A renowned clinical neuropsychologist reveals some life-changing ways of how to look at health and illness
BY DR. MARIO MARTINEZ | 25 Jan 2017
Contrary to most conventional health science theories, I contend that we inherit millennia of wisdom on how to achieve optimal health. Rather than mechanical products of our genes, we are the coauthors of their expression. With few exceptions, illnesses are only genetic propensities, not inevitable disruptions waiting for their time to unfold. But although we inherit the causes of health, we need to engage the right contexts to let them thrive.
In the conventional paradigm, we are led to believe in a science of mechanical forces that combat illness and maintain health. The key to understanding the limits of this reductionist science lies in the language it teaches us to take for granted: mechanical forces, combat, maintain health.
This model conceptualises battlefields that destroy the enemy rather than conditions that disrupt the expression of wellness. And yes, I chose the word wellness to differentiate it from the established concept of health: the absence of illness. Wellness goes beyond battlefields where illness is defeated, to healing fields where we find meaning in our existence and celebration in the love we share. And if these views seem like New Age naïveté or pseudoscience claims, wait until you read the “Cultural Brain” chapter (of my book The Mind Body Self ) to relieve your concerns.
Beyond the absence of illness
Notice the pattern of answers most people give when asked how they’re doing. “Can’t complain”, “I’m okay”, “Same old, same old ”, “Not bad…” These responses reflect how most cultures teach us to be complacent with our lives and satisfied with the absence of illness. Am I asking too much? Well, the average person might think so. But if you’re reading this, you’re far from average.
Thus, you’re more willing to venture beyond living in the absence of illness and the blandness of capitulating to the impositions of cultural editors. Blandness is void of passion and capitulation stifles curiosity. I’ll have more say later about passion and curiosity.
If I am encouraging you to go beyond complacency with your living conditions and satisfaction with the absence of illness, where do you look and how do you manage what you find?
First, answer the following two questions
- Who taught you compliance? For example, if you respond to being asked how you’re doing with answers like “I can’t complain,” where and from whom did you hear these words when you were growing up? Sometimes it’s not the words, but rather the repeated helplessness you observe from your cultural editors.
- How did you learn to be content with health as the absence of illness? For example, diabetes runs in your family and your concept of health is the absence of diabetes.
These cultural subtleties that gradually sneak up confine you to conceptual tribal boundaries. And if you dare to question their impositions, you might be called a charlatan or naïve. I propose that we should be revolutionists who venture beyond the pale to assert our abundance birthright of health, love, and wealth. This revolution, however, is based on change by example rather than by imposition. It entails recontextualising your beliefs and how they are expressed, without expectations that others will join you or be pleased with your transition to personal excellence. It can be lonely at times, but I assure you that if those you love are ever going to change, it will mostly happen by consistently speaking your new language and experiencing your new life.
Setting the terrain for the causes of health
Let’s conceptualise health as genetic propensity and wellness as its optimal cultural expression. In other words, you’re born with a gift but your culture teaches you how much to express and benefit from the endowment1. It can go from not knowing or denying that you inherit the causes of health, to not feeling capable or worthy of accepting your inheritance. These clarifications may help you understand why I propose we inherit the causes of health, rather than health itself.
We need to find what causes our health as well as to determine how much we are willing to gracefully accept what we discover. Once again, I ask you to withhold judgement on the relevance I assign to cultural beliefs in gene expression until you read the “Cultural Brain” chapter.
We need to prepare a terrain that can express the causes of health: a coauthorship of script and player in a cultural scenario. For example, to express your brilliance at finding directions [endowment], you need relevant conditions [context] such as searching for an address, driving in a foreign country, and so on. This obvious illustration of endowment and context coauthorship becomes less self-evident when we deal with the causes of health. Why?
- Because the causes of health concept is not as established as the causes of illness mindset. New paradigms go through three stages: disdain, doubt, and acceptance. It takes repeated exposure for the subtleties of novel constructs to become obvious.
- A “healthy” lifestyle is not the same as expressing the causes of health. For example, eating organic food, exercising, and meditating have limited benefits if the causes of health are missing.
If you’re still wondering why I insist that healthy living is not enough, let’s dig deeper. When we do things to be healthy we may be inadvertently seeking the absence of illness. But if you learn the conditions that trigger the causes of health, then you purposely enter wellness. Just as healing is superior to curing, wellness is the optimal expression of health.
So, what is the terrain that can express the causes of health?
- A commitment to view your mind-body as a self-organising entity that integrates culturally driven contexts with personal experiences to develop a cultural self. Your worldview is a convergence of how your culture teaches you to perceive and what you discover from your personal experiences.
- A commitment to challenge genetic sentencing in family illnesses. In addition to propensities for some illnesses to run in families, our heredity also includes the causes of health that can prevent pathological genetic expression.
- A commitment to learn worthiness. Whereas health in the conventional view is defined as the absence of illness, in the bio-cognitive paradigm, health is only one of the three components of wellness: abundance of health, love, and wealth. And yes, for those who see wealth as undesirable materialism, my definition goes beyond monetary accumulation. Let me give you examples. I have interviewed many healthy centenarians [100 years or older] worldwide, and when I ask them to define personal wealth, their usual answers are: the number of good friends they keep, their creativity, their passion for life, their capacity to feel gratitude, and so on. By the way, I see honestly gained monetary wealth as evidence for others to break from their self-imposed helplessness. I say “self-imposed” because people in profoundly impoverished countries suffer from endemic poverty rather than self-imposed disempowerment.
- A commitment to avoid people who live in “illness consciousness.” I am certain you know people whose illnesses define their identity, and their existence revolves around their medication schedules and their visits to health professionals. We should differentiate, however, between having an illness and becoming your illness. For example, some people discuss their illnesses with as much enthusiasm as if planning a vacation to Tahiti, while others, like one of my mentors, confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy, was one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve known.
- A commitment to relinquish personal power gained from having an illness:using illness to avoid what you dislike or to sabotage what you like. With avoidance you manipulate others; with sabotage you manipulate yourself.
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The terrain is built on commitments that challenge the conventional views we learn from our cultural editors about the attainment and maintenance of health. In addition to preventing and treating illness, we need to embrace an abundance mindfulness not considered in the usual pursuit of health: moving from the absence of illness to the presence of wellness.
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