What is Health?


Patrick Quanten



To answer this simple question, let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. Let’s get it over and done with quickly. Let’s make this crystal clear, so there is no ambiguity whatsoever. Let’s ask the people who run the show and whose specialism this is.

For a very long time, the medical profession defined health as ‘the absence of disease’. More recently they have realised that that is no longer appropriate, not because they no longer believe it, but because it no longer covers their activities. Prevention of diseases is what they promote so much nowadays and which has become an enormous source of income for the medical industry. However, preventative treatment would not be necessary when they go by the definition of absence of disease. They would then, in effect, be treating healthy people and billing these people for it. The World Health Organisation (WHO) – amazingly health needs to be organised globally – currently gives the following definition: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Can anyone, by this definition, be really sure they are healthy? It turns out that nobody, including the WHO, defines ‘well-being’. And yet, somebody must use some kind of definition for this term as people are defined to be ill, meaning they are no longer in total well-being. So the question remains the same: who defines ‘well-being’? You might want to. You might want to consult a doctor because you don’t feel well, thereby defining yourself as being unwell. You have decided you are not well. Indeed, but that doesn’t make you ill yet. The doctor has to examine you, run some tests, do whatever he decides is required before he makes a declaration about your well-being or your not so well-being. The doctor decides whether or not you are ill. You don’t. You don’t have the right qualifications to make that definition! The medical profession is the only profession that has the legal right to pronounce a person ill or healthy. The legal right !!!

In a free society, an individual has no right to decide for himself if he is healthy or not. And yet, what is traditionally understood by the term ‘healthy’? As long as there have been people on this earth, there has been a sense of a difference between a well person and a not well person.

If we take the Ayurvedic texts, we find the follow description, not a definition, of health. It defines a healthy person as someone whose doshas (bio-psychic forces) are all in equilibrium, the digestive fire (Agni) is in a balanced state (called sama), in addition to the body’s tissues (dhatus) and waste products (mala) being in balance. The quote also states that the mind (mana), sense organs (indriyas), and the person’s soul (atma) must be also in a pleasant state (prasanna). When a person is balanced in all of those areas, he or she is considered healthy by Ayurvedic standards. Three key words stand out here: equilibrium, balance, and a pleasant state.

The health concept of Traditional Chinese Medicine includes the holistic view of unison between man and universe, the harmonious unity of fusion of shape and soul, the people-oriented view of values and the balance of qi-blood-yin-yang in the human body. This too makes it a harmony between a single individual and his or her environment. Here too, there is no concept of a ‘general’ set of rules that delivers a healthy state. Both traditional descriptions of the state of health refer to a balance within an individual, within a single person. Neither deliver a set of rules for conduct, eating habits or anything applicable to the entire population, suggesting that such rules would deliver a balance, health, to all individuals.

In order to know if something is in balance or not, one ought to know what kind of balance one is referring to. Is this the balance between the average of a population and the individual? Is this the balance between an artificially set standard and the individual? Is this the balance between what has been decided to be the right thing and the individual? As we all are unique individuals, every one of us has a different combination of the same forces, of the same tissues, of the same mind products. Crucial here is the fact that we are all made out of the same stuff, but we are all different. There is no ‘group’ balance that will provide you with a monitoring device of balance that suits each and every individual. No blood test or imagery will tell you what that individual balance should be, even if you believe to know what the ‘right’ level or the ‘right’ picture should look like. It will remain a choice you have made, to which you demand that everyone adheres. ‘The average’ is not the individual’s balancing point. Health is described as a balance, and every balance is an individual matter, changing throughout life according to varying circumstances. So, the balance for one individual is not only specific to that individual, but it is also shifting during his lifetime as well. This means, not only is a comparison with an average or any set standard for all not an indication for individual health but keeping that standard constant throughout life is also a mistake. Both are guidelines the medical profession sticks to rigidly.

Health is an individual matter and can, in fact, only be determined by that individual himself. It is the individual who receives the signals that something is no longer ‘right’, has shifted out of the ordinary, out of the usual. It is the individual who can, through personal observation of the altering signals, increase his knowledge about the driving forces that move the signals. By noticing how things change, how and when the signals of body and mind differ, the individual is able to determine the interactions that unsettle the balance in his or her life. It is the individual who can, through careful interpretation of the signals, get to know what exactly it is that creates the imbalance. That information provides him with the necessary ideas about what needs to be done to rectify the situation. It is, therefore, only the individual who can correct the imbalance and who can, in fact, perform a healing. In spite of the doctor being the authority who legally determines whether or not you are ill, it is you, and only you, who has the natural authority to understand your own imbalance. This goes hand in hand with the power and the necessary choices to rectify the problem.

Giving that power away to an outside authority, like the medical profession, exposes us to all kinds of ‘wrongs’. When that authority decides to lower their own standards by which disease is measured suddenly a lot more people will be diagnosed as being ill, not healthy. By lowering the ‘normal’ blood pressure standard there are suddenly a lot more heart patients. By lowering the default level of normal blood sugar there are suddenly a lot more diabetic patients. By choosing to name slight and temporary alterations to the shapes of cells cancer, there are suddenly a lot more cancer patients. An outside authority who has the power to decide who is ill and who isn’t, while at the same time being the authority that drives the illness industry, is handing that industry carte blanche to create as many ill people as they want to. This is another example of what can go horribly wrong when there is no separation of power, when the diagnostic and the remedial powers are all in the same hands.

Now you could argue that the solution then is to simply split them up. Create diagnostic centres whilst allowing other therapists to provide treatments. Sadly that is not going to work. How do I know? Because this system is already being used. By whom? The medical profession! In the first line medical care system (GP’s surgeries) physiotherapists, acupuncturists, osteopaths, massage therapists, dieticians, and many others have been adopted within the system. They work alongside the doctors in the same practice. How do they work? Well, the doctor makes the diagnosis – remember he is the only one that can do this! – and then tells the therapist what treatment, how to treat and how long for. The power remains firmly in the hands of the diagnostician and the others are merely unwitting accomplices in this seemingly more wholesome – I wouldn’t say: holistic – setup. It is an extension of the system that forms the backbone of modern medicine. The specialist service will provide an accurate diagnosis and will tell doctors how and when to treat.

I have a different proposition for you with regards to a future healthcare system. The only diagnostic power lies in the hands of the individual who decides what’s wrong with him/her. Obviously, making a good diagnosis – knowing what is wrong with you – requires a lot of observation and information gathering from your own system. But once you know what the imbalance in your life is and why it occurred, you can decide what help it is you need. So, the individual, should he or she chooses to do so, tells a specific therapist, be it doctor or osteopath or massage therapist or any other, what exactly it is the individual requires that therapist to do. The therapists becomes the hired handyman who is contracted to do a very specific job. The person in charge is the individual who hires him and the therapist will be judged on the result he achieves, on how good a job he does.

But there is another aspect to disease that needs highlighting. In traditional philosophies and health systems there is clarity about the natural order in which forces are contributing towards imbalances. Without a shadow of a doubt, they all perceive the mind to rule the body. They all see the non-material as superior, meaning having more influence, over the material. The mind regulates the body and is responsible for its health, in other words for its balance. It is stated that an imbalanced, a troubled, mind is causing ill physical health, and that every physical signal of malfunctioning is the result of a disturbance of mind. So these old traditions teach balance of mind and their most powerful therapies are mind exercises for the individual to practise. Most of the time, they use physical practices to help focus the mind of the individual on making specific alterations in their lives. Doing differently from before is a major tool on the road back to health.

Not only does our modern, sophisticated, medical system make a fundamental mistake by forcing every individual to fit into an artificially chosen health norm – group over individual – but it also has chosen to focus on the body, on the material exchanges, instead of on the mind. Even when they do acknowledge that a very specific ailment is caused by the mental state of the individual the main treatment approach is a chemical one, a physical one. So, if the health of a person is the balance that individual manages to maintain for him/herself by him/herself, and if the real instrument by which this can be achieved is the mind of the individual, what would then be the value of a healthcare system that strives to make every individual adhere to the same pre-set standards and that ignores that the body is only an expression of the balance that person holds in his/her mind?

Let’s, just for a moment, free ourselves from our preconceived ideas of who is and who isn’t knowledgeable about health. The medical profession focuses on disease, analyses it, dissects it, splits it up into millions of pieces, exceptions and special cases. Traditional human knowledge tells us that disease, every disease, is simply a lack of balance and that the basic physiology behind these processes is always the same. This knowledge also includes the acknowledgment of the power of the mind over the body. The ruler and the executer. If something doesn’t go to plan in execution, go and complain to the ruler, to the boss. If you notice an imbalance, if you are becoming ill, know that it is caused by pressure somewhere in your mental state, the kind of pressure your system finds difficult to cope with. Inspect your life. Observe your signs, mental as well as physical. Find the pressure that pushes you out of your natural balance. Now you have a diagnosis!

Want a treatment? Reduce the pressure. Life is simple! Basically, it will come down either to finding a way not to become weighted down any longer by the situation or to finding a way to change the environment that is responsible for that kind of pressure. Which doctor do you need to consult for this? Exactly, a doctor called “I”.

When you are concerned about your health you need to train yourself, through observation, in the art of listening to your own mind and body. Close the door on outside information channels and sit quietly and at peace with yourself. Once you have established contact in that way, you practise the first rule of proper communication: you quieten your mind and you listen. Don’t allow your mind to chitchat. Don’t allow your mind to judge.

Simply listen to the inner voice.

And once you have listened, you stay still and listen some more.

Every time you listen, you learn more about who you are and what you need to do in your life in order to be balanced, to be healthy.

Then you don’t need a self-proclaimed expert in whose hands to put your life. You put your own hands together and give thanks to the life you have been blessed with.


November 2020


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