Main Entry: dog·ma
Pronunciation: \ˈdȯg-mə, ˈdäg-\
1. a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
2. a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church
And I particularly like Wikepedia’s concise take on it:
“Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization: it is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from. …” [bold mine]
I describe Adventures in Well-Being as a “dogma-free publication”. So what do we mean by dogma-free anyhow? For our purposes here of re-imagining how we talk and think about healthy lives, I like to ask two key questions to see when we’re being sold a dogmatic bill of goods:
1. What tense are you living it for?
Dogma squashes the present tense. It does this because the present tense is the only place where you can find out what is true for you, and dogma does not want you to have a chance to find out what’s true for you.
For example, if what you’re hearing from our friend dogma is “I don’t care if you hate to work out! You’ve got to get on that treadmill every day if you want to avoid heart disease!” But you are bored to tears on a treadmill and it is always the most miserable 30 minutes of your day, well, the last time I checked doing something you detest every day is actually a pretty big risk factor for heart disease. Soooo, it’s kind of interesting to notice that. The voice of dogma was selling you doom and gloom visions of an imaginary future.
On the flip side, in the present tense, the realization that your 30 minutes on the treadmill makes you miserable in the moment, every single day gives you an insight that allows you to make a different choice for yourself. Perhaps there is a way, of the thousands of ways one can get exercise, that you might delight in every day. Suddenly one can start to feel the excited curiosity of a child: “Maybe I would like to take a dance class! Or a trampoline class!”, rather than the teeny tiny pinpoint view of the world that dogma was selling you in this example.
2.Are you being influenced to make your own lifestyle choices universal and singular?
Dogma does, of course, know what’s best for every human being on the planet. That’s sort of its favorite thing. However, we are continually given fresh examples of the failure of those wide over-reaching blanket statements that we all must follow if we want to live right and be good citizens. Those trans fats we all were supposed to delight in because they saved us from the scourge of saturated fats? Um, turns out they were killing us off.* Those energy saving lightbulbs we’re all supposed to invest in if we really care about Mother Earth? They dump boatloads of mercury into landfills.**
Look at enough literature and you can’t help but get dizzy and feel like it’s all a sham. I think the Buddhists get it right when they point out how quick we are to label things as either good or bad. My favorite Zen story that illustrates this is called “Maybe”:
Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
It’s easy to look at all the conflicting data and ideas and to feel deflated and depressed- I mean isn’t there any real gauge for what’s good or bad?
My suggestion (which you can accept or reject- do you like my CYA there?) is that we stop listening to all the blaring horns and fanfare for the next best whatever and instead to adopt a more “maybe” attitude. “Maybe” allows us to notice and to appreciate the vast and ever shifting nuance of what works for us. “Maybe” allows us to notice that what works for us isn’t necessarily what will work for everyone. Some of us will delight simply in being in the gym (the smell! those machines! the blaring music!), and others will only feel like getting exercise outdoors, or in learning a new thing like trapeze or surfing. Some of us will have happy bellies when we eat raw food, and some of us will have happy bellies when we eat dairy. Whatever- it’s an individual thing.
In other words, it’s not so much about the what (you can revel in veganism or an all meat diet for all I care) it’s more about the why and the how. Why and how are the questions worth getting curious about.
photo by teamaskins