On our wedding day my new husband and I opened a gift from his Canadian friends. Inside was a beautiful human figure made of stacked pieces of amethyst. The card indicated that the figure was called an Inukshuk. Having never encountered one before, I looked it up to see what it represented.
My research led me to understand that Inukshuks are from the Inuits. They were erected as guideposts to give direction to the nomadic tribes of the harsh Arctic region. The stone markers were massive, created with the cooperation of the entire group. Their presence made the way easier and safer for those who followed.
Each stone of the Inukshuk is separate. But each stone cannot work on its own. Each needs the support of the one above and below to function in entirety. This support is achieved through balance. Perfect balance makes the structure secure. Removing one stone will topple the entire structure. Shaving an edge off one stone, or choosing one that does not fit well with the others, being too big or too small, will create instability. This instability will cause failure of the structure, even if the fault is not immediate. Eventually, it will fall, destroyed by the slightest wind or the weakest vibration. But, when everything is in balance, the whole of it works wonderfully.
I think this is the perfect metaphor for our health and our lives. No one element alone will ensure we are well. The many aspects that must work together are in constant flux, and we need to remember to balance them so we can keep ourselves upright and stable. Our physical, environmental, financial, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual beings all need attention. Our bodies need proper nutrition, movement, and rest. Our minds need stillness and stimulation. Our souls need nature, and light, and imagery, and faith.
Putting all of these aspects together would be manageable in a perfect world, without any influence from outside sources. If we each had all the resources we needed at our disposal at all times, we would all live happy, carefree lives. We would also all be pretty dull beings. No one wants to live that way, even if we could. We love the forces around us. The subtle winds, the babbling creeks, the steady vibrations of life’s ebb and flow. So, we need to learn to live with the resources we have and learn to put them to their best uses. We must become versed in how to give and take, how we can support one element with another when one becomes depleted. If the winds are like hurricanes, or the rivers swell to flood stage, or the vibrations become earthquakes how do we steady and steel ourselves against the forces? How do we, like the Inukshuk, use every stone to balance and form integrity. How do we remain upright and robust?
We must remember what each stone represents, but also how they all work together. If we want to lose weight, we cannot focus only on what we eat. How we move, and how and when we rest, where and with whom we spend our time, how we feed our brain, our soul, how comfortable we are with our finances, what we worry about how often we are kind to ourselves all play significant roles in how our bodies use and store our food. If we feel our memory and brain functions are decreasing, it will do us no good to use brain-teasing exercises exclusively. If our bodies are weakening, just lifting weights won’t do the trick. These things may help short term, but to create lasting improvements, we must examine all the stones. We have to find our strength in the whole.
This is what integrative medicine is all about. We use our strengths to bolster our weaknesses. We look at the whole of our beings. We find where we need to focus our attention to become the whole person we want to be. It might not be where we first thought. The process is slow, as the building of an Inukshuk surly is as well. The process is just as much about our perspective and attitude as about our action. The engineers of the massive structures didn’t just gather a bunch of stones as quickly as they could. They gave much thought and energy to finding the right stones. They examined them in detail to see which one would fit best in each position. They did all this before moving a single stone. If one didn’t work as expected, they might have had to reassess, move things around, or discard and find another. The conceptual phase guided the action phase of the building. They used their knowledge, gained through evidence-based study, what had worked in the past, and what had not. This is also how we must address our health. We can’t leave success to chance. We must research, study, and find actual evidence-based solutions. Then we can take the actions necessary to get the results we want and need.
The guiding symbol of the Inukshuk also serves to remind us that we are not alone in our journey. Others have passed this way before. There is no shame in leaning on another’s knowledge. Those researchers have left their monuments along our paths to help us navigate our health. Their interest is in improving our lives. Finding that path and staying on it can sometimes be difficult. Those outside forces sometimes cause us to lose our way. Life can cause us to lose our way. Finding support can help us see with clarity. Learning how to use that support can keep us moving forward. That is the role of an integrative medicine health coach; helping you to find the tools, resources, knowledge, strength, guidance, and passion for feeling right. To possess the knowledge to head off or manage the chronic, debilitating diseases that have so overwhelmed our society. You can conquer. You can find community. You can find the support that you need. The path is in front of you, and there have been monuments erected to navigate it easily.
As I began my health journey, I thought of how I would build an Inukshuk to represent it. What stones I would use, and how I would place them. I set the stones serving the physical and environmental elements as the feet, the base of all my needs. These two aspects hold the weight of the rest of the structure. The domains that relate to those, nutrition, movement, and rest on the physical side; stillness, me time, and nature on the environmental, became the legs. Financial and emotional elements felt right in the belly region. In the gut. The spiritual stone landed naturally in the heart. And stress in the chest, because that is where I mostly feel my stress. The arms reaching out to friends, family, support, community, to hold and be held was where the social stone worked best. And the head became the intellectual stone, where knowledge and education and curiosity exist. I now use this image as my talisman. It reminds me to stay healthy. It encourages me to return to the basics when I find myself straying off my path. It points the way forward.