by Don Ingwerson
I have a family of gulls (two adults and three chicks) nesting on my chimney, going about their business built on their own instincts and traditions. They are of course ignoring my family below. Because of these new guests – their eating, exercising, and family interactions – compared to human’s health habits – I got to thinking about health from the perspective of how beliefs of tradition can limit the acceptance of new health habits.
This idea, which for seagulls is portrayed so vividly in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wasn’t initially well received. But today the book is listed as a spiritual classic by Tom Butler-Bowdon, who noted that “it is easy now, thirty five years on, to overlook the originality of the book’s concept, and though some find it rather naive, in fact it expresses timeless ideas about human potential.”
Human potential is the underlying thread in so many achievements and pursuits, and I really think Dr. Elliott S. Dacher’s introduction to Aware, Awake, Alive defines this potential perfectly: “…joining together in a profound journey of learning and transformation that can take us toward an extraordinary state of well-being, one largely unknown in modern times. It is the crowning achievement of human development. It is a deeply satisfying way to live. It is a state of peace, wisdom, happiness, freedom, and love as we have never known them.”
This idea is not new. Historically, there are biblical accounts of Jesus not only seeing the unlimited potential of man but also recognizing man’s connection to the divine to heal those individuals who suffered from disease and other maladies.
Cultivating this human potential and tying it to spiritual factors promotes health. University of Maryland Medical Center has been researching the link between spirituality and health and found, “The health benefits of religion and spirituality do not stem solely from healthy lifestyles… Qualities like faith, hope, and forgiveness, and the use of social support and prayer seem to have a noticeable effect on health and healing.”
Dacher further builds on his idea of the link between human potential and health when he says, “the emphasis is on mind and spirit, on the quality of life rather than the biologic aspects of life…medical science is capable of extending life, it cannot guarantee that life is happy, peaceful, meaningful, or prosperous.”
So where is this idea of human potential and its tie with spirituality taking us? Dr. Mimi Guarneri, author of The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing, in an interview with Spirituality and Health, was asked, “If you had to pick one alternative practice for this entire country what would it be?” She answers, “Meditation. Because I firmly believe when people have peace inside, when they go in and they feel connected to something larger than themselves. …They start to have healthier behaviors. I have really changed from looking from a physical outside-in to a spiritual inside-out.”
Just like the main character in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, each of us has the ability to strive for our potential. “You’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull… You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”
I can see this understanding of our higher human potential taking flight in many ways throughout the medical community and in individual people’s lives. Let’s watch it soar!