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Soulful Sundays: Back to Basics

Imagine that you are a psychiatrist and a patient comes to you by referral. His other doctors can't figure out what's wrong with him. He has a long list of symptoms including chronic leg and back pain, rage, depression, irritability, inability to concentrate or make eye contact, insomnia, alcoholism, gastritis, hypertension, and much more. Things started with just a mild case of foot pain but became gradually worse over the past year. The man only seems coherent when he is sitting down. When he gets up to walk he becomes increasingly more agitated and downright violent. He is angry at his pain. He drinks at night just to sleep. He has threatened his doctors because they can't fix him. What do you do for this man?


Your first thought is some kind of psychotic break. Maybe he is bipolar. Maybe he has PTSD, yet none of it really fits. Multiple medications have been prescribed, yet none of them have made a bit of difference. You decide to ask him about the foot pain that seemed to precipitate all of this madness. He has trouble recollecting any details and only remembers that his suffering used to only be present when he was wearing shoes, but now it is there all of the time. Just out of curiosity you ask to examine his shoes. You look inside the left shoe and discover a small rock embedded in the insole. You ask him about it and he is speechless. Under all of his pain, depression, and psychosis was just a tiny pebble!


This is obviously an exaggeration, but the truth in our current paradigm of health is not far off. We so often forget about the basics -- the fundamental parts that have multiplicative effects on future events. I see this in action every day at the clinic when people have grown up with (or adopted) detrimental health behaviors that have taken years and years to lead to anything serious. Sometimes the deleterious effects aren't present in the current generation, but are then passed to the next. Consider the astronomical rise in childhood illnesses (allergies, cancer, ADD, etc.) just in the last 20 years. For that matter, look at what the American diet and sedentary lifestyle has produced. The world's highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.


The basics are not glittery. They are not marketable. No one is going to become a millionaire following them. But you will be rich in other ways. Mainly, the gift of a long and meaningful life. A well-balanced seasonal diet, adequate time outdoors, a strong social network, restful sleep, low-level activity throughout the day, getting up and down off the floor, lifting heavy things once in a while, avoiding any synthetic chemicals, keeping your stress low, meaningful labor, etc. All of the things that humans have been doing for millennia. There are no substitutes for these essential elements. Period.


I like to take a weekly inventory of what basics I am excelling at and which I need to focus on more. Then I plan the next week to reach a better balance. I put these basics down on my calendar. I make time for them. Sometimes I feel like I am missing out on other things when I do so, but the truth is that if you skimp on the basics, you inevitably stunt your future growth as a person. Don't be that man with the pebble in his shoe. Ask the simple questions. They usually produce the best answers.

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