What is the difference between ‘Wellness’ and ‘Illness’ ?

by julie swanson

I heard something interesting yesterday. Was listening to a discussion (on a Sounds True podcast, http://www.soundstrue.com/–The Compassionate Brain, Session 3: Cultivating a Forgiving Heart, with Dr. Rick Hanson and Dr. Tara Brach) of the importance of a sense of belonging to one’s health and wellbeing. Of being connected to others rather than feeling isolated. How much longer people live when they have loved ones, close friends, companionship. How much happier we are, how vital it is to us as human beings to feel a part of something greater than ourselves, someone or some thing outside ourselves, whether it’s a community or a small group of others, nature, our pets, God… The notion that anything that expands our sense of self so that we’re stretched to recognize and  feel that we really are a part of, or belong to, something outside of the sack of skin we live in–well, that’s good for us, it feels good. In my mind, a sense of belonging, of feeling connected, those notions really are no different than Love. Love connects us, bonds us. We feel a sense of belonging to things/people/creatures we love or are loved by. So that’s not really the interesting or novel idea for me, but this was…

Tara Brach pointed out that the difference between the words ‘wellness’ and ‘illness’ is literally the difference between the letters with which those words are spelled–the difference between We and I. We need a sense of ‘we’ to feel well, to be well. If I don’t have that and feel like I’m just a solitary ‘I,’ totally separate from everyone and everything and all alone in the world, well, that’s not healthy and it doesn’t make for happiness.  

I thought that was a cool and simple little thing, a coincidence maybe, but still:

wellness illnessWell, when I was younger, I never understood the saying, “No man is an island unto himself.” Why not, I would think? That sounded pretty great. I could be that. I wanted to be that. The idea of living on an island with no bridge to it, that appealed to me. Give me a little boat so that I could go off the island if I wanted, but don’t anybody be coming over here without first asking if it’s OK. I wanted to do the inviting onto my island, no surprise visitors. If there was to be any reaching out, I would do it when I felt like it, and that wouldn’t be too often. I didn’t feel like I needed other people. I didn’t feel like they understood me or wanted to, or me them, so we’d just stay separate and happy and do our own thing. I was a loner. I hardly ever got lonely or felt the need or urge to be social.

But now I see it differently. I think I would’ve liked to connect with someone like-minded, but I didn’t think there was anyone like that (or at least so few that I’d never find them), so rather than do the awkward and scary thing of letting someone know how weird I felt myself to be, rather than trying to understand how others could possibly be so different and weird to my way of thinking, I just took the ‘easy’ way out and told myself I didn’t need or want them. Maybe I didn’t recognize that what I was really doing was hiding. I still enjoy lots of solitary pursuits–art, writing, just thinking. I need time to be alone. Lots of it. But I’m enjoying people, all sorts of different people, and becoming more and more interested in the notion of WE.

I no longer want to be an island.

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