Health e-Bytes: Essentialism and Living an Exemplary Life

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Reflect frequently upon the instability of things, and how very fast scenes of nature are shifted. Matter is in a perpetual flux. Change is always and everywhere at work.

-Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD)


by Ramiah Ramasubramanian

Health e-Bytes

We live in an age of infinite possibilities and exponential change. Human life span has lengthened and will continue to do so in the future. Progress in science and technology has contributed to striking improvements in our living standards. Pace of change in many areas of contemporary life continues at a rate that can only be described as dizzying, relentless and to many, disorienting and threatening.

Despite our material progress, the fundamental questions that we face in our spiritual lives have remained unchanged since the early days of Roman and Greek civilizations. How do we live an exemplary life — a meaningful, regret-free, ethical life — with happiness, wellness and mental tranquility? Unique to our digital age is the question of how to incorporate rapid advances in science into our daily routines in order to improve and enhance the quality of our daily lives.

The unchanging nature of our spiritual quest highlights one of the most important challenges of our age: the ever widening gap between rapidly changing material world and gradually evolving spiritual world. This gap has created some deep moral and ethical dilemmas. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr once remarked: “Our scientific power has overrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men”.

Search for finding meaning in human existence is a recurring theme whose powerful manifestation can be found in works of great thinkers of the past and the present. Through the character of dying Ivan Ilych Tolstoy brings to life some of the eternal questions about life. One of them was the ultimate question that Ivan Ilych found himself facing in his deathbed: What if my whole life has been wrong? Bonnie Ware’s writing on the Regrets of the Dying documents vividly the emotions, thoughts and the transformative process experienced by terminally ill patients during the final weeks of their lives. Viktor Frankl’s extraordinary physical and mental resilience in the face of unimaginable and unspeakable evil is a shining example of the importance of a core of ethical and moral values in defining a virtuous life.

In trying to live an exemplary life, we face some important questions and challenges. Foremost among them is defining a set of core values that form the foundations of an ethical and moral framework that guides our daily practices and life-long pursuit of long term goals. In this task, asking the right questions is critical to achieving lasting success.

* Building a framework of moral and ethical values

What values define you and the life you lead? As it is often the case, it is the simplest questions that are most often the difficult ones to answer. In reflecting on this question while trying to find enduring answers, it is worth remembering the fact that there is plenty of time tested sources of help — from the very ancient to the most modern and science based — available. Writings of Stoics like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius have as much relevance to us as the thoughtful observations and suggestions of Mr. Greg McKeown, a digital age writer who has studied our current way of living more closely. While Stoics deal with existential questions of life like cultivating tranquility of mind and leading a life of virtue, Mr. McKeown offers some practical solutions based on sound philosophical thinking, particularly on problems of our digital age: distractions, disruptions and wasting precious time on non-essential activities and trivial pursuits of life. Mr. McKeown’s central idea is deceptively simple yet carries a deep and profound message: Define what the essential elements of your life are and eliminate the rest.

* Achieving and maintaining wellness

Natural state of human body is good health and natural state of human mind is happiness. Yet, in our digital age ill health and chronic mental and physical stress are rampant. Here are some science based practices that are helpful in restoring health and preventing diseases.

Rethinking Age and Aging:

We will need to rethink our ideas about the connection between age (measurement based on time / calendar) and aging (a process of structural and functional changes in the human body). Findings from the world of science highlight two key facts:

  • An individual’s chronological age and biological age are two distinct entities that have a variable relationship. An individual with a chronological age of 70 may have a biological (physiologic / functional) age of 55.
  • It is possible to slow the aging process and stimulate body’s built-in regenerative cells and repair processes by fasting, a simple, ancient practice that can be adapted by most individuals. There are multiple methods of fasting. Some are very simple and others may require medical supervision.
  • Meditation: Fewer aspects of living in modern age characterize it more acutely and vividly than the sense of overwhelming stress, particularly chronic mental stress, experienced by many. The incidence of stress related illnesses and the huge human and economic tolls extracted by these illnesses are well known. Recent scientific studies of mind-body interaction offer strong support to regular practice of mindful meditation in alleviating the corrosive effects of chronic stress on our mental and physical well-being. Beneficial effects of meditation — after short and long time of practice — documented in these studies include: changes in the structure of the brain, alleviation of depression and chronic pain and genetic changes.
  • Nutrition: Some of the most spectacular progress in our efforts to gain a deeper understanding of wellness has taken place in the field of nutrition. Despite the never ending debates and conflicting and, most often, confusing advice and suggestions published in the popular media and the scientific literature on the food we eat or we should eat, certain helpful trends are obvious in this field. One of the most important factors that determine the status of our health is the type, the quality and the quantity of the food we consume on a daily basis. It is interesting to note that the link between health and food was well known to Hippocrates, who was one of the earliest scholar to recognize the importance of this link.
  • Sleep: In addition to sleep’s restorative role, studies from the emerging science of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disruption (SCRD) have highlighted the far reaching effects and hence the importance of regular and adequate sleep in several areas, including but not limited to immunity, genetics, mental health and workplace performance.
  • Physical Activity: In addressing the challenges of physical fitness at any age, we can rely on a variety of rigorously tested options. Ranging from regular practice of brisk walking to yoga with a spiritual foundation, these options enable us to achieve a state of physical well-being that is vital to our existence.

We live in a golden age of human achievement and individual empowerment. Living an exemplary life in this age is certainly possible if we are guided by a framework of spirituality built on timeless ethical and moral values.


Dr. Rama is an MD, FRCA (England) Practicing Board Certified Anesthesiologist with a fellowship in surgical critical care. He lives/works in the Portland, Oregon area.

**All content and media on the website is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. (see Terms/Privacy)


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