If someone had asked me what wellness meant to me 10 years ago, I would likely have a very different answer from what I share with people today. In fact, just two years ago, the answer would have been dramatically different. But big experiences force us to reevaluate everything. And now, two years into the pandemic, trying to cope with a bout of professional burnout, and the loss of my best friend, that kind of reevaluation is exactly what I’ve been doing.
Today, I look around and I realize that even the so-called healthy people I know are struggling. They are dealing with anxiety and depression, divorce, substance abuse and illness. And they are questioning if things will ever get better. We have been telling a story of health in popular wellness culture that I’m not sure actually exists. If something looks healthy — but only looks that way on the outside in order to sell a product or supplement or coaching program — should we really consider it good health? And if only some of us have access to this level of health and wellness, are any of us actually well? Is wellness just another thinly veiled attempt on the part of capitalism to sell us something we don’t need? Or does it have the potential to be more than that?
In the realm of wellness, everything we do requires faith. We believe that exercising is good for our bodies, so we move. We eat organic vegetables because we trust they are nourishing us from the inside out. We meditate because we have faith in the benefits of learning the skills required to sit still. We may not see immediate results, but we believe that these actions will make us well in the future. We believe so strongly in this phenomenon that we devise elaborate wellness routines and try our best to stick to them. This act of cultivating faith is the one thing that has remained constant in my wellness practice — in fact, it has become even more essential as I get older. And I’m not just talking about adding spinach to my morning smoothie. The biggest component of my current wellness routine is my belief that everything will be okay, and that the efforts I take towards wellness for myself and my community will one day have a positive impact.
While I am not a religious person, I do believe in the power of prayer and meditation. To me, they are one and the same. I know enough at this point in my life to be certain that I have no idea what wellness looks like for anyone but me. But I do know that faith and hope have served me well. My wellness prayer is my own version of the Buddhist metta meditation, and I repeat it daily. This prayer brings me great comfort, so I’ve included it here, as well as my interpretations of each phrase. Because wellness should not be limited to green juices, retreats and yoga classes, wonderful as those are. If we look at the intention beneath those practices, I believe they all come down to the same thing: the desire to know that everything will be okay.
SHANAN’S METTA MEDITATION (DESIGN NOTE: Please offset this some way - almost like a sidebar - to indicate that this is a separate piece of text from the main essay, but related to the main essay and directly following it.)
Metta: May we be safe
Interpretation: May it be possible for all beings to exist without being at risk of violence. Let us agree to create communities that prioritize care. May every citizen of this planet learn to live in harmony.
Metta: May we be well
Interpretation: We are not well until everyone is. My wellness is intertwined with that of every being on the planet. My hope is that we can live and thrive, caring for our planet and each other. This is wellness and it requires that each of us participates fully.
Metta: May we be happy
Interpretation: To be human is to experience joy. I believe that this is one of the most important things we do while we are here. Can we evolve to hold more than one truth at a time? Can I feel happy for the good things in life and sad for the things that break my heart? May we all experience true joy and may we experience it often.
Metta: May we know peace
Interpretation: When I read the news and learn of war across the planet, anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation being written and passed, racism, misogyny, school shootings, drunk driving accidents, climate crises, oil spills, abuse of all kinds, the question of peace seems absurd. When will we learn to do better? When will we finally stand up and say enough is enough, let’s try another way? Let us find deep peace in small moments now and may those small moments grow in scope and size with each passing day. May we push forward in the ways that are accessible to us towards a world where all beings may know what it means to live peacefully. Let us collectively imagine peace as a reality for all of us.
Metta: May we be liberated
Interpretation: My liberation is bound to that of my siblings on this planet. To the animals and waterways. Our existence here is linked intrinsically and irrevocably. Until we know this and act in line with the truth of it, we will continue to come up short. I commit to living, voting, creating and communicating in ways that move us all towards collective liberation.
Metta: May we move through this world with ease and with joy together
Interpretation: This is my prayer for all of us. And I know that the only way I will make it through the trials and challenges of life is if I cultivate faith that there is reason to have hope. That investing in peace and wellness is not a lost cause. If I believe that love will heal us, then it will. May we walk this messy, confusing, beautiful path of life on earth together. I have faith it is possible.
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