If you know me, you know I’ve been unhealthy for a lot of my years.
As a little kid, my life revolved around Doritos and TV. In my teens I liked saying things like “God is dead” with a cigarette hanging off my lip. I spent my twenties high on coke and booze.
These things happened despite my having a stay-at-home mom who cooked nice meals for our family every night, despite going to the very best schools, and despite (or perhaps because of) being raised a white, affluent modern American.
What I remember most about my youth is feeling angry. I know now that anger is just another name for fear. So what was I afraid of?
I think I was afraid that the world was, in fact, as ugly as I felt inside. I was trying to out-pace its ugliness with my own, so at least I wouldn’t be a sucker. Miserable, but not a sucker.
When I was 29, I knew it had stop. I was tired of being stuck in poison, of being poisonous. Also, I started dating a man with children—who would later become my children—and I could suddenly see myself as they might see me.
It was a big wake up call.
Since then, with many starts and stops and much flailing around, I have discovered what I believe are the seven essential keys to good health. The funny thing is, it all seems so obvious to me now.
This is stuff that anyone, anywhere can and should do, that will never, ever take away from our lives but will always add joy and clarity to it.
Put it all together and see how your path unfolds.
1) Move every day
It doesn’t have to be fancy. A 20 minute walk. A bike ride. A little yoga. It’s the “every day” part that’s key.
2) “Eat mostly plants”
This one comes from Michael Pollen. I don’t think everyone has to get all radical and go vegan, but if 90 percent of our diet comes from unprocessed plant based foods, we’re going to feel really good.
3) Do something for someone else
It can be anything. Pay someone a sincere compliment. Read a book to a kid. Save a dog.
Large or small, making compassionate and selfless actions a cornerstone of our lives changes everything for the better.
Again, no need to get fancy. Just sit quietly for a few minutes a day, listen to your breath and observe your thoughts. You might choose to pray instead—all good.
However we do it, this is our chance to cast off all our frenetic layers and just be the spirit we are.
Different people need different amounts of sleep each 24 hour cycle. I need at least seven hours a night and some sort of nap during the day. Know what you need and make sure that you get it.
6) Get outside
Humans are natural beings. If we don’t interact with the natural world consistently we become like caged animals in a zoo—maladaptive and depressed. Like everything else on this list, getting outside doesn’t have to be a big production. Just open the door, go find a tree to sit under and look up.
7) Have a dream
Without dreams, we are just slogging through one meaningless day after the next. Dreams can take all kinds of shapes from a wish for self improvement, to taking on a creative challenge, to mastering the Ashtanga primary series, to anything at all.
Keep your dream close to your heart, think of it each day, move toward it, believe in it. If it comes true, find a new dream.
This seems like a long, intense list and make no mistake, it takes discipline to try and put all these elements in play each and every day of your life—and to forgive yourself when you don’t manage it and try again the next day anyway.
But the payoff is epic.
A life well lived. An awakened spirit. A heart that is illuminated. And eventually, becoming a beacon of hope for others.
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Vinod Nanaiah on Pixoto.