By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
28 September 2016
When we meet someone, often the first thing we do is ask him how he is doing. “How’re you?” or “Everything fine?” we say.
Sometimes, we do this because we are genuinely interested in knowing how the person is. But very often—perhaps more often than not—it’s just a formality, an empty phrase, a courtesy that we follow simply out of politeness and social convention. On such occasions, we aren’t really interested in how the other person is doing. Sometimes we ask this question simply because we have nothing else to say and we cannot stand the discomfort of not saying anything at all.
When somebody asks us how we are doing, often we immediately and unthinkingly reply, “I’m fine!”, or “Very well, thank you”, even if we aren’t really as fine as we claim we are. After all, we don’t want to burden the person with our many problems that lie under the mask of happiness that we’ve put on for display. Or, maybe we think he doesn’t have the time to listen to our problems. Or it could be that we know it’s pointless sharing our troubles with him because he can’t do anything to make them lighter. Or perhaps, as is very likely, we feel that when he’s asking how we are doing, he’s just being formal and that he is doing exactly what we often do when we ask others the same question!
Often, though, we aren’t really faking it when we tell someone who asks us how we are that we are ‘fine’. But there’s more to our reply than we may realise. Generally, when I say ‘I am fine’ to someone’s question about how I am doing, the ‘I’ that my reply refers to is my physical body. We so easily confuse our self with our body that when we say we are fine, what we really mean is that our body is fine and by and large doing okay—that it is functioning reasonably well and is not suffering from any noticeable ailment. If the body is fine in this sense, then, we think that we are fine, and this because we tend to conflate the body with our self.
But the body is actually only one of several levels of our being. Many of us live only at the level of the body, though. Our lives revolve around pampering it. Maximizing the pleasure we get from our bodily senses—from ‘good’ food, ‘good’ smells, ‘good’ sights, ‘good’ sounds and ‘good’ physical stimulation—is what we have made the purpose of our life. That’s what we are here on earth for, we think.
If we live only at the level of the body, if our body is doing fine we think we are doing fine.
However, unlike animals, who live only at the level of the body, human beings can rise to higher levels if we want. There’s more to human life than just pandering to the demands of the body. While remaining in our bodies and meeting their basic needs, we can live at higher levels—of the mind, and, beyond that, of the spirit—if we choose to. Moving from living animal-like, simply at the level of the body, to living at the higher level of the mind and the level of spirit is what spiritual evolution is about, as different religions teach us.
This means that for human beings, health is not limited to just the level of the body. A holistic understanding of human health would reflect all three levels of human potentiality—physical, mental and spiritual. Accordingly, then, we can be truly ‘fine’ only if our bodies as well as our minds and our soul are in good health.
Now, going by this understanding of being ‘fine’, suppose a friend I haven’t met for a while calls me up and asks me how I am. If I see myself simply as my body, if my body is in reasonably good health I might spontaneously, without a moment’s thought, tell him that I’m ‘doing great’. But if I’m conscious of the fact that my body is just one of several layers that I’m composed of, I would be more careful in replying if I wanted to give my friend a truly honest answer. If my mind weren’t really fine (maybe it’s filled with negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, hatred and resentment), then, even if my body were doing okay, I would be lying to him if I said I was fine. I just cannot be ‘doing great’ if my mind is full of negativity.
My body maybe fine, but if my mind isn’t, then I’m definitely not fine.
Likewise, if I’ve lost my soul, if I’ve reduced myself into a spiritual desert, having turned my back on God and keeping no space for Him in my life, I may be fine at the level of the body, but at the level of the spirit, I am deep in the dumps. In this case, too, for me to claim that I’m ‘doing great’, is false whether I realise it or not.
My body maybe fine, but if my spirit isn’t, then I’m definitely not fine.
So, the next time somebody asks us how we are doing, instead of unthinkingly declaring “I’m doing great!” we might like to take a few moments off to reflect on how we are truly faring at all the various levels of our being—physical as well as mental and spiritual—before we consider what to say.
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