Most of us desire to be healthy and live a long life. Many of our cultural institutions and fads are centered around these ideas: health food, exercise, health care, etc. Beneath it all, a deeper question is easily ignored. What is the purpose of being healthy or living a long life? (This can be reframed as the age old "what is the meaning of life?" question, or the "why are we here?" question.)
If we don't address this question directly, we end up essentially spinning our wheels. Without a greater sense of purpose, health and long life become the goals themselves, and we start pursuing them for their own sake. We even start admiring those who are very healthy or who have lived a long time.
Admittedly, it is difficult to pursue anything when we are ill. Patanjali lists disease as one of the 9 obstacles that distract our thoughts from higher purpose. (Yogasutra 1:30). When we are ill, we have little concern other than to regain our health. But when we are healthy it is important to turn our efforts toward other goals. Our health facilitates our pursuit of higher purpose, and we should be careful that our health or fitness doesn't become the primary focus of our existence.
THE WILL TO LIVE
The desire to live a long life is inherent in our culture and medical system. One of the primary measures of a "useful" medicine is whether or not it increases lifespan. If not, or if it decreases lifespan, it is often consigned to the trash heap.
According to the Yogasutra, one of the five forces of corruption is "the will to live." (YS 2:3) If we are afraid of dying, (which to be honest, nearly everyone is) then the ultimate goal of life is simply to stay alive. It is almost impossible to pursue a higher purpose. "The will to live is instinctive and overwhelming, even for a learned sage," Patanjali writes. (YS 2:9)
Our life is not useful in itself. It is only useful as far as it enables us to accomplish other things.
What is your purpose?
It is normal to not have an answer to the question. Humans have been asking it for as long as we have existed. But it is a question worth asking.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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