New Year’s Resolution

imagesI’ve been thinking about making a New Year’s Resolution. So, this year, taking my role as lead for health and well-being seriously, my resolution is simple. In 2016 I want to improve my well-being and encourage others to do the same.

 

The New Economics Foundation have done some amazing work on how we can improve our well-being. “NEF is the UK’s leading think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice. Their aim is to imgrestransform the economy so that it works for people and the planet. The UK and most of the world’s economies are increasingly unsustainable, unfair and unstable. It is not even making us any happier – many of the richest countries in the world do not have the highest well-being.” Have a read about their incredible work (www.neweconomics.org).

 

NEF have come up with 5 simple ways to improve well-being and my New Year’s resolution is to use their 5 steps and blog about the effects I experience personally as a result. I hope that this will be replicated in my work as our team engages with communities. So, here are the steps:

 

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1) CONNECT – this year I am going to be more present. I have found that ridding myself of my

imagespersonal twitter account and spending less time on social media has already helped this. I am going to listen with attention and speak with intention. I am going to listen with attention to my wife, my children, my friends, my family and my patients (rather than assuming what they will say) and I am going to behold them, dig for the treasure in them and be grateful for them. I am also more well when I connect with God, who is love. For me, more than anything this means taking time to be still. Being part of a community, rather than moping around in self-isolation (a tendency of mine at times – surprising for an extreme extrovert!) is also key.

2) BE ACTIVE – This year we are launching a really exciting sports initiative in our local schools to imagesencourage our kids to have better health long into the future. I am going to continue running and swimming, but I will increase this to ensure I am being active on a daily basis.

imgres3) TAKE NOTICE – I have a painting on the wall in my consulting room (done by an amazing local artist) that has these words on it: “Take time to do what makes your soul happy.” I am going to feed my soul good things this year by noticing what is around me. I live in a world, surrounded by beauty – from tiny rare orchids to vast mountains, the sea and the night sky. I am going to notice this beauty more.

4) KEEP LEARNING – I already have some things booked in. I’m going on a refresher skiing course,images
before we take to the mountains in February. I am widening my culinary skills with some cooking lessons. I am re-learning how to arrange some pieces for our local choir. I am continuing to work with a life coach and the NHS leadership program. This will be a year in which I learn a lot! I love learning.

5) GIVE – At the beginning of every year, my wife and I review our finances and make sure that we are giving enough money away. We try to ensure that we give at least 15-20% of what we earn to various friends or charities. Money can have such a hold and I find as I earn more, it is easier to get sucked into an unhealthy imgresview of it. Money is just money. I am determined to have a relationship with it that is joyful and giving rather and anxious and hoarding. I love the phrase – “Live Generously”. I want to live in a way that gives of my time, skills, energy and resources without burning out in the process! My life coach has taught me well about boundaries – very empowering, as long as the motivation is to be able to give. It’s amazing how much a sense of giving/contributing to community and the world really improves our sense of well-being. It’s not an easy path. It’s all too easy to get one’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth by how much one gives, so I will try and remain honest about this.

So, if you want 2016 to be a year in which your well-being increases, why not try the 5 ways above? And if you fall over, get back up and keep walking!

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Christmas

In my last blog post, I talked about the concept of meta-narratives and how they effect our health and wellbeing. For me the Christmas story is the ultimate meta-narrative (the big story with which I align my life). It changes the idea forever that God is a far off hierarchical, imperial, power-hungry megalomaniac. It eradicates the notion that we must go to him where he is in some special sacred space and will only find him if we clean up our act and start behaving in certain ways. No. He comes to us. This story (as JRD Kirk says) is not one of God changing his mind about humanity, but about humanity changing its mind about who God is.

iuHe comes to be with us and changes himself in the process. He becomes utterly human, not some weird, ready-break glowing child, but deeply human and in so doing destroys the stories we have told ourselves about what he is like. He comes to us. He comes right to our very situations, our joys, or triumphs, our brokenness and our shame and says, I AM with you.  And if you run away, I’m there with you. And if you turn away, I’m there with you. And if you hide away, I’m there with you. And if you fail, I’m there with you. And if you don’t believe, I’m there with you in your unbelief.  Because contrary to the caricature of Dawkins, I am love itself. A love that will pour itself out time and again.  A love that is stronger than bitterness, hate and division. A love that is willing to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented. This is not the story of a God who slaughters his enemies in order to protect himself and those he holds close (a narrative upon which the nation state is built and uses to predicate the violence it does to others – and if you don’t believe me, then you haven’t read enough history). No, this is a story about a love that will lay its own life down for its enemies and enables us to do the same.

As Steve Chalk says, Jesus never came to start a religion. He came to start a political, social, economic and spiritual revolution. God with us – wherever we are. The God who prioritises the poor, the refugee/marginalised/outcast, the sick, the prisoner, the woman, the child, the environment. The powers have never and will never understand Light in Darkness-02or overcome this light. The promise of the light is peace. Peace on earth. If we embrace the way of love, anything is possible. Even in the midst of all the turmoil in our world this Christmas, I find great hope in the idea of God, who is love, with us in it all. I believe that when we embrace this light and this love as our meta-narrative, as our raison d’être, we find healing for ourselves individually and corporately.

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How Well Are You?

I have the joy of leading some health and well-being retreats with a good friend of mine, who is a life coach. The retreats look at the idea of alignment. Human beings are unique and beautiful, incredibly intricate and are made up of layers, like an onion. Some of those layers are individual and some are corporate, because no person is an island. At the core of who you are is your spirit, your unique self. Then there is your soul – that sweet mixture of emotions, thoughts, ideas, hopes, longings, memories, hurts, resentments, desires, etc. All of that is encased in a physical body, with all the complexities that the intertwining systems entail. And these 3 parts of you are constantly interacting and affecting one anoiuther. For example, physical pain caused to you by another person, may cause you to feel emotionally hurt also (soul pain) and crush your spirit. Or indeed, as I see many times in my work, emotional pain leads to a resentment, which causes a bitterness which manifests itself in a physical pain and so too your spirit is negatively affected.

But you do not just float around in a bubble. You exist in a corporate body, in a family, group of friends and community. You live in an environment of some sort, and your surroundings have an incredible amount of ability to affect your health and well-being. This is evidenced in the effect of air pollution on respiratory disease or the effect of isolation or indeed bullying on mental health. We are all aware of the sights, sounds, smells and stressors in our physical geographies. Added to this corporate body is our corporate soul. And in the corporate soul we find corporate memories, ideas and beliefs, fears and dreams, things we have been taught, world views that shape us and all of this feeds into our meta-narratives, the stories with which we align our lives, that give us some sort of meaning. Surrounding all of this? The corporate spirit. Love. God is Love, not fear, or hatred or violence or bigotry or judgment, but Love. We find time and again in our own lives and in the lives of those who come on retreat the misalignment/disalignment/nonalignment that happens so easily, not necessarily through anyone’s fault, but because life is so complex.

 

It’s not as simple as tweaking one thing and then everything falls into place. Many of us still have to live with chronic and enduring illness of various sorts, be that mental or physical and achieving images“perfect health” may not be possible. But alignment is possible and it is this that gives us a sense of well-being. So, how well are you? Do you know how much you are influenced by the corporate body and soul? What are your meta-narratives? How aligned are you? There are things we cannot change, but we can chose how we respond to them and the choices we make within them. I want to unpack this a bit more in subsequent posts, but this might just kick off some musings.

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Love – It’s a Two Way Street

There is a lie that has been told, to clinicians in particular, that it is wrong to get too close to patients. One is told to keep a healthyimgres separation, perhaps to make the tragedy we often deal with somewhat more bearable. We have shaped medical ethics around the four core principles of beneficence (do good), non-maleficence (don’t do harm), autonomy (respect a person’s own wishes) and justice (treat everyone the same). But as the black eyed peas would ask us (!), imagewhere is the love? Where is the love and compassion that makes us human and deeply connects us to the ‘other’ and even the ‘other, other’ (someone so different to us that we find it almost impossible to connect to them)?

 

I was involved in a conversation recently with Phil Cass, a psychologist and CEO of a healthcare company, from Ohio, about this very subject. He told me some very stark facts. In the USA, the highest suicide rate is now amongst physicians and 67% of medics suffer with depression. Studies found that although these people were motivated by love, they found it very hard to receive love back from those they were giving love to.

 

imgresWe have made the clinician-patient relationship a one way system, and we shut down the reciprocity of the love we give in the name of ethics and professionalism. But this is to our great detriment. Patients love and trust their doctors, nurses and therapists and this love could be a huge source of resilience, courage, support and hope. We must let down our guard and receive back the gift that we give in order toimgres become more healed ourselves. It will allow us to enjoy our work more, reconnect with the core motivation inside us and encourage us, because when we give and receive love it spurs us on to keep going when the system feel like it is against us.

 

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Compassionate Communities

I hope that Lancaster, the city in which I live may become the first official compassionate city in the UK. I don’t mind if it isn’t, but I do hope that many cities choose to take on this mantle.

Here is a beautiful and moving animation of what becoming a compassionate community is about.

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Integration and Collaboration

In my opinion there are two main systemic barriers to providing great health care on the NHS, currently (there are other ones also but in terms of the system itself – these are the two biggest). The answer to overcoming them btw is not privatisation via the TTIP. I like to look for solutions to problems, rather than focus on the negative….

So, firstly (and it really isn’t that hard to do, it just requires some funding, which in the medium/long term would be money seriously well spent):

 

iuAmalgamate patient electronic records and share them across the system. There is so much time/money wasted and clinical errors made because of this very easy to solve issue. I’m sure there are reasons why citizens may feel concerned and I really do understand them, but given the great work already going on in Tameside at the hands of the excellent, Dr Amir Hannan, and the positive feedback from patients, this needs to rolled out as far and wide as possible.

It helps patients feel more able to manage their own health conditions and ensures notes are always available at each consultation. It means medication changes are managed more safely and effectively and information is shared between professionals in a timely way.

 

And secondly:

iuBreak down the silo mentality and reality of the various care organisations. Breaking down the walls that prevent effective team working and amalgamating the budgets of health and social care will be a huge breakthrough for care. We are already seeing this with the establishment of Integrated Care Teams within general practice. The teams comprise of: GPs, Community Matrons, District Nurses, Community Therapists, Midwives, Health Visitors, Mental Health Teams, Social Workers, the Police, the Fire brigade, and a Care Co-ordinator to pull it all together. If you also throw into the mix third sector organisations aligned with practices and patient volunteers, you have an amazing force for good!

 

There are some warnings to put in place. Manchester, which is the first place to really try this under ‘Devo Manc’ is having a huge overall budget cut (20%) as it launches into it. The hope is that by working more collaboratively and in an integrated way, savings will be made. But the ‘Save our NHS’ group have some major misgivings.

 

 

If you wanted to know more about the details of DevoManc and the health impacts of that. You can find the Memorandum of Understanding here: http://www.nhshistory.net/mou%20(1).pdf and the Five Year Forward View here: http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/5yfv-web.pdf
Innovative collaboration and integration of our health and social services does not have to mean the privatisation of them. But if the TTIP comes into effect, despite huge public opposition, then the NHS as we have known it will be over. IMO the TTIP deserves a full referendum by the people of Europe. If you don’t know about the TTIP, you need to, and you should seriously think about writing to your MEP to tell them why this deal needs to be stopped.

[1] Independent: What is TTIP? And six reasons why it should scare you:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html
Huffington Post: Corporate Courts — A Big Red Flag on ‘Trade’ Agreements:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-johnson/corporate-courts—-a-big_b_5826490.html
[2] MEPs will be voting on a resolution on TTIP in Strasbourg on June 10th. It’s not a legally binding vote, but what MEPs decide will send a strong message back to the European Commission about where we all stand on TTIP. If there’s enough opposition, especially to the worst parts of TTIP, it could damage the deal for good:
Euractiv: What will Parliamentarians vote on TTIP?
http://www.euractiv.com/sections/trade-society/what-will-eu-parliamentarians-vote-ttip-313845
[3] You can find out more about the European Citizens Initiative and who’s involved here:
https://stop-ttip.org/

 

If you want to, you can sign a petition here:

https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/eu-ttip-petition#petition

 

We need to continue with the kind of healthcare we actually believe in, improving it where this needs to happen, without it being stolen from those who need it most because of greedy trade deals.

 

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Healing our Corporate Soul

In my video blog about ‘Reimagining Health’, I talked about the fact that our well being is not and cannot be an isolated, individualistic experience. The truth is that we are part of a Corporate Body (that is a community of people with a physical environment in which we live) with a Corporate Soul (a set of beliefs/mindsets/worldview) and a connection to the Corporate Spirit (which in my view is either the spirit of love aka God or the spirit of fear). These corporate experiences have a massive impact on our individual sense of health and wellbeing, and actually, as we are part of the corporate, our individual wellbeing has an impact on others around us also.

Our Corporate Soul is the issue I want to concentrate on in this post. It is complex and something to which I believe we pay little attention. However, it’s effect on our individual and corporate wellbeing is vast. Take a moment to think about the subliminal messages that come through our various forms of news and multimedia everyday.

“Your life isn’t as good as your ‘friends’ on Facebook”

“You need to be on Facebook or you are missing out on so much”

“Unemployment is being caused by Immigrants – be wary of them”

“Be afraid – people hate our country and are trying to kill us for the ‘values’ we uphold”

“The way our country does things is right and just and those who die for ‘our country’ are never to be forgotten”

“Pollution is rising – we are heading for natural disasters”

“Buy the new car – you need it, don’t worry about the pollution – live for the now”

“The chocolate industry is built on the slave trade”

“You can’t change anything, so keep on eating all the chocolate you want”

“Banks are to blame for the financial crisis”

“We have bailed out the banks with taxpayers’ money, because we need them so much.”

“Really the reason for our national debt is the poor, who claim too many benefits – we should blame them because they are lazy – we won’t bail them out”

“We all need to live longer”

“We can live however we want – our healthcare is free”

“Our children aren’t doing as well as some other children around the world when we measure them against a set of very narrow targets – therefore we need more targets and more testing”

“The only way to keep our nation really safe is to keep the nuclear deterrent – in the end, this is what makes us safe”

“Our armed forces protect us by using violent force to topple regimes which do not suit our national interest. Power vacuums are now left in those nations with untold turmoil and the rise of significant extremism of which we should be even more afraid and need to silence. We will do this with more force. The use of violence make us feel safe”

 

No wonder we are so messed up. We have some very damaging and also conflicting messages coming at us, especially through the (social) media 24/7. When do we stop to ask ourselves how healthy our worldview/beliefs/mindsets are? How much of our life is driven by fear? A fear of want? A fear of lack? A fear of the ‘other’? A fear of loss? A fear of debt? A fear of attack? And how much of this feeds our individual(istic) souls of self-protectionism?

How badly we need some conversations together that enable us to challenge some of our current core beliefs. We will not find a place of health and well-being, happiness or wholeness until we do. We have aligned our lives with the Spirit of Fear and our Corporate Soul is entirely broken as a result. We must realign ourselves with the story of Love. There is so much goodness out there. Can you see it? Only love can drive out fear. Only love can heal and awaken our souls to another holistic way of being.

 

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Well Cities and How They Can Flourish

I am someone who has many dreams – I mean the night kind of dreams….very seldom would they be a night mare, but they come with incredible detail! Maybe this is because my mind is processing, maybe it’s because I’m a bit weird or maybe it’s because I’m finally quiet and the Spirit of God can talk to me!

 

iuAnyway, one of the things I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is the ‘corporate personality’ of cities. My great friend, Martin Scott, has previously done some work on this. Just as people, with their own history and nurture form their own personality, so too does a place. Personally, I’m a fan of the Enneagram as a way of helping understand who we are, why we are, what our shadow self is like and how to become more our ‘true-selves’. I believe this can also be applied to our towns/cities/regions and nations. If we understand the personality of the place we live in, we can help it become fully flourishing and enable it to become the right kind of ‘gift’ to other places. If you don’t know anything about the enneagram, then I would recommend Richard Rohr’s excellent take on it.

 

 

iu-1Anyway, recently, I had a dream about the city of Coventry (the city where I grew up – I love it!) which I think is a type 4 personality.  In the dream, I was in the New Cathedral (one of my all time favourite buildings) and I was helping to facilitate a discussion with a diverse group of people from all over the city. The discussion took the form of a ‘world-cafe’ (a brilliant technique taught by the ‘Art of Hosting’). The underlying premise for the discussion was recognising that the 3 main ‘gifts’ of Coventry’s personality are as follows:

1) A place of peace and reconciliation

2) A place of refuge and healing

3) A place of creativity, innovation and development

 

And so the question being discussed was this:

 

If Coventry was ‘well’ how would it be flourishing in it’s primary gifts?

I wonder if we connected more with the personality of our cities and asked our selves similar questions, just how different our cities (places) could be? One of my passions is for health and wellbeing……what are the places we live in like – what do they look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like, behave like, when they are healthy and well?

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UK, You’ve Had a Heart Attack – How Are You Now?

MIYou might want a cup of tea whilst you read this! I often see patients a week or two after they have been discharged from hospital with a Myocardial Infarction (what we often refer to as a heart attack). In this part of my home county, once someone is diagnosed with having a MI, they are admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where an amazing team of cardiologists literally save their life by putting stents into arteries in their heart that have become clogged up. It has been a phenomenal breakthrough in medical science in the last 15 years and has revolutionised how cardiology services are configured.

New medicines are prescribed to help keep the heart and kidneys healthy and patients are reviewed to see how they are getting on. What I always love in the initial consultation following a heart attack is how reflective a person becomes. Everything in their life gets assessed and reprioritised. Key questions are asked about how much stress they have been under, and why they were living at such a fast pace whilst forgetting about what is really important – living well, relationships, love, beauty, people and connecting with the story of who they feel they really want to be for the rest of their life. It is very rare to find a person who is desperate to get back to business as usual or someone who doesn’t ask some fundamental questions about what life is for. It is possible in some of these consultations to have some of the best coaching conversations a practitioner can ever hope to participate in. Asking some questions of the patient about what they are going to change and how they are going to do so.

And yet, in the UK (and indeed the west), we suffered a heart attack beyond all proportions with the economic crash of 2008. But we have not really reflected on the major warning sign that it was to us. We have a government and financial system intent on “getting us back on track” – and I wonder to what, exactly? It isn’t that the financial system alone, just happened to have an infarction. It’s like assuming that a heart attack happens simply because of a defect in the cardiac system itself – this simply isn’t true. The crash was only a sign of just how broken our entire body is and we would do well to reflect a great deal more about how we are living as a nation and whether it gives us any real sustainability for the future of the planet and the generations to come. Our current response is not only to “get back on track” with where we were, but  to “tighten our belts” (which means to cut benefits left right and centre without regard for the dehumanisation of people in the process). It’s like believing the correct response following an MI is to emaciate and punish yourself, without asking some fundamental questions about how healthy your whole life is.

So, what about about a national health check – let’s look at each system in turn and ask some questions – because the truth is, we haven’t faced the fact that we are in an age of transition in which answers are not obvious and we don’t have any experts who have been to the alternative future we long for. So, we have to learn together and ask open questions that provoke better conversations to help us.

Let’s start with Education. George Monbiot has written a stunning piece in the Guardian about the current health of the education system: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/aspirational-parents-children-elite?CMP=share_btn_fb – well worth a read. Our education secretary, Nicky Morgan on the other hand isNicky Morgan intent on more testing of our children and has recently given a speech in which she claimed that arts and humanities subject choices close down a child’s career options and they will earn 10% more in their life if they do Maths at A level – whooppee do dah. For an alternative and altogether more inspiring approach, look to the lovely Ken Robinson:

Couldn’t education become about real learning in which our children feel inspired and find hope for the future?

Ecology – Oh dear – so far a string of broken promises on the environment from the western governments. It turns out that oil and industry is more important than the future of the planet. Is it? If not, what are we going to do?

Defence – undergirding our entire nation are three things: Money as debt (see finance), the state of the exception (see law and order) and military violence. The ultimate trust of our nation rests on nuclear warheads. How healthy is this? How much fear do we have to create as a narrative to believe this is actually a good thing? Do we want that to be the undergirding faith of our nation? And what about the change in rhetoric regarding soldiers who die in war. David Cameron recently referred to soil from the battle fields of WWI (which was brought to London) as ‘Holy Ground’ and he described those who died fighting for the ‘allied forces’ as ‘martyrs’. Is the nation state therefore the ‘saviour’? If it is, what on earth do we mean by this? If not, then is there other language we can find to use about the two world wars without creating a very dangerous worldview?

Housing – 69% of the land continues to be owned by 0.6% of the population and there is a real lack of social housing available in deprived areas. This is causing significant problems for those already under huge financial strain, given the effects of austerity measures. Who does the land belong to and why?

Justice – How many of the perpetrators of crime are victims of a system that left them with little or no other choice but to commit crime? How restorative is our justice process?

Law and Order – our prisons are full to breaking, our police force is being cut and replaced with private security firms. How effective is our law and order system? And what undergirds it? Georgio Agamben cuts through to the heart of the issue in his exquisite book ‘State of Exception’. Underneath the whole of western ‘democracy’ lies the right for the government to suspend the rule of law i.e. invoke Marshall law if deemed necessary. I look at the people movements emerging across Europe right now and wonder how far we are from the ‘state of exception’ being invoked. All it will prove, as we already know, is that democracy is a vain imagination. What is it that undoes ‘the powers’? Could a movement for positive peace, founded on love offer any realistic alternative? If so, what?

Immigration – apparently the answer to our problems is to become more fearful of the ‘other’, create a politics of fear and blame immigrants for our financial problems. We are barricading our doors Syrian Refugeesand building up our walls to ‘protect our way of life’. And while there are currently 4 million homeless Syrian refugees, the UK has welcomed 147 of them in total. Did you know that the entire world population could fit into Texas? Our concerns about lack of space and lack of jobs is really unfounded and we seem willing to ‘love our neighbours’ with great initiatives like comic relief and generous charitable giving, just as long as it doesn’t actually have to affect us and our way of life…..how loving is that? How healthy is love that does not truly cost us and change us?

Health – this whole blog is about it, but 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is due to poor lifestyle choices we are making. We can’t live imgresexactly how we want if we hope to continue with a health service that is free for everybody. How will we change the culture? Can we find innovative ways of working collaboratively within the system that breaks down the silos in order to work more effectively for the good of our national health? Is privatisation the answer? If not, what are we willing to change/protest about to keep it public?

Government – a majority with 36.4% of the vote? Deeply wrong. There continues to be profound disengagement with the system and a deep cynicism that the current style of government can bring any real lasting change. We need a new politics – what might that be like? Where are the leaders who will choose to facilitate instead of dominate?

imgresEconomy – ah yes, that old chestnut. Do we want an economy in which the gap between rich and poor continues to widen? Do we want a system in which the poor are punished whilst the rich are exonerated for their greedy crimes? The entire western economy is based on a system of debt that requires us to continually grow and expand our borders so that the debt can be serviced. We have become slaves to the economic beast. Where are the alternative experiments emerging? What can we learn from them? Are we brave enough to try something new? I have posted this before, on my other blog – www.reimaginingthefuture.org  but Charles Eisenstein is so worth watching:

The human heart provides us with a great metaphor. The health of our nation(s) is not good. We’ve had the wake up call, and if we’re not careful (this is a warning from a doctor, so take heed), the next heart attack will be even more catastrophic. We have to reflect on where we are and ask ourselves where our current trajectory will lead us. I don’t want to get back on track if it leads us to more depression, destruction and decay. I want to find the road less traveled by – the one that leads to life, hope, love, regeneration, recreation and a beautiful future for our children. So many questions. So much to learn.

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How Healthy Are You?

imgresAn NHS health check is available to all 40-74 year old citizens of the UK. The idea is to detect problems like hypertension, (pre)diabetes and the risk of heart disease early so that preventative measures – lifestyle changes and possibly medication – can be offered in good time.

 

There is plenty of debate in the public arena as to how helpful and effective they are and also questions about what is the driving force behind them. (If you’re interested you can read more by searching NHS health check evidence base).

 

There is actually some pretty good evidence that they are making a difference. They have actually been a pretty helpful resource in helping practice nurses and GPs have ‘coaching’ conversations with people about their physical health and what they could do to improve this and help them stay healthier in the future.

 

Ken WilberHowever, does a Q Risk score (something that tells you how likely you are to have a heart attack or a stroke in the next 10 years) really measure how healthy you are? What does it mean to be healthy? If we take Wilber’s work on health and well being (1997), physical health is only a part of what it means to be truly well. If we are to embrace a more holistic understanding of what it means to be healthy people, who live in healthy communities which are part of healthy towns and cities, then we need to take a much wider view of how we measure this.

 

So how healthy are you. Starting with the physical – how is your diet and exercise? How much responsibility do you take over the substances you put into your body – alcohol, cigarette smoke, recreational drugs, sugars, caffeine, toxins like aspartame……? And if you take little responsibility for your physical health, what should the response of a ‘free’ health care service be that currently spends 1 in every 5 pounds mopping up the consequences of people’s poor lifestyle choices? And what about the leaders within our cities – what will they do to tackle the fast food/alcohol/sugar/tobacco industries and the supermarkets who cream profits from product placement and advertising of hugely unhealthy foods? I could go on……

 

And what about your mental health? The fact is: the UK has some of the unhappiest children in the developed world  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14908194 (this is always true of places where the gap between the rich and poorest is wider and where materialism is prioritised over time). Anxiety and depression are on the increase and stress continues to be a major reason for consulting the GP. Some of this is systemic and it is a challenge to policy makers to think about the impact of their decisions on the mental health of the population. Austerity and deeper benefits cuts are having a profoundly negative impact on those already struggling. But there is also a challenge to individuals about what we allow our minds to be filled with. How much time in a day do you stop to be grateful, or to be still? How much of your mind space is taken up with addictive tendencies, be that to social media or pornography? How are you at forgiving others who have hurt you? If not very good – how much is the bitterness inside you having a good effect? If the bitterness is eating you up – what are you going to do – hold on to it? How much time do you give to things like singing and volunteering which are seriously good for your mental health?

 

To take Wilber further, we must ask how well we are socially. How connected are you to the people around you? According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the UK is in the bottom three nations in Europe for feeling attached to our local communities and for feeling like we can ask for help from people who love us in times of need – what is that about?! How much of our time these days is given over to screens and social media instead of actually having conversations that matter with people in the same street or even the same room as us? What is the social make up of our communities like? Can we see alternative economies springing up like time-banking? What is the provision like for children and old people? Who looks after your elderly neighbour when she’s just come out of hospital with a new hip? Could there be a meal rota on your street?

 

There is one other measure to look at – our systemic health. How much do we feel empowered within society to make a difference and effect change? If not much, then we generally don’t feel very healthy. For me, it’s one of the reasons why community involvement is important so that the unheard voices are given space to speak and to be listened to. How much do leaders within cities think about the impact of their decisions on the poor and marginalised? For some truly incredible work on this, check out the Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge (https://leedspovertytruth.wordpress.com/).

 

So, how healthy are you? You as a whole person and you in the corporate sense? Do you want to be well? If so, think more holistically – think about your physical, mental, social and systemic health.

 

My health check would ask these questions:

Are you eating and exercising well?

Are you drinking responsibly?

Are you taking time to be grateful?

Are you looking other human beings in the eye and building intimacy?

Are you connected to other people in your community?

Are you choosing to forgive others when they wrong you?

Are you taking care of others around you?

Are you walking in open spaces and enjoying this beautiful earth?

Are you singing on a regular basis and taking time to be creative?

 

The challenge to us all is to learn what it is to be really well. The challenge to the health service is to work far more integratively and take a much broader, wider, richer and deeper view of what it really means to be healthy.

 

 

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