“…in the human body, every muscle has an impulse to action and is not fully alive unless one is in action.”
Joseph Campbell, Transformations of Myth Through Time
Everybody knows exercise is good for them — whether or not they do anything about it. And everyone knows diet is a key to good health. The scale’s tipped in favor of most everyone also knowing stress kills. So how is it Western civilization grows sicker of unnecessary diseases preventable with exercise, diet and containment of stress?
I’ve sought in vain for solid answers. Fitness industry publications regularly discuss their version of the problem with the ‘Two R’s’ — recruitment and retention of members. As much as we know the health bestowing benefits of exercise, recruiting people to sign up earmarks major marketing expenditures to getting them started. Once started, the next task is membership retention.
Physicians and other health care workers tell their version of the same story with a different word: compliance. Examinations & diagnoses resulting in prescriptions including lifestyle modification just aren’t well followed. And when they are, more success occurs with dutiful compliance to popping pills than getting control of lifestyle.
What’s alarming among health & fitness professionals is a subtle yet pervasive ‘blame the patient’ explanation of failure. It’s said patients/clients lack motivation, don’t take their situation seriously enough, and myriad other reasons. Most of those reasons boil down to psychologizing failure — explaining it in terms of some psychological deficit of the patient/client.
I’ve long been troubled by failure of individuals to live by health & fitness principles generally agreed upon in our culture — but disinclined to buy into psychologizing as blame the victim. After all, those who also live in disregard of health principles eventually pay for it — becoming victims with serious health challenges. Carl Lanore mentioned a study done in England some years ago demonstrating on the average it takes three near death experiences to wake up an individual. We’re apparently looking at a very serious, deeply seated challenge.
What follows is the first of a series on the topic. Originally intended as a single post, research and writing soon blossomed into far more than anticipated. What’s more, far too much for a single sensible post. In this first entry, we’ll explore a startling discovery, the kind normally not thought of. Blame it my maverick life’s journey: born in the year of the Monkey of the Chinese zodiac, insatiable curiosity runs wild as a passion for explorations and journeys of discovery account for a non-normal way of understanding. So hang on to your seat since we’re entering the forest where it’s thickest and their is no path.
Myth: Emic and Etic
The secondary meaning of myth is that of a widely held yet false belief or idea. In our times, among the educated yet rather culturally illiterate, myth has come to mean the antagonistic opposite of truth — where truth is said to be only the fruit of science. Discussion of that error will occur in a subsequent post. Myth’s primary meaning, one with millennia of use, is that of a traditional story, one concerning earlier people, heroes journeys, and natural and social phenomenon — becoming the possible human dormant within us all.
Myth is inescapable. Born into a given culture as a blank slate, our first fifteen or so years are a period of prolonged infancy marked by dependency. Newer science employing electroencephalogram technology used to measure specific brain wave activity indicates through age seven to eight, children’s brains exhibit activity otherwise found in hypnosis and that state in-between sleep and awakening. In that period, children absorb everything experienced, everything told to them — and without judgment, taking it all up as literal, factive truth. Kid’s say the darndest things! We know not that such learning forms much of the content of the subconscious mind. What’s more, even in adulthood, our conscious minds account for somewhere between 3-5% of our waking activity: our subconscious mind is busily at work all of the time interpreting experience with beliefs fixed early in life — beliefs that aren’t rational and cannot be addressed by the rational conscious mind.
For many, the subconscious has come to mean that place where programs are busily at work, filtering and making meaning of sensory experience. That’s true. But not to be confused with programs as we know them in our computers and smart phones. Our stored information is complex, memory a composite of experiences involving all five of our sensory systems — audio, touch, taste, smell, and visual. While considerable attention is given our subconscious in psychotherapies — regarding subconscious beliefs about ourselves — our range of subconscious beliefs is far larger than merely those applying to self. Subconscious learning orients us to the world, to reality, rife with beliefs and expectations about the nature of nearly everything. On a collective level, those beliefs form an unconscious social and cultural mythology about life. That’s how we become enculturated from an early age.
Early anthropologists faced a huge problem in attempting to understand other cultures. Due to their own Euro-American biases, they held you can understand another culture by gathering its beliefs; in turn, those beliefs form an ideology, a doctrine, a dogma, even a religion, all said to be rational. Since that orientation failed, they came up with the emic versus etic distinction.
Emic research aims at understanding how people think, how they perceive and categorize their world. Its focus requires staying within a culture, without bias or judgment, understanding it on its own terms. No interpretation allowed. Etic research, on the other hand, moves outside a given culture to interpret from an impartial perspective. It is on the etic level of discussion comparison of cultures occurs, as well as analysis. Our journey begins within orientation of the emic — the emic, largely subconscious collective mythology of health care and ftiness.
Into the Belly of the Whale
Health & fitness care involves many disciplines in our culture, including medicine, pharmacology, physiology, dentistry, the fitness industry, alternative medicine, dietary movements, the vitamin and supplement industries — just for starters. All make claims, all hold authority, and all are frustrated for good reason.
What seems to escape attention is that our system of education offers little to nothing in health & fitness care curriculum. At best, programs bordering on personal hygiene count! But we know everyone has a deep and abiding set of beliefs about health & fitness care. Fleshing them out in a summary manner reveals an emic story, one when consolidated is a collective, taken for granted myth. Remember, myth used here respects that story, never invalidating it. After all, it’s taken for granted, acted upon, informing persons in decision making and the conduct of their lives.
Supplanting and amplifying our primary, subconscious beliefs, attitudes and expectations concerning health & fitness is information media: the Internet, television and print media. And that comes in two major versions. One is health report updates with news broadcasts. Information media is paid for by sponsors, and likely one out of seven paid advertisements on television is a health care advertisement. Just think about it: those ads are for specific diseases — diseases of body, mind, and emotions — competing standards of treatment for common diseases. Uncommon diseases afflicting small populations hardly merit huge advertising expenditures. So what do we learn about health & fitness care — more specifically, how does targeted advertising contribute not just to a specific treatment, but to a wider myth of health & fitness care? What is the nature of that myth — what does it have you believe about the human condition?
In summary form, here it is: At the moment of your conception, your genes were formed. That means you were locked into inalterable fate since your genes can’t be changed. And you’re taught diseases run in families, a powerful suggestion that those diseases have been inherited in your genes. There’s no turning back of the clock, no genetic replacement surgeries. You’re stuck. Assuming you’re going to develop heart disease, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, high ‘bad’ cholesterol and others, those unfortunate diseases can be managed with medicines. If they get worse, you may have to see one or more specialists.
We understand health care to be out of our hands, something we turn to medical authorities for help. We know of type II diabetes, osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, low T, miracle drugs that bring down high levels of bad cholesterol, aids for sleep, medicines for bipolar disease. Health care is largely treatment with biochemical pharmaceuticals — and that’s because your own biochemistry has broken down, working against you. Much of disease comes from genetic fate: when your parents conceived you, your fate was cast by the genes you got. There’s nothing you can do about those genes — they’ve determined your condition. If needed, surgeries might save you, or perhaps radiation and chemotherapy. What’s more, you must be careful of quacks — those persons falsely claiming medical authority while offering alternative cures. In most cases, diseases can’t be cured, however they can be contained and maintained to slow inevitable downward erosion and extending your life expectancy. This is all said to be science, entirely naturalistic.
We’ve made a myth-take. Our notion of health care & fitness is one of disease care applied to degenerating lives.
Myths of destruction are rare. The nature of myth is to enliven, inspire, rejuvenate to have an experience of life. That process is called mythologization. Our myth, however, is one of pathologizing. Genes cause disease — it’s that simple. As we’ll find in subsequent posts, science has moved beyond genetic determinism: at best, perhaps as much as 5% of all diseases have roots in genetics. But not so in the mythic realm of disease care.
As a practical matter, the disease care orientation dehumanizes, demeans and debilitates human imagination, resulting in a sense of alienation and ennui from our very lives. We’re stuck and nothing can be done about it.
My presentation may seem simplistic. After all, how could sophisticated early 21st century humans buy into what’s blatantly a simplistic myth? How can they not? Look around you. That myth, posing as a generally accepted scientific standard, resides as the basis of health care insurance — whether it be private health insurance corporations, Medicare, or other options. It’s the dancing tune to hospital policies. Physician education establishes it, while mandatory physician continuing education credits update its latest versions.
The Pheonix arising from ashes of destruction.
Folks failing to heed the call of exercise and diet suffer from competing voices of authority — whether or not they hear them. We address their conscious minds with information aimed to renew their lives, placing them in control of their health and fitness. Decades of reinforced, amplified subconscious conditioning says ‘not so’.
”Why should I bother myself. After all, my genes are the demons controlling my life; if and when I do get sick, exercise and diet will never have the power of medicines. Our culture relies on medicines no matter what. Those experts advocating exercise and diet, even stress control, aren’t doctors — and if they are doctors, they must be quacks. I’ll go online to Quackwatch and get proof. My faith is invested in doctors and meds.”
That’s what we’re up against. Not a failure of motivation, not indecisiveness, not laziness. A mythology of alienation from our lives, a condition holding health to be an absence of disease. Health is disease deficiency? That’s all that can be said? Such pretense of science has failed.
From prehistoric times, as evidenced in surviving hunter/gathers, and the living testimony of art, architecture and mythology, our heroes have always been fit. And became fitter by mastering the tests and ordeals giving birth to heroism. They answered the call to greater life, met the challenge, and as heroes returned to impart wisdom to live by to those who would master it. They teach us how to live in the system as a human being, not dehumanized by the system. Our ancestral tradition of myth always celebrates and inspires renewal, optimization of the gift of life, outgrowing the pale ken of the system.
Our disease care model presupposes disease as inevitable, perhaps as the innate human condition. Defining health as the absence of disease is admission the system remains clueless regarding health as anything but a deficit of disease. Pregnancy and aging are now counted as diseased conditions mandating treatment!
Inserted in this section is a mythic symbol, the Phoenix, giving pause for contemplating arising renewed from the ashen ruin of degeneration and destruction. For the disease care myth not only pathologizes, more significantly it’s dehumanization robs us of our very souls. The Phoenix arises above ruin, spiritually rising as new order, as awakened wisdom of purpose: it says ‘yes’ to life.
Subsequent posts will focus on renewal by means of vital activity, enlivening activity, whose side effects include health care and fitness — activities expressive of our human passion, thereby enlivening optimal expression of life — including the rich potentials of our human genome, one adapted for thriving and peak living, never pathologizing.
Watch for future posts. And join in the discussion.
Part of my thinking in this article was stimulated remembering a 1993 episode of Northern Exposure. Graham Greene’s character, a sophisticated, very cosmopolitan Native American shaman decides to do anthropological research among the citizens of the town to discover the average white American’s health and healing myths and stories. The episode is stunning. That’s Season 5, Episode 7, “Rosebud” available for viewing free online.
©2014, Ken O’Neill. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited.