The hypersensitivity towards the body today has its ironic counterparts in two divergent classic points of view: the derived hedonism of ancient Greek thought mistakenly identified as Epicureanism, and the extreme asceticism described in the biography of the Buddha which he attempted but came to reject.
Both extremes view the body as an irresistible physical blunt force to be exploited, either for pleasure or for the antithesis of pleasure. In both cases, the body is assigned an ineluctable essence contrary to any subtle or cooperative context in the breadth of being and function.
Society is always on the brink of either extreme as a model of power and temptation, but usually, given the average person, society slouches towards hedonism. The other extreme of asceticism is reserved in the popular mind as a temptation for the scrupulous, of which there are fewer, it seems, every day, unless their scruples are quietly turned into neuroses, in which case they intersect with the hypersensitive of the hedonist school. Again, most people avoid the extremes from wariness if not conviction or taboo.
In contrast, the body is better conceived as a conduit of living forces by other, subtler, traditions: the temple of the Holy Spirit by mature Christianity, or the channel of energies by yogic and Eastern schools of thought. In both cases the body is viewed as a natural living entity with a necessary ordering function that promotes optimal health functions for physical and mental well-being. Such a view can then better sustain other fields of human efforts: ethics, environment, and proper social relations, extrapolations not available to the narrow indulgent’s views of the body as bundles of evolutionary instincts to be either crushed or exploited.
The premises of the solitary with regard to a system of thought about the body thus becomes relevant. The average person of average beliefs and habits succumbs to cultural norms that do not promote health or healthy habits while at the same time curbing the moralistic aspects of this indulgence. Gluttony, sloth, or other vices are acceptable under different names and more circumspect indulgence. Such a person may object that they do not pursue extremes, that they are not ascetics or hedonists. This protestation will fit the spectrum. They are in the average, the mean, the norm, of indulgence versus abstinence. But in the case of food habits, any participation in the average fare of modern culture will itself be a form of indulgence, for modern culture promotes a point of view that is unnatural. The food technology industry masks the natural character of food with unnatural food, unnatural food growing, and contrived “food.” Bodily health and its attainment is therefore nearly impossible with the given fare of modern society.
From eating habits to views of health, medicine, and disease, credence to cultural habits impact economics, knowledge, environment, and the entirety of social and cultural premises about peace, harmony, and well-being.
The goal of the solitary in safeguarding the physical aspects of solitude is linked to maintenance of health and avoidance of society’s exploitation of the body through sources of disease and debilitation. Indeed, these sources only come from society’s technological contrivances and modifications. In this effort, most people will pursue an extreme, themselves being at an unwitting extreme of indulgence that has become so mundane that it is not recognized. True, the care of the body (and health) echoes the ascetic’s discipline of appetite, but this practice can be conducive to health without being labelled an extreme. The ancient hermits were often extreme — or stories about them went to extremes in order to make a point. But as with any perception, the wisdom of self-discipline is in the observation to be incorporated into one’s life and habits, for there is to be found a source of wisdom distinct from the act or motive of the past era.
Reincorporation of what is lost, the safeguarding of the temple, the opening of the energy flow, bring us into conformity and harmony with larger forces. Regulating the complex of bodily activities becomes a responsibility to those who want to understand and promote their well-being — the opposite of a passivity that accepts society’s definitions of food and food habits. This internal harmony becomes a ground for mind and spirit, a prerequisite condition for working towards greater well-being.
The solitary is best disposed to pursue these goals of well-being because of the predisposition to avoid social pressures in media, health, consumption, life-style, and conformity. Ultimately, good habits and self-discipline extend the solitary’s efforts to cultivate the ongoing state that daily vitalizes the sense of well-being that is intrinsic to solitude.