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How To Achieve Enduring Health and Vitality
John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Cultural Norms and Wellness (Part 2)

Turning to the cultural/psychological/motivational level (one layer deeper in the Iceberg Model), we also find a number of positive signs that this level is being connected with our state of health.

Witness the discussion topics on daytime TV, or the packed shelves in the psychology or self-help sections of your local bookstore. We need less convincing that our feelings and thoughts, or the abuses to which we were subjected as children - including neglect and lack of adequate touch - can contribute to our illness at least as much as germs do. We're not so dumb!

Those who study the culture, as Bob Allen did and Judd still does, generally agree that cultural norms usually lag years behind what the majority of people secretly think. This "lowest common denominator" effect serves to maintain the public mind at a level that is acceptable to everyone, even if most of us actually think it is outmoded and inadequate. Fear is usually the motivator. Quite commonly, people do not realize that their progressive beliefs are also shared by a wider segment of society. By coming together - say, in a corporate culture that they all share - they can modify the impact of their company's current modeling by changing the training, communication systems, rites, rituals, resource commitment, and relationship development that are presently the norm.

In our seminars and workshops on wellness, where it is acceptable to discuss such values openly, we would often see people stepping out of their acceptance of norms they didn't value. When people discover just how widespread their "unconventional beliefs" truly are, they are relieved and positively empowered. In the political arena, the same effect is often demonstrable. Major segments of the population in countries throughout the world are opposed to nuclear arms buildup, yet the policies of maintaining an obsolete arsenal designed for global destruction persist. Leaders of government are often afraid even to speak out, let alone act, against the supposed lowest common denominator of the cultural norm. In the social and civil-rights domain, we are more accepting of different races, different sexual orientations, and different religious beliefs - yet our legislation still often fails to reflect or support these differences.

The last major level of the Iceberg Model to achieve cultural acceptability, especially in Western societies where science and technology have been revered as the gods of progress, is the spiritual/being/meaning realm. But even this is changing. When we wrote the first edition of the Wellness Workbook in 1980, we were afraid to use the word spiritual. Instead, we used philosophical and transpersonal to label this portion of our model. The term spiritual was, we thought, too often confused with either the hocus-pocus of occultism or the rigidity of much formal religion, and we meant neither. To us, spirit is something much deeper, all-pervasive, and certainly not confined to one set of doctrines, experiences, or forms. Spirit, for us, means a connection with everything in creation; an animating force; the principle of unification; the shared consciousness of the one body of life. Religion, we believe, is simply one form of expressing this awareness. As such, its importance must not be undervalued.

We are far from alone in "coming out of the closet" with our acknowledgment of the spiritual nature of being. We feel a growing hunger in ourselves - and we sense the same in the people we encounter in our work - for understanding and expression of this level of reality. No longer satisfied with the testimony of professional witnesses, such as priests, ministers, and rabbis, we want to experience the spirit firsthand and integrate it into all aspects of our lives. Perhaps there is a peaceful revolution in the making. Perhaps, even sooner than we think, we will see the upgrading of the lowest common denominator in this area as well. At the same time, we recommend using caution and discernment to determine what is genuinely at the core of spirit and what is a cheap window dressing, offered by those who would attempt to package and sell us "spirit." To switch to a brand of tea that is labeled with Chinese calligraphy and called "Zen"-something is not the same as taking up a practice of Zen meditation. We can fill our rooms and cover our desks with spiritual paraphernalia, yet still not address our grasping and restlessness for more of everything.

Within or without formal religion, we believe that attunement to spirit (the foundational level in the Iceberg Model) is the ultimate source of wellbeing. Furthermore, we suggest that wellness as a way of life orients one toward greater awareness of communion with this source. These are assertions not easily explainable with words or grasped by the rational mind. In the realm of the spirit, one must read and lead more often with the heart. (See Sections: Wellness and Finding Meaning and Wellness and Transcending.)


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