There are many ways to approach wellness - some people are religious or faith-based in their orientation, others use a philosophical approach, some folks even lean toward a non-structured, non-verbal, or nonlinear method for making sense of their wellness. I tend to lean toward a four-fold measure of wellness taking in the following aspects of human experience and identity: physical well-being, mental health, emotional state, and spiritual centered-ness. I can't identify specific sources for my understanding of wellness, it has developed gradually and is part and parcel of readings, observations, conversations, and maybe some intuitiveness. Each aspect is distinct but there is always overlay and interplay among them.

Physical well-being encompasses one's bodily state: your skeletal, digestive, endocrine, nervous, cardio-vascular, brain, and immune systems. To be physically well means your bodily health is in its best possible state and that you are able to maintain and stabilize conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, and nervous conditions. To me, it also means being aware of your physical self, your ailments and natural strengths, and striving for continual improvements in your fitness.

Mental health includes being aware of one's own emotions and how one can affect others emotionally through words and behaviors, dealing with past traumas and their inevitable impact on the psyche, taking ownership of one's individual needs and learning how to balance those with familial and social pressures, and striving to be as honest and forthright about one's goals and intentions as consciously possible. It involves knowing what strengths and skills one has - whether they are intellectual, physical, social or creative (just to name a few), and knowing how to maintain a certain level of skill by continuously learning and reflecting on experiences. It also includes being willing to give oneself the leeway needed to make mistakes, deal with subconscious and unconscious human (animal) desires and urges, and the reality that humans are suspended in a web of knowing and unknowing, forgetting and remembering, rationality and a-rationality (not irrationality).

Emotional wellness involves reflecting on one's own emotional reactions to others, to the experiences one has over the course of a life time, being willing to talk about the puzzling nature of the human experience and the complexity of our relationships, and knowing that we are all connected and do impact one another emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It involves recognizing our most idealistic and most base emotions and urges, and knowing that no single person in the world is perfect (even the Pope). Emotional wellness also involves an awareness that we cannot control what other people do, say, or feel, and that we do not need to control anyone else - we can only control our outwardly expressions of emotions, our behaviors, and our attitudes.

Spiritual centeredness, to me, is being aware of one's physical, emotional, and mental states, and acknowledging how all three aspects impact others. I don't think of spiritual centeredness as a matter of being religious or righteous, I think of it as being present - being in the here and now. On a more practical level, being spiritually centered means knowing one's own values and beliefs and where they originated. To me, a spiritually centered person is self-reflective, compassionate, and able to go with the flow. It also means knowing how these aspects themselves are in a constant state of interplay and therefore always influencing one's own sense of well-being and identity overall.

These four aspects of well-being are malleable, influential, and interlocking. One's degree of physical wellness has an impact on emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects. Emotional health bears consequences in the mental, physical, and spiritual senses. Mental health impacts one's physical wellness, emotional well-being, and spiritual centeredness. Spiritual centeredness can affect one's sense of physical wellness, emotional wellbeing, and mental health. Learning new and healthy skills, attitudes, and behaviors in one aspect can have a domino effect on the other aspects, which then leads toward improved wellness overall. These aspects of wellness - the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual - are interconnected, overlapping, and sometimes co-incidental.

To become more resilient and better adjusted to deal with and thrive in one's circumstances, the key to greater wellness is a willingness to learn new ways of feeling (adopting new attitudes, beliefs, and values), thinking (examining one's beliefs and knowledge for distortions and misunderstanding), and acting (behaviors and skills). For people going through tremendous social change, such as Alaska Natives in both urban and rural areas, and for folks who are bombarded by stresses from social problems - dysfunctional relationships, substance abuse and addiction, and the aftereffects of childhood trauma - being willing to learn offers a way out of the wilderness.
5/8/2013 08:10:26

Excellent blog! As a another woman of color, I think it's great that more and more of us are making our voices be heard, and stressing the need for more reclamation of our pre-Western traditions, culture, etc. thatthe mainstream often looks down upon as "inferior". It's not; we're just more connected to the earth and wish to be natural, whereas mainstream Western cultures seems to thrive on ignorance, artificiality and exploitation, as evinced through their missionaries, slavery, industrialism, jim crow, etc.


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