern badly, and if those of us who live in the capital don't understand the concerns of the working people out there in the rural areas, we are unlikely to serve them well. Instead, we may simply send down edicts that suit us, but don't do a thing for them.
When you're living in the landscape of your head, it's also very easy to decide that the huge, cheesy, fatty meal you're about to eat looks pleasing. When the folks out in the boondocks of your stomach and intestines start to complain, it's equally easy to send some antacid their way. Their concerns aren't your concern back there in the land of Above the Neck. At least not until a major revolution.
I love modern medicine and I'm awed by and grateful for the opportunities it gives us. But taking medicines for conditions that could be cured by eating and life habits simply reflects the choice to stay in the comfort of the capital city above the neck, while ignoring the real concerns of the rest of the country.
So what's the best way to learn about the whole land you live in? Go on a road trip!! Once you've visited the mountains, the valleys and the plains; once you've met the good folks that send the product of their hard labor back to the capital day after day, it will be harder see the world as that small space within your skull.
Perhaps you have some favorite methods for staying in touch with the world below your head. For me, the best method by far is physical challenge. When I'm training for a run, trying to keep up with a 20-something in aerobics class, or ardently trying to put a tennis ball past the reach of a very fit opponent, the connection with my body is complete. Purposeful exercise that tries for a goal asks for total cooperation between the brain and the rest of you. Non-purposeful exercise, like watching TV while on the treadmill, is certainly good for your heart, but makes it easier to stay in that comfort zone above the neck. Try training for something or working toward a goal and you'll see the difference.
At our last Refuse to Regain group meeting, we were treated to a presentation by a meditation expert. For the past 30 years, this very evolved woman has been meditating and teaching others to do the same. Her mission is to spread the benefits of this practice, something that she does by giving her time generously and at no cost. Since attending her talk, I have started meditating again, something that I have tried periodically over the past 20 years. I believe that it can be a powerful tool for connecting our head to our physical body. Meditative practice involves being aware of breath, which immediately connects mind and the rest of us. It cultivates a feeling of peace, spirituality and gratitude. It is not until we recognize the value of the gift we have been given in the form of our physical body that we truly want to protect it.
Many of my patients tell me that they avoid looking at their whole body in the mirror. Some don't even own a mirror that reflects their full length. We spend our lives in modern America distracting ourselves with cell phones, TV, texting and almost constant connection to media. We need to stop, look, and listen. Ignoring the mirror, the scale, and that recent photograph of yourself is a temporary fix, but ultimately it's just a way for the rest of your "country" to deteriorate further.
For all the books on diet and all the headlines about obesity, most people seem relatively disinterested in how to remake their lives. They are willing to accept the conventional wisdom (eat less, exercise more) and when it doesn't work for them, blame it all on a bad metabolism. One of the keys to treating your country well is to use your head to become fascinated with and involved in a grand experiment. How can your country become the healthiest country in the world? This life-work means casting off previous beliefs about food and diet and doing true research and field work. Reading, exploring, and trying various practices and theories are key to this very important effort. Those of you who read this blog are already doing this, and it's a great thing.
How do you connect with the larger world that is you? Once you have made this profound connection, taking care of yourself is no longer a tiresome burden, it's an exciting and fascinating prospect and a source of great joy.
Dr. Berkeley is the author of "Refuse to Regain: 12 Tough Rules to Maintain the Body You've Earned". Follow her at www.refusetoregain.com, and on You Tube at bberkeleymd.