what does it mean to be well?

My personal taxonomy has been:

  • Physical — My body is beautiful, functions well, and is resilient
  • Sensual — I have satisfying connections and experiences
  • Social — I can trust others and others can trust me
  • Emotional — I have a joyful heart with room for a wide range of feelings
  • Mental — I have a clear mind
  • Intellectual — I am learning, creating, and evolving
  • Financial — I receive and cultivate abundance, I am thankful, and I share responsibly
  • Spiritual — I am my best self with the right attitude and right intention

I spent a lot of time refining the sentences to be meaningful, comprehensive, and memorable for myself. The most important dimension for me was sensual wellness. Before, I had used the term “sexual health” because I had felt that the various academic, religious, or public frameworks for wellness often neglected this out of propriety, decorum, and appropriateness; yet I felt that it was such an important and neglected dimension of my own life. Later, I realized that it wasn’t simply about sex. If you’re familiar with the five love languages, I found that my top love language is physical touch. This applies not only to intimate partners, but also my closest friends and family, and even the environment around me! Thus I evolved the name and description. These are the processes I go through as I write and refine.

The Western academic model for research, writing, science, attribution, and intellectual property instilled a nagging bug in my head that makes me doublecheck anything I say or claim for myself. There’s a fear that I might be copying someone else’s work, or that I might be creating something redundant, or worse yet, that I might be sharing something incorrect that would negatively impact other people. It’s an unfortunate obsessive habit that I’m trying to let go of. Some consequences:

  • I found myself cycling on where did it come from rather than more practical matters of applying the knowledge to living and being well.
  • I found myself in a rabbit hole of researching different sources to differentiate what is copied versus what is my own innovation, or to validate the correctness of what was being shared, until I was fatigued to the point of inaction.
  • I found myself becoming physically tense and stressed, imagining the amount of work and hours I needed to spend at the computer to do thorough research.

To prevent this type of analysis paralysis, I’m taking a more moderate path of simply putting the ideas out there, doing some lighter research to compare ideas and remember context, sorting it out later, and asking later for forgiveness where I have written a copied, incomplete, or incorrect statement. Besides, as I grow older, I have found my memory fading, so there’s an incentive to just put things out there first, and iterate and refine later.

As part of my research, today I discovered The Wellness Wheel on the University of New Hampshire website. I like it as another variation compared with my own list. It’s a thoughtful and comprehensive resource. I find beauty in systems that help us remember what to pay attention to and apply it in our lives. I was especially moved by several of the headlines that were displayed on the images, and it’s a shame it’s not in the text body of the pages because it prevents them from being discovered by search engines! I imagine that someone put a lot of thought into crafting these phrases, either as a marketing campaign or to enliven the content of these pages. For my own delight, I’d like to surface them here.

The Wellness Wheel, from the University of New Hampshire

  • Emotional — being with all your feelings in a way that is curious, kind, and non-judgmental
  • Environmental — enhance your wellness by caring for your personal, professional, and natural surroundings
  • Financial — making financial choices to live within your means will enable you to focus on other areas of your wellness
  • Intellectual — engagement in creative and mentally-stimulating activities allows you to find balance in other areas of your wellness
  • Occupational — seek work where you will gain personal satisfaction and find enrichment in your life
  • Physical — take care of your physical body through movement, nourishment, rest, and healthy choices
  • Social — good relationships are one of the most important aspects of your life that can positively impact your wellness
  • Spiritual — allow yourself reflective time and space to be silent and still

Another discovery was an informative guide to being sexually healthy on the St. Olaf College website. They include a beautiful overview as well.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, sexual health includes emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. The following are characteristics of sexually healthy adults, however, note that sexual health is developed over a life-span, from cradle to grave. Integrating sexuality into one’s life in a balanced way is a life-time endeavor.

  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Self-esteem and self-worth
  • Education
  • Values
  • Contraception, protection, and body integrity
  • Spirituality

These intersections and relationships between different taxonomies really fascinate me. In my mind I want to draw a visualization connecting the dots between all of them. Take, for instance, an alternative organization based on the branches of yoga.

  • Raja Yoga — meditation — quiet the mind
  • Jnana Yoga — knowledge — wisdom
  • Bhakti Yoga — devotion — the divine
  • Karma Yoga — action — service to others and to god
  • Hatha Yoga — physical — body
  • Mantra Yoga — sound — chant
  • Guru Yoga — spiritual teacher or guide
  • Tantra Yoga

When I imagine all these different systems, I’m delighted with the overlaps and the gaps. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and an elephant. It’s also humbling to accept that I may never fully grasp the infinity of systems, ideas, and beings around me. Or, as Kahlil Gibran writes about self-knowledge:

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”
Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.”
Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.




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