Let us start with a simple assertion. There is no longer a safe bet on the best way to health. We can be a health freak, eating right, beating on the programmed treadmill machine three or four times weekly, a teetotaler, well informed of the efficacies of teas over the neural cell growth-repressing alcohol, or a faith-level nonsmoker, fully inculcated with the danger of the nicotine, the world being what it is this moment, there’s no telling what would trip us along the way. There is always a new strain of virus in the offing: a new lineage of measles virus, the XDR-TB, drug-resistant tuberculosis, the avian flu and now R1N1, a new strain of influenza A, widely known as the Swine Flu. On top of these pestilences, we’ve got the ever-persistent Flavivirus dengue virus that wreaks havoc on a daily basis to deal with. These ills afflict us indiscriminately, irrespective of the precaution or the care we take of our body.
Our body, in which we’ve invested so much care and attention and of which we have always considered our best forts against external invasions, is in reality our most vulnerable liabilities. It is not only exposed to the vicissitudes of external threats, but is also constantly waged against by a cortége of internal dysfunctions: leukemia, prostate cancer, aphasia, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, just a few forbidden names that come to mind. If this were not nauseating enough to give pause to our thought, consider the ironic fates of those, the healthiest among us, whose lives have been claimed by lung cancers and heart problems. And I haven’t even begun to talk about social and environmental hazards!
We have so far discussed about our health as if it had to do only with our body. The fact is anything but simple as new findings shown by the renowned neurologist Antonio Damasio in The Feeling of What Happens. Our mind and body are so closely wired that our consciousness depends not only on our fully functioning bodily parts but also on every part of the organisms in our brain. Failure in any of these organisms will greatly affect our consciousness, the way we remember the past, familiar faces, language, and our identity. These organisms depend on the homeostasis of our body: they survive because of the precise temperature and balanced environment in our body. A slight change in this highly regulated system will take a toll on the processes of our consciousness. This fact is enough to keep us forewarned about the importance of always keeping our cool even in the most unpleasant circumstances. More importantly, it reiterates the importance of our consciousness, because there is really no point for a life without it. Once this light is switched off, there is only darkness (especially if our extended consciousness is impaired by severe Alzheimer’s disease).
We may take heart, however, with the fact that we are living in the most scientifically and technologically innovative age. News of advancements and breakthroughs are constantly heralded about the cure for cancer, Aids, new advancement on stem cell implant, neural functions and antidotes for countless diseases. New body-aid devices are in productions to help us see, hear, feel, remember, and walk better. The unfortunate thing is that these innovations always present themselves belatedly and at tremendous costs.
So while you’re preoccupied with keeping your body sound by regular fitness and strict dietary regimes, think which part of you that truly commands you to do all these things in the first place, and to keep track of your experience and make you start all over again the next day.
Previously published in Now Jakarta, August 2009 issue.