By Brian Robinson.
Most people are familiar with the idea that we are what we eat. When our diet is poor, lacking the vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain good health, we start to physically suffer. The symptoms of poor dietary health can be vague or quite specific. For example, there could be a general lack of energy, we may begin to feel drained, or start to experience fatigue; or there could be extreme physical symptoms as with the lack of vitamin C. In terms of what we eat, the case is already made and the jury are in on the connection between diet and physical health.
However, there is a danger that we can become too focused on diet and the well-being of our physical selves whilst at the same time we abandon or neglect the other aspects of what makes us human. If we ask the question how are we constructed it is fairly obvious that we also have an emotional self; a psychological self; a philosophical self and a spiritual self. Focus has to be spread over all these different areas if we are to achieve complete well-being.
In terms of what this means in practice we should be aware that these other areas of concern are vast realms in the same way as diet is, and thus there is no simple one-size-fits-all guidance to offer. However, having said that, it is clear for example that emotions can be the best of guides and the worst of guides. Sometimes we can allow them their head: and sometimes we have to rein them in. We have to remember that emotions exist to serve us: we do not exist to serve them.
One of the problems with our psychological selves is that we are born negative thinkers. This is our natural default setting. And although it is true that this is the very human characteristic which allows us to flourish as natural problem-solvers, it is also true that our minds can lock onto every problem that enters our horizon. A mind can be like a small dog with a big bone, chewing endlessly but getting little or no nourishment from it. Thought issues have to be processed in a linear fashion where we ask the right questions; draw sensible conclusions; make the right decisions; and then stick by them.
There are a thousand and one life-philosophies on the shelves ready for the taking. Civilised thought has given us that. It is also the case that we have the time to pick and choose amongst them. The danger is we often rush in and fill our trolley with viewpoints and standpoints which are often ill-conceived, self- serving, and unhealthy for us in the long-term. A philosophy of life should not guide us to doing this thing or that thing: it should guide us to doing the right thing.
Many human beings look to religion to achieve spiritual peace and I say Amen to that. Religion, at its best, can answer all our spiritual needs and give us the guarantees we so desperately seek (religion, at its worst, is another essay). But it is also possible to be entirely relaxed about existence from a Humanist perspective. We can learn to celebrate the mysteries of life and accept that eternity may not be on the table after all.
Although it is true that a healthy diet most certainly bleeds into these other dimensions of what it is to be human, diet is essentially about sustaining life. A healthy diet does not offer enlightenment; it doesn’t help us flourish; it doesn’t feed into fulfilment; and it is not a motivator, a driving force. It is only these other elements that have the potential to nourish these pathways.
Yes, it is true that we are what we eat: but it is also true that we are how we feel; we are what we think; we are what we believe; and we are what we follow.