The myth of the perfect healthy life
In my years as a psychotherapist and meditation teacher, I’ve noticed that many people suffer because they compare their lives to some idealized image of how life is supposed to be. This is the myth of the perfect healthy life. Cobbled together from childhood conditioning, media messages, and personal desires, this image lurks in the shadows and becomes the standard to which every success or failure, every circumstance or turn of events, is compared and judged. Take a moment to check out yours.
Perhaps you’ve spent your life struggling to build the American dream — two kids, house in the suburbs, brilliant career, what Zorba the Greek called the “full catastrophe.” After all, that’s what your parents had (or didn’t have), and you decided that you owed it to them and to yourself to succeed. Only now you’re juggling two jobs to save the money for a down payment, the mar- riage is falling apart, and you feel guilty because you don’t have enough time to spend with the kids, far cry from the perfect healthy life.
Or maybe you believe that ultimate happiness would come your way if you could only achieve the perfect figure (or physique). The problem is, diets don’t work, you can’t make yourself adhere to exercise regimens, and every time you look in the mirror, you feel like passing out. Or perhaps your idea of earthly nirvana is the perfect relationship as the perfect healthy life. Unfortunately, you’re watching the years pass by, you still haven’t met Mr. or Ms. Right, and you scour the personals while secretly fearing that you must have some horrible social disease.
Whatever your version of the perfect life — perfect vacations, perfect sex, perfect health, even perfect peace of mind or total freedom from all tension and stress — you pay a high price for holding such high expectations. When life fails to live up to those expectations, as it inevitably does, you end up suf- fering and blaming yourself. (Take it from me — I’ve fallen into this trap again and again!) If only you had made more money, spent more time at home, been a better lover, gone back to school, lost those extra pounds . . . the list is endless. No matter how you slice it, you just don’t measure up.
Or perhaps you’re among the elite few who manage to get everything you want. The problem is, you eventually find yourself becoming bored and wanting more — or you spend every spare moment struggling to protect or control what you have.
The great meditative traditions have a more humane message to impart. They teach that the ideal earthly life is a myth. As an old Christian saying puts it, “Man proposes; God disposes.” Or, in the words of a popular joke, “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.” These traditions remind us that far more powerful forces are at work in the universe than you and me. You can envision and intend and strive and attempt to control all you want — and ultimately even achieve some modicum of success. But the truth is, in the long run, you and I have only the most limited control over the circumstances of our perfect healthy lives.
When things keep falling apart
Because it runs counter to everything you’ve ever been taught, you may have a difficult time accepting the basic spiritual truth that you and I have only limited control over the events in our lives. After all, isn’t the point of life
to go out and “just do it,” as the old Nike ads urged? Well, yes, you need to follow your dreams and live your truth; that’s a crucial part of the equation.
But when life turns around and slaps you in the face, as it sometimes does, how do you respond? (Look at the Olympic skiers who spend years in training only to have their hopes for a medal wiped out in an instant by bad weather
or a patch of ice!) Or when it levels you completely and deprives you of every- thing you’ve gained, including your confidence and your hard-won self-esteem, where do you go for succor and support? How do you deal with the pain and confusion? What inner resources do you draw upon to guide you through this frightening and unknown terrain? Consider the following story about the perfect healthy life.
One day a woman came to see the Buddha (the great spiritual teacher who lived several thousand years ago in India) with her dead child in her arms. Grief-stricken, she had wandered from place to place, asking people for medicine to restore him to life. As a last resort, she asked the Buddha if he could help her. “Yes,” he said, “but you must first bring me some mustard seed from a house in which there has never been a death.”
Filled with hope, the woman went from door to door inquiring, but no one could help her. Every house she entered had witnessed its share of deaths. By the time she reached the end of the village, she had awakened to the realization that sickness and death are inevitable. After burying her son, she returned to the Buddha for spiritual instruction. “Only one law in the universe never changes,” he explained, “that all things change and all things are impermanent.” Hearing this, the woman became a disciple and eventually, it is said, attained enlightenment.
To find the perfect healthy life means to find balance. Which is easier said than done. Mark L Lockwood says “the perfect healthy life must include both the good and the bad, the hard and the easy, the lessons and the rewards. You can’t have one without the other, this is life on life’s terms. When we try to avoid the pain and the one side of life we don’t like, we end up with 10 000 times more pain as the teachers of old used to tell us. Learning that it is what it is, learning to take the good with the bad is almost too simple to teach, but the burnt out, the stressed and the addicted have always been running from the darkness, which if you looked closely isn’t darkness at all, but a guiding teacher, put there to push you forward to a higher and more purposeful place”.
For more information on the perfect healthy life and the myth of the perfect healthy life, contact Pathways. We are always here to help. CALL 0824424779