What is health? What constitutes genuine health within a person? Is health merely the absence of illness or symptoms of illness? Is health merely the absence of disability or physical limitations? Or, taken from a different approach, is health the ability to do athletic events or to meet some basic criteria of physical ability?
Within the context of building a foundation for learning and living The Way of Knowledge, let us say fundamentally that health is vitality. It is the vitality born of living a genuine life—a life that is full of meaning and purpose, a life that has direction and a life that is meaningfully engaged with others and with the world. This produces a vitality, a will to live and a desire to contribute—a certain zest for life, you might say.
It is remarkable that this vitality is lacking in so many people who meet other criteria for health, even in people who meet a very high level of fitness and in people who have never experienced serious illness. And it is equally remarkable that vitality can be found in certain individuals who have physical handicaps or who have had a history of physical illness.
Therefore, you must look at the very center of things. What is health and what produces health? From this, you can understand what threatens health and gain a much clearer idea of how your health can be maintained.
Health is vitality. Vitality is a will to live and to contribute. It contains an excitement about life. It contains a sense of purpose in life. And it communicates its natural affinity with life to everyone around you. This vitality can be in a body that is strong or in a body that is weak, though if your body functions properly, you will have a greater opportunity to experience this vitality. Even those with serious physical limitations or even handicaps can experience this fundamental essence of health.
The next question that arises at the outset is, How much health is necessary? In the world you will find a great diversity of opinion, a whole range of responses. Someone will say, “Well, health is simply not being sick!” Others will say, “Oh, no, health is being much more active, much more vibrant, much more able.”
There is a great preoccupation with health, even amongst healthy people, because the expectations are very high. People hope for or expect a physical life without aches and pains and problems. There are even points of view that state that if the body is injured or sick, something must be wrong with the person fundamentally, as if everyone must experience perfect health at all times, and if they do not experience this, something is inherently wrong in their thinking. While it is true that negative imagination and inappropriate engagements with others will rob you of your vitality, which lowers and lessens your possibility for health, it should not be assumed that sickness and injury represent a deficiency in nature. Illness and injury are part of the risk of living in the physical world. They can happen to anyone.
This statement will arouse some disagreement because people are very idealistic about health. They suppose that if a person’s life is in order and is being lived meaningfully, there will be no sickness or injury. This is a hopeful expectation, yet it is not based on truth. Even the wisest of the Wise have a risk of injury. Even the wisest of the Wise grow sick and old. And yet, the possibility for sickness and injury can be greatly reduced, and here you can take some very meaningful steps to assure your physical well-being. However, in order to begin, you must have an idea for yourself of how much health is necessary. Let us address this question now, for it is fundamental.
Said in the simplest terms, your body is healthy if it can serve you in being fully engaged in your purpose in life. Now, this statement requires some qualifiers because, you see, you do not yet know what your purpose is in life. But if you have sufficient physical health to be able to build a foundation for Knowledge and to embark on the second great stage of life, then you will have sufficient health.
Here health is not associated with beauty or athletic prowess or any other magnificent ideal. It is sufficient health. Your body is able to serve. This is health. If your body is not able to serve, then in essence you must give up your greater pursuits in life and give your body your primary attention. It is as if the body were a vehicle, like an automobile. If the automobile’s purpose were to get you from one point to another, then it has served its purpose. But if mechanically it cannot do this, then it must go into the shop for repairs.