Though plenty of theory and the collective wisdom of generations of practitioners supports the statement, I want to speak based on my personal clinical experience when I say the single most powerful thing you can do for your health (and happiness) is strive for sincerity in all you do.
In a way, it is that simple.
The most profound thing one can do for the betterment of all aspects of their life is be honest with themselves – truly, truly honest with themselves.
Again, I am speaking from direct, personal experience working one-on-one with patients, when I say this. Something about human nature tends to make us doubt what we know to be true. I always struggle for the right word when I go here, but we have a basic, innate “wisdom” (knowingness, awareness, knowledge?…) It’s just part of our make up, as human beings.
Examples of this that I’ve used in the past are the body’s basic healing abilities. Emergency medicine really taught me how deeply intelligent the body is, by design. Any injury brings this to light. Cut your arm and blood will automatically begin cleansing and clotting the wound. Break a bone and the surrounding area will swell, effectively splinting the injury, preventing it from movement that may cause further injury.
These are obvious and easy to point out. It’s a little more difficult once you get to injuries of a more psychological nature, but I assure you the same basic, self-healing mechanisms are there. The being is simply designed to be healthy and happy, and when it’s not, there are mechanisms of all sorts to step-in and right the self.
The trick is to make room for, allow them to do their job. As with a physical injury, the instinctive response is a guide to how to heal. We cradle an injured limb, rub an area that’s been struck. We ‘know’ what to do, and when we follow that wisdom, we begin down the path to better health and greater happiness.
In the deeper realms of emotion and cognition, that “allowing” and “making room for” instinct is what I mean by sincerity. It’s tapping into – being honest with – what you know you need to do to be healthier and happier. With patients in some of life’s most difficult circumstances, I urge them, plead with them to do what they know they must. The instinct and wisdom is there. We just have to listen – to be honest with ourselves.
An alternate title to this post was “The Therapeutic Power of Keeping it Real”, obviously a different wording to the same basic idea. In keeping with that other title, I will say the actual practice of sincerity is not as easy as the above makes it sound. Somehow we talk our selves out of what we know to be true and right. Over time, we get to a place where we’ve been going against natural instinct for so long we’re in a pretty bad spot. Such spots may be bad in an emotional way or physical (This is where disease originates).
No matter the nature or severity of the bad space we’ve entered, the way out is always clear and simple (to understand, anyway ;)). Keeping sincerity at the top of the mind in all we do is the path out of even the darkest place. It is, in fact, the only path out. (This being a great place to deceive and lie to ourselves – ‘Just this one more time, I’ll take this little shortcut…”)
That basic drive towards health is always present. We never actually want to be in a bad place (though apparent paradoxes may present at certain times – just keepin’ it real). And we always have that voice of instinct; we may just have to quiet ourselves to hear it.
And there’s the real tricky part. We have that basic intelligence and then we have the analytical mind. For some reason, the mind has been elevated to the highest authority in life. The “right” decision is the one that has the strongest rational argument behind it. Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten that logic is a creation of the mind, not reality. The correlation between reality, “as it is”, and logic may be close, but it is not perfect – reality is not completely logical. This is proven to any person paying close attention for even one day. We are constantly faced with events and situations that “make no sense”, i.e. are completely illogical, and, yet, still somehow happen in the real world.
This is the basis of science, the attempt to make sense out of the world, reality, around us, and this is why any self-respecting scientist must always bear in mind that theories are only models of reality, not reality itself. One of my favorite Einstein quotes speaks to this:
“Physical concepts [ideas, theories, conceptualizations] are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality, we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious, he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison.” (Albert Einstein, from Einstein and Infeld (1966). The Evolution of Physics. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, p. 31)
“Opening the case” would be complete, accurate logical analysis (of anything). That is not possible. The mind is, literally, incapable of actually, truly “knowing” anything. All facts are based on assumptions. All our theories, including biology, chemistry, etc., are models of reality (which explains why they are always changing, evolving, as our understanding changes). They are ways for us to makes sense of, in order to interact with, events and entities around us. At best, they are relatively reliable, allowing us to make relatively accurate predictions (hence, the usability, and, thus, existence of science). But, importantly, they are not “truth”.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, if such sincerity guides us, then we can freely admit this. We don’t get caught up in the world we create in our head that approximates reality. If we honor truth and sincerity above all else, we won’t get confused and mix-up the “free creations of the human mind” with reality, as it is.
When we find ourselves in a bind, physically with some illness, or emotionally with some persistent and damaging stress in life, if we can let go of what we “thought” life was or should be (our concepts), and just be honest with ourselves and do what we know is the right thing, then we begin the journey back to health, happiness, true peace. Let the lies end, and we slowly return to the inner, original, actual beauty of life.
This is a common, running theme in several traditions and cultures, across thousands of years. It likely strikes many as being pretty Buddhist (attachment as the source of suffering). To me, it is quite obviously Taoist. Yoga is a tradition based on the goal of “stilling the fluctuations of the mind [thinking, analyzing, "know"ing] so the seer [the one who is thinking] may abide in him/herself [know reality directly, be true to the innate wisdom/awareness of the self]” (All the postures of yoga were created and used as a tool to help calm the mind, so that seer could “abide in herself”). All of Chinese medicine can be seen as dealing with the damage created be being untrue to the true self (symptoms being signs of that insincerity and pointing to the underlying incorrect assumption). And, perhaps, one of the most famous quotes coming out of the bible is “The truth shall set you free!”
All you have to do is be honest with yourself.