We’re in this weird and exciting place of paradoxical times. The increasing research of medicinal plants for treatment of contemporary diseases feels ironic to me. Medicine is going back to nature to treat lifestyle illnesses which come from living disconnected from nature. It reminds me of the prophetic words of T.S. Eliot, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” We’re always learning, but we may be learning how to appreciate where we were.
While medical advancements occurred from the method of scientific inquiry through reductionism championed during the European ‘enlightenment’ period, what was lost was an awareness of the whole. Medicine’s focus was on fixing disease instead of supporting the balance of the whole.
Euclid’s theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is at work in all biological and cosmological systems. Plant chemicals work as a whole through synergy, as does our body, mind, emotions, imagination and spirit. The current shift in scientific research on healing is trying to put the pieces together to reassemble the whole. And, wow! we’re finding how infinitely complex our body is, and how much we do not know. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We are being called to a humility in acknowledgment that there are vast aspects of nature that remain mysterious.
If we were to see a human being in its complexity, we would not only look at the whole body, mind, emotions, thoughts, imagination and spirit of an individual, but also epigenetics shows us that we must look at the environment in which the person is immersed. We need to ask who else, what else, and where else is in relationship with this human being. If one aspect is left out of consideration, it doesn’t eliminate its influence on one’s wellness or disease. As we are all connected to nature, each other, the universe, a shift in some aspect will result in an adaptation to that shift, for better or for worse, for me and for you.
Where is the beginning?
Some researchers attribute the Western split of humans from nature and the soul to the Industrial Age, or the Enlightenment Period, but at an earlier point in civilization there is evidence of a split in how healers would see disease. Looking at the following quotes by the revered thinkers, Plato and Hippocrates, gives us an indication when Western Medicine was already looking at the parts of life in isolation, rather than maintaining an awareness of the whole as Asian, African and American Indian healing paradigms continue(d) to hold.
In the quote below, Plato is clearly being critical of the contemporary Greek standard of treatment of the day. Hippocrates is instructing the medical practitioner’s awareness in his quote, which if he had to say it as instruction, we might infer that it wasn’t happening on its own; he is basically recognizing what showed up missing. When he says to observe and to assist nature, he is stating that what we think of disease is nature trying to heal itself. Which leads me to think that the disease was the split…and the split is around the time of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.
“…it would be very foolish to suppose that one could ever treat the [part] by itself without treating the whole body…just as one should not attempt to cure the eyes apart from the head, nor the head apart from the body, so one should not attempt to cure the body apart from the soul. And this is the very reason why most diseases are beyond the Greek Doctors, that they do not pay attention to the whole as they ought to do, since if the whole is not in good condition, it is impossible that the part should be.”
Study the patient rather than the disease.
— Principles of the Hippocratic Method
We recognize what shows up missing
Currently, we recognize that we have little awareness of where our food comes from or what it is for, and younger populations–as well as older–are becoming more disconnected due to how we use technology available to us. We are scientifically validating what we’ve known intuitively, that the source of our longing which manifests as disease can be found in the disconnection to each other, to nature, to our meaning. And a greater movement in medicine, religion, agri-culture and art is working to heal the disconnect. Simultaneously, however, I hear the message that our technology is pulling us in the direction of wider disconnection. More articles in the New York Times and general gripes from people I’m in contact with are expressing the dissatisfaction with how over-use of items that are supposed to foster more connection are actually having the opposite result.
We have an identification of the problem, but there is a sense of defeat in the tidal wave of what’s happening. I would like to offer an antidote to the overwhelm. Do what you can to change how you interact with nature, with your own life journey. The uneasiness is a symptom of the greater self–the hub of your being–recognizing what is showing up missing. Taking responsibility for our personal response to the uneasiness is what matters. Each of us can return to the beginning and know it for the first time. And as parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, teachers, pastors, coworkers, friends, lovers, humans in relationship we will have a systemic effect because as a whole, we operate as a system. As one part changes, the whole system will naturally change in relationship to it.