What is the purpose of health?

All this talk about health, yet how often do we stop and articulate what it is, exactly? When this concept remains unexamined, we usually default to a negative definition, namely, that we define health in terms of what we don’t have : symptoms. Yet there is something profoundly unsatisfying with this definition. Likewise, such an unconscious and negative definition of health is part of what props up such a poor system of healthcare, which defines success as the removal of a symptom, regardless of how it is done, and whether the patient’s overall health increased or decreased in the process.

Many who do take care of their own health engage in many positive nutritional or lifestyle choices, yet beyond some sense of having more “energy”, their definition of health usually doesn’t seem to go beyond the activity itself. The worst side of this is when you come to realize all of the deep fear that may be driving much of these behaviours, as a way to postpone illness or death, but not so much to engage more deeply in living.

So if we’re looking for a definition of health which isn’t negative (an absence of symptoms), and isn’t defined by an activity, such as a chosen diet or lifestyle, then how are we to define health more constructively? Studying the genial writing of Dr. Hahnemann usually offer rewards which match the effort put in. Let’s have a look at some of what Dr. Hahnemann said about health in his primary text, The Organon:

Aphorism 9: In the healthy human state, the spirit-like Living Power (Autocracy) enlivening the material body (organism) as Dynamis holds sway unrestrictedly and keeps all of its parts in admirable, harmonious, vital operation in both feelings and functions, so that our indwelling rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.

That sentence is some mouthful! Dr. Hahnemann was obviously of a pre-Twitter generation. Let’s have a look at some of the concepts it contains. Overall, there seems to be a concept of a balanced, harmonious functioning as part of health. That sounds close to how most of us would talk about health now.

But what about the latter part of this sentence? It is saying that in health, “…our indwelling rational spirit can freely avail itself of this living healthy instrument for the higher purposes of our existence.” How often have you heard anyone define our health in terms of using it to achieve our higher purpose in life? How many doctors are diagnosing their patients’ level of health on the basis of whether they are achieving their life purpose, or not?

Occasionally I’ll use a similar tactic when interviewing a patient, to gain some clarity about the nature of their illness, and how it is interfering with their life.  I’ll ask them to imagine and describe to me what their life would like be without their illness. All kinds of emotional revelations are expressed at this point. Instead of seeing their illness as a set of physical symptoms, suddenly they are invited to see how their illness is keeping them from activating their full potential. They may realize in this moment how emotions such as fear may be subconsciously keeping them ill, if their dreams and desires seem too big to tackle.

To what degree is your health hindering or supporting you in achieving “the higher purposes of [y]our existence”?


One thought on “What is the purpose of health?

  1. Stephen Cobb

    Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”, is another excellent movie about achieving your purpose in life – and much funnier!

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