Why Wellness?

When I first started writing this blog, I almost came at you head first with the history, the evolution, and the discourse around wellness.  While I personally find those topics juicy, I don't think they get the real point across. I would have been trying to explain "wellness" as a thought, when really, it is an experience.  It is about being able to fully show up for your experiences, to savor them instead of being absorbed by some type of suffering.  Or at least that's the gist of how I see it.  I'll get to the more collective history too.


Wellness is a practice.  It is not necessarily being toned and shiny-skinned, or able to run fast, bend far, and remember much. Though often, those are definitely fun side effects.  


Deep breath.


I was eyes-deep in articles, books, and blogs trying to figure out how to communicate wellness on paper, never mind why it's so great all of a sudden.  It wasn't until I stepped back that it hit me.  It was the end of what I thought was a good (no more no less), Dead and Co show with some of the people I love most. We were shared a beautiful summer night.  People twirled and two-stepped, space was created, and instruments were shredded.  All good, but nothing that really made me abandon myself. And still, when the concert ended with Box of Rain, the feeling still crept up.


Naturally, it was nameless at first. A sensation with an origin that couldn't be pinned down in this body with all its moving parts.  It was noticeable long enough, that my mind eventually wrapped around it and recognized it as deep sense of connection, love and gratitude. Gratitude for my life, my experiences both blissful and painful, and for the people I share them with.  Gratitude for my family, and for my mind and body. All of which, I have been able to show up for more and more in the past couple years. When life has a way of slipping by, it might be that few things are more poignant than being able to truly savor what and who you love.


And that is my most profound 'why' for wellness.  Although, being able to work full days, explore nature, and be aware of my emotions are all great and integral to the bigger picture for me.


But that's just me.  Probably, what is important to you on an immediate plane is different.  Maybe, that's true for the larger picture too.


As far as scales go.  Wellness is doesn't just affect you as an individual.  It starts with you, ripples to your friends, family, your community, and as the world gets smaller and smaller, it more directly affects community Earth as well.  Halbert Dunn, also known as the 'father of the wellness movement' knew this when he wrote about why a shift in paradigm was so important in the early 60's.


found at   https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/beyond-resistance/our-new-global-feminism-fellow-considers-whats-next

found at https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/beyond-resistance/our-new-global-feminism-fellow-considers-whats-next


Dunn's societal reasons for why we need to refocus on wellness:

1. We're living in a shrinking world

2. We're living in a crowded world

3. We live in an older world (the average age of the population is getting older, putting more strain on the healthcare industry)

4. We live in a world of mounting tensions.

(High Level Wellness for Man & Society 786-787)

Sound relevant? Dunn and Lorde both made these declarations about a half a century ago.  Here's another from a man we all know and love:


“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...
This is the inter-related structure of reality.” - ― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation


Now that we've brought the buzzword into the body and its worldly context, let's wrap our minds around it.  


Wellness as a term itself, came as an answer to common discourse demanding a more multidimensional understanding of what a positive human condition could be understood as.  Until then, health was the main measure: a straight line between good health and bad health defined negatively as the absence of illness. Halbert Dunn began the popular conversation on wellness in 1961 in his books High Level Wellness for Man & Society, and High Level Wellness.  He talked about it as 'not just a single amorphous condition, but rather, it is a complex state made up of overlapping levels of wellness'.  This is holistic and encompassing, but it definitely didn't help the fuzzy buzziness around the word today. A loose understanding that corporations often take advantage of to stigmatize and incentivize certain aspects of wellness for their employees.   My take on wellness incentivization: It's great ideally, but precarious in practice. Proceed with willingness to listen and based upon good research.


The National Wellness Institute offers a modern definition that pretty much sums up most of the current definitions I found:


'Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.'


Define "success" as you may, but the two notable evolutions here are that it is defined in relation to a positive state (versus illness) and IT'S ACTIONABLE.  That means agency!! That means a definition that encourages individual involvement and empowerment. While this definition can also harken to certain Christian influences of damning self-responsibility, it can also mean freedom. Freedom to create a relationship with your external your internal and external environments.  Freedom to create a harmonious relationship of give and take between you and the world around you.


Often, I read about creating peace with your world, and it feels softly ignorant.  What about people whose lives are regularly threatened, who's homes and bodies are physically and emotionally under attack, and that's just a part of life.  I am humbled in my work when I think of this and offer, from my place of admitted relative safety, that there is nothing about wellness that is meant to wash the gravity of that reality away.  Rather, I hope to offer wellness that is accessible across experiences, as a way to exercise power over your experience regardless of the quality or quantity of trying times thrown at you.   Wellness is creating a relationship with your own wisdom and to let it drive your decisions and actions.  It is not meant to be a creative way to victim blame, nor is it a way to convince someone they are a victim.   My martial and healing arts teacher taught me that these two arts spring from the same place when practiced with integrity: they spring from the love that stops the insanity that causes vicitmization and suffering.  Both are a practice to take an attack, whether it be emotional, pathogenic, or interpersonal violence, and redirect the force of the attack to be healing and strengthening, rather than react to it and continue a cycle of insane hate and oppression.  Nestled the action of transmuting hate, is the difference between being polite, and being truly compassionate.


"... our perceptions of the outer world are indissolubly linked with the conceptions and emotions fixed in our minds and body tissues."  - Halbert Dunn in High Level Wellness for Man and Society p. 790

All this is to say that wellness is an active process to help you live as best as you can muster.  It starts with you and comes back to you. Hence, the ancient greek saying: "Healer know thyself."  You are the healer of yourself. Plants, practices, and practitioners can be your allies.  It's just like a Box of Rain: believe it if you need it. Or, leave it, if you dare.

So, I'll tie these words up with a simple practice I use to listen to my body.  At the beginning of this wellness blog, I invite you to use it to tune into your present experience.  As neutral as possible, notice what comes up.  This can give you important information about what you personally want to be well for and what habits, food, people, etc. you can call on for support along the way.  Be open to the unique details that make up a wellness practice that is exactly for you.




OFFERING: A short meditation to practice listening to your body and channeling your intuition for guidance.

Ask yourself what you want to invite to support you on your wellness way.  Begin by offering yourself support. To keep up with something, it generally helps to know why you do that thing.  So, what is the energy you put into your wellness for? If you have a moment, solidify those thoughts in your head, it helps to write them down.  If you don't know yet, that's great too. Ask yourself that. Release it, like a pebble into water, let the ripples go, and sit with yourself for 5-30 minutes (start small, no pressure).  Get comfortable, and sit straight if you can ( lay down and try not to sleep if not). Close your eyes, and quiet your mind by bringing your awareness to your breath. The sounds of it, the sensation of it on your nose.


Once you've got that, follow the breath into your body.  Start at the crown of the head. Slowly, slowly, slowly, stay with your breath and begin to scan your body from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes, front, back and center.  Don't judge. Just notice. Don't judge. Just notice. Notice if sensations, thoughts, or emotions come up. Just notice, optional smile, let them go.


When the time is up, sit for a moment. Breathe.  Integrate. Then, write whatever. It could be long, or short, it doesn't even have to be words.  It could be as simple as your toes were cold, or it could be an answer you weren't expecting. Either way, it's self knowledge, and a perfect beginning to creating a more conscious and empowered relationship to your environments.  We'll call that wellness. No one else can give that to you. It is yours. Play with it. Grow with it.







Box of Rain Lyrics:

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain,
Wind and water,
Believe it if you need it,
If you don't just pass it on
Sun and shower,
Wind and rain,
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

And it's just a box of rain
I don't know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
And it's just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Songwriters: Philip Lesh / Robert C. Hunter

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
For this is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you'll find direction
Around some corner
Where it's been waiting to meet you,
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you're sleeping?
Well please don't be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
Maybe been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home,
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It's all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago







Dunn, Halbert. High-Level Wellness for Man and Society. Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1959; 49(6): 786–792,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1372807/?page=2

Halbert Dunn Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halbert_L._Dunn#Wellness

Kirkland, Anna. What is Wellness Now?. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. 2014; 39(5), https://watermark.silverchair.com/957.pdf?token=AQECAHi208BE49Ooan9kkhW_Ercy7Dm3ZL_9Cf3qfKAc485ysgAAAaQwggGgBgkqhkiG9w0BBwagggGRMIIBjQIBADCCAYYGCSqGSIb3DQEHATAeBglghkgBZQMEAS4wEQQMIjulC9cXeN78hYOZAgEQgIIBV3NyWBlxM4Qkk0GZkff4i7Lc5L87gHk6geV7JMHs3LuAsKuzxeBOsFWIpvxmD1cD1fY9sZMnxjylJ-Ypw1jCNQlxMuyGIUZyMlntYdvUaCz1NoAG6fCsL5klyBgb3XEDdfvCl-54XgFga3HwicELsTXbvjmgTaJ6mkgAR9dvj8DrF31p9gJWWxzISmNmIbwY6oiOvwvAgpS-a9-kVoSZXnc6YhulK7x_ptzhUXTzeVqcZz3ppRujkyI3qgkEVZTTuzMZhEAFMCMo6B1I845mVzVDeuCJsAJDhm66Q-wCe-QoGDuOGf4I_qPGe8TbuS3Q_W6V8FS8FDvEE3SEjDOruupzcurAnyhmouJNdXh2w9MFb99mdC3Oz4X9FZ8q91N7nA70cYl8DoxOZjTL8SrlA-2h7bnPVnQwe3Q1BFFz6YLk_gzAaiU5LuJVcaqSBvwkd5JvBawHzqw

Mirk, Sarah. "Audrey Lorde Thought of Self-Care as an Act of 'Political Warfare'." Bitch Media, 18 Feb. 2016, https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/audre-lorde-thought-self-care-act-political-warfare

Reddick, Krystal. "Self-Care as Revolutionary Action." Huffpost, 8 Mar.2015, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/krystal-reddick/selfcare-as-revolutionary_b_6393154.html

"The Six Dimensions of Wellness." National Wellness Institute, https://www.nationalwellness.org/page/Six_Dimensions