Recently, I received a heartwarming story over the internet that tells of a wealthy American man who always picked up coins from the ground whenever he found one. Someone asked him why, if he was so rich, he had this peculiar habit. He answered that each time he was reminded, in reading the coin, that “In God We Trust”. Despite his good fortune and easy life, he still retained a daily sense of gratitude to a greater, higher power for his sustenance.
In Israel, and especially in recent days, we need to develop personal and national strategies for survival. At times of stress, challenge, or war, we must rally all our resources to make the best of the situation. As an olah chadashah, I feel particularly susceptible to feelings of frustration as I struggle to even communicate effectively in our homeland. However, I can hardly imagine what it must be like to live in or south of Tel Aviv, as Hamas takes aim at targets closer and closer to our main cities.
I am not anything close to a political analyst but I see some parallels between the ills of our present society and the ills that can plague our bodies, which is my specialty. As a physician, I have come to appreciate how much of our Western, modern medicine focuses on body systems and less on prevention and understanding the workings of the body as a whole. That paradigm is changing as East meets West and meditative philosophies blend with the science of mind-body medicine.
We now have emerging, new understanding of how our mental activities (thoughts, experiences, dreams, and the subconscious) directly affect our physical being. Studies, for example, prove that anger and sadness increase the risk of a sudden heart attack; that chronic stress directly changes levels of cortisol in the body in a harmful way, while feelings of love, compassion, kindness, and satisfaction counteract these trends. Science now suggests that health is dependent not only on what we eat and drink (or the pills we take) but also how we eat and drink the study of “mindfulness” has opened up an entirely new field of medical and psychological insight that focuses on the enjoyment of each moment, for what it is. The bottom line is that good health is probably more related to how we perceive and react to the world than anything else.
How does this help us in our present situation? For those of us who live in Israel, it is critically important to take care of ourselves. To begin with, eating, exercising, and sleeping properly are vital. When we are stressed, these go out the window pretty quickly, so one has to make a special effort to do this. Secondly, as I’ve mentioned already, managing feelings of stress is very important. Meditation, even if only for a few minutes a day, will help alleviate feelings of helplessness, fear, and anxiety. Having a support system, someone you can talk, cry, and laugh with, is also very helpful. Regular communication with friends and family goes a long way towards maintaining a sense of community, belonging, and support.
Finally, but no less important, the understanding of a healthy body comes full circle when trying to understand the health of our society. As Israel engages Gaza in an eradication of their missiles and weaponry, we are reminded that part of creating a healthy environment (think cellular versus global) involves rooting out the cancer. Just as a surgeon must make a targeted excision of a tumor, Israel too must remove the dangerous, cancerous elements from our borders. However, if we don’t want to find ourselves with a third, then fourth or more future operations in Gaza, we need to think about innovative ways to “stay well” within our Jewish state.
This solution is as complex as the biologic one is in our bodies. It’s reassuring, however, to remember that our body (like all living things) is naturally programmed to take care of and heal itself. A quick study of animal biology and ecology teaches us that the concept of instinct and survival are closely tied to each other. Animals don’t think about “trusting” themselves, they simply act according to their genetic directions. Our own bodies undergo trillions of atomic and molecular functions each minute, allowing us to move, digest, integrate our environment, and to heal injuries and disease. We even have the ability to recognize and destroy infectious and cancerous cells that can do harm if not immediately destroyed.
On a macro level, we have to trust our leaders and the complex societal organization of a modern nation, to take care of the many daily functions that enable our country, nations, and world, to function successfully. As individuals, we are like the cells of our body, integral cogs in the wheel of purposeful daily function. However, we hardly live the Utopian dream and thus do have to deal with corrupt leaders, inefficient bureaucracy, and hateful enemies around us. What to do?
Look at the many ways a person fights cancer. All of us have known someone who has suffered and/or died from it. Everyone has a different strategy and, admittedly, sometimes survival is based on “good luck” (some diseases are better to get than others) but the real fight is played out in many different ways. Again, science strongly suggests that those with a positive outlook, healthy lifestyle, daily meditation and good support system, do better (simply put). Ultimately, it seems that people who reach out beyond themselves, for help from God (or whatever other word you want to use that expresses the acknowledgement of a “Higher Power” or divinity) – that inner “guidance system” – feel better. They may suffer less and enjoy their life more. They may have higher survival rates. In any event, reaching into ourselves (introspection) in a serious way and then reaching out (to others, God, the greater Universe), connects us in a positive, re-energizing way. For those who “have faith”, this means having more gratitude for all things, good and bad, big and small. It leads us to a place of greater understanding and insight, resulting in compassion, kindness, and thoughtfulness for ourselves and others. And in this milieu of positivity, we can not only become a healthy people and nation, we can also become the light unto the nations that we were directed to become so many thousands of years ago. If President Obama and the people of the USA can still be proud of their coinage, we too should be proud to say, “In God We Trust”.