Where I am from in the North West of Ireland, we greet each other with one word – “Well”. Well means both hello, how are you and is also the answer: Not too bad, grand thanks. It’s the equivalent to the French phrase Ca Va. (And therein ends the similarity.)
It’s a friendly warm greeting between those who don’t really want to know the real answer. In the nicest possible way.
Being well is important, essential for a good standard of life. Wellness as an industry on the other hand, is not. Rather than actually focusing on how we can create a well society and balanced individuals within, the lucrative industry sells us an individual-centric version of wellness that is taking us away from ourselves and unnecessarily complicating the whole concept.
Wellness is a booming industry tied up in elitist consumer capitalism. The wellness industry has created a widening gap between the perception of what people are and what people want to be. And that gap is called marketing.
In short, wellness – a state of humanity available to all of us using simple common sense methods – has become disembodied from general humanity and is instead now an aspirational trend with conditions. Many many conditions which are often far beyond the reach of ordinary folk who still believe – correctly in my view- that toast can form part of a healthy diet. (Gasp.)
The wellness industry tells us that we can be better than who we are right now. But we need help. And a lot of it. Now.
Through selling us an idealised version of picture-perfect humanity and telling us this could be us if we really (truly) wanted it, it encourages us to feel inadequate. Because it doesn’t take into account the fact we have to work nine hours a day. Or we eat for comfort. Or we don’t eat for comfort. Or we don’t know how to love ourselves. Or we’re worried. Or we hate our job. Or we are struggling. Or we have no money. Or we have a disability. Or we feel broken inside. Or we don’t have free time. Or we are not millionaires living in Malibu.
This reminder of our inadequacy makes the shiny package of hope on offer irresistible. Try it – come with us on this journey – subscribe, sign up, we can change you to be a more acceptable you. Cost? Well – what price a better you? Does cost really matter? That sounds like you don’t really want it. We then fulfil our lack with an ideology that, for all its uplifting quotes, is more soul-damaging than life-affirming.
While living well and in a healthy manner is undoubtedly a good thing, mindlessly following wellness fads, punishing regimes and contrived rules to fit a certain acceptable look is not. Because the wellness industry is more about looks than anything else - sating the ego more than the soul.
A two-headed mermaid anyone?
A great deal of the wellness industry focuses on our physicality - we can change our form – not into something interesting like a two headed mermaid – strangely the perfect form is all quite samey. We can have the perceived perfect body, the holy grail of wellness, we are told, if we pummel it into submission with this very universal but somehow now trademarked sequence of exercise, smash targets and crush our PBs, whatever they are.
The more combative and dehumanising the language the better.
Eat only healthy food but in style - with exotic ingredients to really show you are serious about this wellness thing. Make sure your water is onbrand. And don’t forget to feel hashtag blessed all the while.
Don’t have enough money to pay your rent right now? Don’t worry we have a solution – your best bet is to visualise and you can turn your life around. If that doesn’t work? Well have you considered that maybe you’re attracting negative circumstances because you are vibrating on a negative frequency?
Our wellness industry ignores the fact that our social environment and the social determinants of health are much more reliable factors on lifelong health and life expectancy than the amount of kale you eat. But who needs to know about the impact of societal structures? Stay away from that negativity my friend – social change = major energy drain.
The wellness industry doesn’t have time for social commentary and the impact of our lived experience. They need to talk to their market – cash-rich individuals, either insecure or vain. Ideally both.
While there is no doubt a truth in how we see the world impacts how we experience the world, a total denial of social inequality and divergence of life experience is damaging beyond belief particularly for those who lack the money or time to fit in to the consumer creed. What about the needed social change that comes from looking into darkness and challenging it and making things even a teeny bit better for the ones who come behind us?
Give me back my yoga
Even genuinely spiritual pursuits like yoga have been usurped by the machine of wellness and reduced purely to the mastery of physical form conducted in expensive studios. And looking darn good while you do it.
The aims of yoga are much deeper and greater than this reductive buns-fest. The yoga class as we know it or yoga asana is only one limb of eight limbs of yoga that aim to assist with true union with self, including understanding and combating our ego, supporting our community and being at one with nature. Even the original purpose of the practice of asana or yoga poses itself was to support the body to be limber enough to hold a meditation position for extended periods. But who needs to know all that stuff when look how good my ass looks in these jeans seems to work as a better strapline.
True wellness is about becoming tolerant and accepting of ourselves and others; it’s about connecting to ourselves, to nature, to our wider community. It’s about serving ourselves yes so we can then serve others with grace and strength and dignity. A great deal of the wellness industry is competitive, combative, comparative. And focused unhealthily on control - a veritable petri dish for body dysmorphia and toxic positivity.
Because the core of the wellness industry is this - you can control your mind, you can control your body, you can control your health, you can control your destiny.
But how exactly do you control the circumstances and structures in which you were born into?
And in the end – sorry to say – we all die anyway. The quinoa advocates and fried food lovers alike. No kettle bell is a match for the cycle of life.
Radical acceptance and tolerance
Sitting outside a graveyard for a Blessing of the Graves my father and I had a brief chat about the amount new graves evident in the past year – and he said this: we’re under that tombstone a lot longer than we are up here. His observation resonated more than any amount of existential philosophy. We are only here, above the ground, a short while in the grand scheme of things. As anyone who has lost someone they love knows - the pain of losing their loved one is often made worse by the painful fact that life goes on regardless. Life doesn’t stop even if we do.
Yes of course we should live as healthily and as fit and well as we can. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually enjoy our temporary stay within this time and space while we do it? Rather than negatively focusing on what we don’t have, what we need to have, what we should be doing, seeing life as a problem and the solution to it external to our inner knowing. How better would it be to simply accept what we are right now, what we have right now, and go from there.
From a place of, if not even contentment, then certainly acceptance. It’s okay to want more than what we have – it’s okay to aspire and it’s good to have goals, to plan, to dream, to go for it. But we can do all of that while still being quite nice to ourselves and nice to others.
Don’t get me wrong - for all I’ve said above I love so many aspects of what is considered wellness - I love my epsom salt baths, yoga, meditation, candles and journaling. But I must confess the piety and quest for self-perfection that sometimes comes with some of the holistic pursuits does also give me the ick.
So this is my Wellness for Real Life blog - I aim to strip back the complications and red tape that true personal and societal wellness has been smoothered in for quite some time. It’s time to be real about how we can live well within our real life. We don’t need to change ourselves, we just need to be ourselves. Truly.
For now, be well, keep well and treat each other well. And go for a walk, listen to the bird and say hello to the trees if you can.