#131: The mind-body connection, and Singaporean thoughts on self-reliance

One thought from me: Bridging the gap between mind and body

For many years there was a convincing school of thought that said the mind and the body were entirely separate things. Rene Descartes, a 17th century French scientist and philosopher, was the first to present the concept of “dualism”, where the mind and body might be considered to be distinct and separate.

The idea was not a new one, even then. For millennia philosophers have considered the mind and the body as part of an ongoing and still far from finished search for the meaning of life.

But in the context of health, the idea of a disconnect between mind and body seems ludicrous to anyone who has experienced a breakthrough in mental health by first making physical improvements.

Often, the advice, “Exercise more”, falls flat and seems daunting and inconsiderate, especially when one is locked in a spiral of negative thoughts, which bring about a two-way connection to the body, and ultimately make it difficult to get out of bed and think about the day, never mind put on runners and take a spin down the road.

But however we need to do it, we need to realise fully and finally the tight bond between the physical body and what goes on in our minds.

Your body is more powerful than your mind will ever know. Your body (and therefore your mind) is stronger already than you think, and it has the capacity for additional strength in the future that seems unthinkable now.

Whatever physical improvements you make — to the food you eat, or the rest you take, or the exercise time you create — the impact on your mind will be even more pronounced.

Because the mind and the body are one, an investment in one always leads to dividends in the other.

One thought from someone else: Lee Kuan Yew on the basic concept of civilisation

Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, serving for over 30 years until 1990. He died in 2015.

Henry Kissinger, the American political and military strategist and Presidential adviser, once said that it is one of the paradoxes of history that great leaders are sometimes the leaders of tiny countries, and great countries sometimes have the most ineffective leaders.

He was referring to Lee Kuan Yew.

I liked this passage from a 1994 interview with Lee, in which he talks about a Chinese idea of self-reliance as a more powerful and more enduring form of being in the world than reliance on government.

He talks about it in the context of single mothers and the part the government plays, which is no doubt a provocative subject, but it is interesting for me to read his perspective, and consider whether it’s still relevant almost three decades on. [Let me say that I’m reading this from the male perspective, and the fundamental requirement, as I see it, for a man to accept the consequences of his actions and do what he needs to do, within all accepted laws and mores, to provide for and nourish his family and community. It is not that the family unit is sacrosanct to all provocations, or should ever be immune to a man’s general misbehaviour outside the home and pent-up fury and aggression inside it. It is that men should be expected to behave better, lead better, be better in fulfilling our roles and responsibilities than many of us routinely are.]

Here’s Lee Kuan Yew’s view on the basic concept of civilisation, as he sees it, as told in a long interview with Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs in 1994:

In the West, especially after World War II, the government came to be seen as so successful that it could fulfil all the obligations that in less modern societies are fulfilled by the family. The approach encouraged alternative families, single mothers for instance, believing that government could provide the support to make up for the absent father. This is a bold, Huxleyan view of life, but one from which I as an East Asian shy away. I would be afraid to experiment with it. I’m not sure what the consequences are, and I don’t like the consequences that I see in the West.

You will find this view widely shared in East Asia. It’s not that we don’t have single mothers here. We are also caught in the same social problems of change when we educate our women and they become independent financially and no longer need to put up with unhappy marriages. But there is grave disquiet when we break away from tested norms, and the tested norm is the family unit. It is the building brick of society.

There is a little Chinese aphorism which encapsulates this idea: Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia.

Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful;
Qijia, look after the family;
Zhiguo, look after your country;
Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven.

We have a whole people immersed on these beliefs … It is the basic concept of our civilisation. Governments will come, governments will go, but this endures. We start with self-reliance. In the West today it is the opposite. The government says give me a popular mandate and I will solve all society’s problems.

A question for you

Is there an area in your life where you are too reliant on someone or something else? What could you do to take some small steps towards carving out some independence and self-reliance away from that dependency?


Quick Magnificent Irrelevance update…

I’m grateful to have had some wonderful encouragement on this new project, a new publication to showcase new and original sportswriting from around the world.

One or two people have been surprised by the new direction, so it started me thinking: what has this project got in common with writing about the self, mental health, personal development, self-reliance and happiness here in these emails and on the blog these past couple of years?

The main thing, I think, is the glory of humanity.

Your life is a unique, one-time event in the great endless expanse of history. There has never been anyone else just like you, with your set of genes and thoughts and experiences and skills and talents and desires.

That is what Magnificent Irrelevance is, in the sphere of sports. It is not, and never will be, about who won or who lost. It will always be about the people and their stories, and sports, everywhere from cricket in Pakistan to under-14 athletics to the multi-million world of the NBA finals, offers a limitless array of stories of will and endurance and adversity just waiting to be told.

The writers will tell those stories, and that’s what I hope to bring with Magnificent Irrelevance over the next few months and years. You can sign up to follow along with the weekly project update here, listen to a 4-minute intro episode of a new related podcast “The Sportswriter’s Life” on Spotify here.

If this isn’t for you, but you know someone who loves sports and loves stories, please feel free to share the website with them.

Here’s the new podcast artwork, provided by the wonderfully talented designer and illustrator Dmitry Klimakov.

The Sportswriter's Life Podcast | Magnificent Irrelevance | Shane Breslin