Our perspective on health is now dominated by our capacity to live well. Our longevity and our capacity to remedy disease means we have very different perspectives from our forebears. These had to endure poor health as a matter of course. With bodies that were so often weak and vulnerable, it is no wonder that their hopes and aspirations rested amidst spiritual ideals.
Until recently, very few people would have been comfortable with the statement, ‘My body is who I am’. Perhaps most of us feel uncomfortable with that statement even now. And with good reason. It implies an isolation from all other things, including relationships, environment and transcendence. It also implies a determinism derived from our genetic make up. We strive to shape a destiny that is not simply according to the limits of our bodies.
Most fundamentally, ‘who I am’ is not simply derived from the consciousness of the individual body. It is also shaped by consciousness of the people and world with which the body is connected. Recent research in neuroscience and psychology suggests that our wellbeing and decisions depend on unconscious as well as conscious behaviours. These are influenced by the patterns and cultures formed by our social and physical environment.
Any serious attempt to improve health must therefore allow for a more social approach to change. If our fundamental self-awareness and action are dependent on the hidden processes of both body and community then our pursuit of health and wellbeing will benefit from more than just personal will power.
We should pursue with others what we wish for ourselves.
The articles in this section seek to provide clearer insight into what forms us as persons: as bodies, in relationship with others and in reflecting the divine. How do we integrate personhood and health?