When we think about health, it is natural to think about our physical body. In a recent blog post entitled, ‘look after your health and it will look after you!’, I noted the importance of making an effort to look after one’s physical health, as often we put our physical health to one side, in an effort to perform duties and responsibilities. However when we ignore our health, for too long a time, we end up damaging or even losing our health, which in turn will prevent us doing the things which we want and need to do.
Looking after physical health is a challenge, because we take our physical health for granted. But as we age a little bit, we have to spend more effort. looking after health, and the older we become the more we have to put into maintaining physical health. So maintaining our physical health, is a lot like maintaining an insurance policy, an insurance policy costs us money and only pays out on a rainy day. Most insurance policies are a waste of time and money, but then again you never know when you might need them, and this is why we maintain them. Well maintaining our physical health is a lot like this. We put a lot in and apparently nothing comes out, but then again it prevents the loss of health and once you lose health, it rarely comes back, or certainly it rarely comes back as good as it used to be prior to becoming ill!
So looking after our health requires a lot of strength of character from our side, as we tend to like doing things which either give us pleasure or avoid pain. For example, working so as to earn money to pay bills, is a drag but its better than losing our house and being in poverty, so that’s why we do it. Well looking after health is also preventing pain, but the pain might never come and this requires character on our side. So we have to decide to put off gratification (don’t eat those French fries!) and stop avoiding pain (going to the gym – eating health foods etc.), in order to prevent the onset of ill health, which may or may not happen, if we continue to not look after ourselves properly.
So what exactly is character development?
Character development consists of learning to do things because they are the right thing to do, rather than merely reacting to external stimulus, which may be good or bad for us.
Satisfying Pleasure and Avoiding Pain
The problem which we face as human beings, is our hard wired emotional response set up. If we observe animals, we will notice that they react rather than respond. Responding requires conscious awareness and the thinking process, whereas reacting is simply a byproduct of the nervous system. So when we see animals reacting, they either seek pleasure or avoid pain.
Human beings have often been noted for having a dual nature, whereby one part is animalistic and the other part is Godlike. The reasoning mind and higher thinking all reflect higher sensibilities, whereas the Lower animalistic nature is instinctive.
The problem which we have, as rational thinking beings is that not all other activities are as rational, as we would like them to be. The animal side of one’s nature, wants pleasure and relief from pain. Just look at the animals in the zoo, or other farm animals and you will notice all the Lower aspects of human nature; top dog underdog relations between different animals; pleasure seeking and avoiding pain. It is a simple fact that they do not have a higher reasoning, and that there is not an animal in the world who is taking of his future!
And this is a good thing, because if an animal would have a higher mind, while living the life of an animal, it will be a terrible life. Of course this does not mean that animals don’t have feelings; simply observe an animal under threat and you will see fear in its eyes; take a dog and stroke its head and it will look affectionately at you. So we should not be cruel to animals, but at the same time we must realize that they have no choice but to follow their instincts!
Human beings, live in complex societies, so it is necessary is to live at a higher level. For example, you go to work in the morning and have say seven tasks to do, for which there are three unpleasant tasks and four pleasant ones, but the unpleasant tasks are more pressing, well in this case you do the three unpleasant tasks first. If we were just a go by instinct, we would do the pleasant tasks first, but then the higher reasoning part of our mind says, I must do these tasks first, otherwise I’ll be in the bad books with my employer and my job will be in jeopardy.
So even the most ordinary person, has to set priorities, and some of these priorities require a certain level of sacrifice. So in order to progress within complex societies, it is necessary to put off some pleasure and do some activities, knowing that in the future you will either be gaining pleasure or preventing the onset of pain. This part is very much in accordance with the animal nature, but due to the complexity of society we have to go beyond animal nature and respond instead of react. So looking after our health is one of those situations, whereby we have to choose to do something, which instinctively does not makes sense, but intellectually and emotionally does.
Also if you look at people, the people in society who tend to be the most isolated, that these least educated and most troubled, in just about any society are living reactively. You just have to switch on the TV and watch the Jerry Springer show, to see people living at this level. These kinds of TV programs are effectively car crash TV, at its very worst. In these programs, the TV presenter takes two or more individuals, who are socially maladjusted and sets them against each other, for the amusement of the masses!
What about the responsive person?
A very good example of this will be, for example, a business person who invests in long-term investments. For example, a rich person who invests say in a cruise liner ship, knows full well that will take 15 to 20 years, to get the money back. But this does not bother them because they are not investing themselves, they’re not investing even in their children, but rather they are investing for their grandchildren. It actually becomes obvious, when you look at money, that the more a person can focus on delayed gratification of the pleasure, the wealthier they will become. Poor people live of off borrowings, while rich people invest for the long-term.
So the person, who is reacting instinctively, is forced into a life where all the decisions are about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. But as a consequence of this, in a complex society, these people suffer a lot. Whereas the responsive person, who can put of pleasure for a long period of time, ends up enhancing the amount of pleasure which they eventually receive. A very simple example of this is the person who struggles to save $1000 a month, over a 20 year period, but who then receives much pleasure when their investment matures!
So what does all this have to do with a blog which is focused on healing the body mind and spirit?
Here’s where it all fits in. It is the ability to postpone gratification, until a later time, which in a nutshell, can be seen as the core of character development. Of course been a true person of character, requires many other aspects such as honesty, integrity etc. But unless they can put off gratification, until a later time, there is no hope of developing the higher functions, required to develop a good character. But also from the point of view of health, unless you can put off instantaneous gratification, it becomes impossible to look after your physical health.
So looking after physical health, requires a responsive mind-set, but mental health takes an even more responsive mindset. Because at least we all know that we are supposed to look after physical well-being; but for most of us we have not the least idea of mental hygiene. What do I mean by mental hygiene? Well what I mean is that most of us do not realize how powerful the mind is and how we have to be careful about our thoughts and our feelings.
The instinctive nature, from a physical point of view will have us leading an inactive life, whereby we eat the wrong foods and select the easy option every time. Whilst the instinctive nature, from a mental aspect will result in us having a lot of silly thoughts and ideas in our heads, which will result in a lot of anxiety, tension and fear. So most of us do not realize, that we have to be careful about what we put into our heads. It seems pretty obvious that physically we will seek the lowest common denominator, which is pleasure and lack of activity. But on a mental level, it is presumed that with little or no active effort on the part of our parents, school or society itself, that somehow we shall mature and have a marvelous attitude!
Of course nothing could be farther from the truth!
In reality some people become confident, because family members are confident, and the same can be said for every mental value. But it’s by no means a certainty, that you will have a positive outlook on life, confidence and a sharp mindset, simply because of some family members. So the only way to really have our mind functioning, at a high level, is to be careful about what we put into our mind in the first place. Interestingly the mind, just like the body, is quite habitual, so be careful about what mental habits you are developing!
So if you want to be mentally happier and more effective, then it requires a certain willingness to delay self-gratification. So what is self-gratification from mental level? It is the gratification of mental habits, which you develop in life. Which will be such things as laziness, sloppiness of thinking, and on a much more subtle level perhaps negative thinking, whereby you judge yourself. So strangely, mental gratification is not necessarily having fun!
We tend to think of mental gratification, as spending time lazying around watching a good movie rather, than doing our work; but also mental gratification can be negative thinking, whereby somebody gratifies themselves in thinking junky thoughts, because they have become used to them. We all have seen examples, of extremely negative minded people who go on and on moaning all of the time. While they are feeling upset and are upsetting the people around them, in the process, in many ways they themselves are slaves to these thinking patterns, as they don’t know, as of yet, how to be positive, in the way in which they think about things!
Don’t think for one minute that seeking gratification, is always a fun filled exercise, as in many cases it’s simply a bad habit. In particular in our society, were mental habits are largely left for the individual to sort out for themselves, it’s obvious that most people develop mental habits, which end up limiting their freethinking, self-expression, positive self-image etc.
Looking at spiritual wellbeing, once again, we have to delay gratification and accept pain, because dealing with mental-emotional issues can be difficult. But it’s a bit like the elephant in the living room, in that we have to deal with it sooner or later, for our general happiness.
Finally if you think about your spiritual well-being, once again we have to be willing to delay gratification and be willing to face discomfort, because spiritual development requires a self-effacing attitude, whereby we are willing to see things, as they are, rather than as the illusions which we think they are. We develop illusions, because of conditioning from society, and so the free man and free woman, the person who wants to be spiritually mature, has to face up to many realities, about themselves and society. And the only way to mature into this person, is to be willing to let go of instant gratification, which are silly ideas about ourselves, and also be willing to face up to some degree of pain, in the form of exceptional challenges.
The Role of Character Development in Physical, Mental and Spiritual Wellbeing
The role of character development in physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing is quite pronounced. In essence character development is always based upon the delay of gratification, until some further time, and the willingness to face pain at some or other level.
When we look for instant gratification and avoid all discomforts, we are no different than the animals in the field, whereas when we delay gratification and face up to some discomfort, we move closer to our higher, divine nature!
In many articles, in this blog, I don’t just write about health, but also I write about the motivation, which is required to achieve health. Achieving health and even excellence in each of these three spheres (physical, mental and spiritual) is actually far easier than you may release. All it takes, is a good approach and a willingness to stick it out until success comes. However, the motivation required is a real challenge. This is something which I like to bring up frequently, because the real challenge to body, mind and spiritual wellbeing is neither knowledge or the difficulty required, in learning new exercises or recipes, but rather it’s the mental challenge of putting off instant gratification, facing up to some initial discomfort and responding rather than reacting!
Remember, it’s always a mind game which we are facing. But when we get our head around the role of conscious awareness, and how we can redirect our life, by simply changing our mental focus and taking the responsibility, which comes with this new focus, then it becomes a very empowering activity!
So remember, if you are ever struggling in any of these spheres, that the responsive way forward, the better way forward is based upon the foundations of character development, which is based largely (the other aspects been virtuous values such as honesty, integrity etc.) delayed gratification, willingness to deal with discomfort and enough awareness and self-responsibility, to take a responsive attitude to your life. If you can do this, then not only can you have good physical-mental-spiritual wellbeing, but also it will empower you to face up to and triumph over any challenge, which life throws you into to!