Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Path To Longevity and A Healthy Life: Ancient Wisdom with Timeless Relevance - 16 Principles To Live By

It seems that hardly a month goes by without some new book being published that promises new insights into what it takes to be healthy.  Most of these books single out one ingredient or category of food or lifestyle that if only avoided or embraced would be a cure-all. Most of these books also have a tie-in to losing weight because the presence of guilty pleasures(s) or the lack of claimed positive inluencers are always blamed for unintended weight gain.  The better books are chock full of often half-baked studies that line up to support the 'new' assertion even when the 'new' assertion really isn't new at all.

I've pondered many times writing my own book, but remain reluctant to part people from their hard-earned money only to offer them nothing more than common-sense, ageless advice. There really is no secret to staying healthy. For me, the shiny path comes from studying, but not solely relying on what has come before. I'll explain later on what I mean. Nevertheless, there is a passage often ascribed to King Solomon from the Book of Ecclesiastes, a part of the Bible, that states "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." When it comes to health advice, I believe this statement to be a perfect truism.

Ancient wisdom has often stood the test of time. One need only read what Hippocrates, the Greek physician, wrote some 2500 years ago to agree. There is much to be learned from our predecessors, particularly from those considered to be the wisest among them. Among this group, a few stand out for their sage advice related to a healthy life.  In addition to Hippocrates, I count among them Plato, Maimonides, The Buddha, and Lao Tzu. Regardless of your religious orientation or lack thereof, each of these men has something to teach you. Before I tell you what, let me give you historical context with a few facts about each of these great people.  (All images are merely for illustrative purposes.)

Hippocrates Facts

Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. 
Born: 460 BC, Kos, Greece
Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of western medicine, is known to have penned Aphorisms, which contain many of his known quotes about health. It is worth a read.

Lao Tzu Facts

Lao Tzu was a philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching. His association with the Tào Té Chīng has led him to be traditionally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism. Wikipedia
Born: 604 BC, Henan, China
Died: 531 BC, China

Maimonides Facts
Mosheh ben Maimon, called Moses Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn, or RaMBaM, was a preeminent medieval Spanish, Sephardic Jewish philosopher, astronomer and one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars and physicians. Among Maimonides most famous health related writings is his Guide for the Perplexed, another great read.

Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece. He was also a mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Wikipedia
Full name: Plato

Buddha Facts
Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpgGautama Buddha, also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni, or simply the Buddha, was a sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. A native of the ancient Shakya republic in the Himalayan foothills, Gautama Buddha taught primarily in northeastern India.
Born c. 563 BCE
Lumbini (present-day in Nepal)
Died c. 483 BCE (aged 80) or 411 and 400 BCE
Kushinagar (present-day in Uttar Pradesh, India

All these great thinkers and teachers understood the connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body; they recognized that ultimate good health (and longevity) cannot be achieved without both.

From an assortment of famous quotations from each of them comes the rules of healthy living. Mind you, following rules or checking off boxes on a checklist does not make one healthy. These are rules of life that one must fully embrace with both mind and body if one is to enjoy their fruits, no pun intended. I offer each quote with a brief explanation of its timeless relevance. There is no order to these rules because each is important.

Rule #1

Do not to solely rely on books, websites, blogs, TV shows, ancient quotations, etc. for your health advice. Mark Twain once quipped that if one relied on a health book for advice, one could die from a misprint.

Maimonides wrote, "Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen."

Rule  #2

Follow the science not the consensus. Hearsay and anecdotal evidence does not often make for appropriate action.

Hippocrates nailed it when he wrote,"Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance" and "There are two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the later ignorance."

Maimonides also weighed in with “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”

Rule #3

Life is meant to be lived, not avoided.  Experiencing ups and downs is part of what it means to be alive. There is no viable alternative. Also, don't look for issues, but when they arise, deal with them.  To solve every problem, requires a first step. Don't be afraid to take it. You will feel better when you proactively deal with life's challenges.

As Lao Tzu wrote, "Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."

Rule #4

Forgive yourself of past transgressions and live in the moment. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Learn from your mistakes, but don't dwell on them. Learn from other people's mistakes and try not to repeat them; but, let the past remain in the past where it belongs. You have to live and enjoy the moment if you are to fully enjoy your life. Now is a gift; that's why it's called the present.

According to the Buddha, "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." He also said, "You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection."

Rule #5

Forgive others, even if you can't or shouldn't forget what they did. An angry person will never be a healthy person.

Again the Buddha understood this reality when he said "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned" and "You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger."

Rule #6

Be kind to others.There is never a reason to be mean.

According to Lao Tzu, "Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love."

Rule #7

Share your happiness with others; it only expands your joy.

As the Buddha said "Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

Rule #8

Be true to yourself and your values regardless of who you encounter in life.

Lao Tzu explained that context should not define us when he said to "Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained."

Rule #9

Make embracing rule #8 easier by surrounding yourself with people who share your values and your zest for a healthy life.

The philosophic Plato used a unexpected metaphor when stating that "People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die."

Rule #10

Help others (which is more than just being kind in your demeanor). The satisfaction of helping others is nourishing to your soul. Helping others can take many forms and is life-affirming. Help people help themselves and don't make them feel like they needed your charity.  Take pleasure in good deeds without any expectation of reward other than a good feeling.

According to Maimonides, the greatest level of charity, "above which there is no other, is to strengthen another by making a partnership with him or finding him a job to strengthen his hand until he no longer needs charity."

A common rephrase is that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Rule #11

Avoid excess in any form, even in regards to healthy pursuits.

Hippocrates understood that when he wrote, "If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health." He also said that "Everything in nature is opposed to excess."

Rule #12

Stay active and busy, while finding meaning and purpose in life. Move not just for the sake of movement; rather, move to accomplish things.

Once again, Hippocrates was prescient when he stated that "walking is man's best medicine."

Plato also understood this same truth stating,"Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it."

But it was the Buddha that recognized that such activity must be purposeful, sharing, "To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle; wise people are diligent.

Rule #13
Be positive and constructive in your thoughts  A good night's rest facilitates a positive perspective. Stop worrying as Mark Twain noted in later life, "I've spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened."

As the Buddha stated, "all that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become." 

Remember, thoughts are not facts.

Rule #14

Eat right. Eat real food. Eat it slowly. Don't overeat. No single factor will have a greater influence on your overall health than what you put into your body.

“No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.”
― Maimonides

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." -- Hippocrates

Both these statements should be self-explanatory.  Real food promotes health. Just say "No" to the other stuff.

Rule #15

Make good health a priority. Recognize the mind-body connection as it is critical to your overall sense of a life well-lived. Be conscious of how you live your life, but don't obsess about your health.

To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. -- Buddha

Rule #16

Find a doctor who understands you are an individual, not a statistic. Doctors are not perfect and it is perfectly fine to question your doctor. Western medicine has a role to play in your health, but you have a greater role. Make sure you understand both your diagnosis and what you can expect from any treatment.

“The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it”-- Maimonides

"Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm " -- Hippocrates

I mentioned earlier why I don't simply rely on the past to guide me in the present. The reason is because as food manufacturers continue to tinkle with what is now inappropriately called 'food,' this new-fangled so called 'food' may be creating potential long-term dangers that have not been fully vetted for human health. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I do worry that our best interests may be sacrificed by government overseers for the expediency of allowing cheaper, more accessible 'food' to be created.  So with a mind towards ancient wisdom, I try to avoid 'new foods' as much as possible.

You may not agree with all of the ancient wisdom shared today, but I hope you agree that none promises any harm. If you follow this ancient wisdom, I think you will discover what a life well lived really means. As the ancient comedian George Burns once said, "If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn't ask me, I'd still have to say it." Amen, George.

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