HERBALISM: PLAYING OUR PART IN A HEALING RESPONSE OF NATURE
The other day I delivered a talk to some second year medical students in Winnipeg and I would like to share one very powerful question that arose. Sometimes it takes only one question to strike at the heart of what is holding back our collective evolution and I think this is one of them.
Before we rush to the question, however, let’s explore a key principle in holistic philosophy – that the human body is totally and completely one with the planetary body. In this sense the term holistic is referring to the meaning of the word “hologram” and “fractal.” Fractals are micro and macro patterns found in nature that mathematically support the ancient Hermetic phrase “as above so below.
This is not simply a serving of romantic earth loving woo-woo. The body and the planet both consist of 76% water, and are composed of the very same minerals, bacteria, air, etc. Yet, some of us still don’t appear to understand the impact of such a fundamental natural law of unity and interdependence.
Collectively we have plenty of information, yet we still seem to lack the capacity or inspiration to adapt. The question naturally arises then, even if we are given good information, is information anywhere near enough to inspire us to adapt intelligently?
Somehow we are still operating under an old program born out of scientific reductionism – the idea that there are “people over here” and “nature is over there.” More so we have been sold the idea that nature is not sentient, or alive and living as we are. This is similar to when science or religion told us that animals or slaves did not have souls or feel. Just recently, in 2012, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was granted “rights of personhood,” to protect it from harmful practices. This is an example of holistic philosophy in action in the modern world.
The essential gap or wound we are recovering from might be identified as a corrupted view of the inter-relationship of all of nature. It involves how we relate to each other and our own “greater nature.” When we speak of holistic perspectives we are speaking of “Wholism” or looking at things as a whole and not only as “parts.”
A practical example of this schism is the daily assumption that what comes out our taps is miraculously separate from what we pour down it. We rest a great deal of blind faith in technology and natural processes to miraculously fix the health of the water, earth, and air that make up our bodily health. We somehow hold the view that regardless of what we do to these elements we will be OK. Such a view is what allows for some of us to be surprised at the rise in cancer or auto immune disease rates.
From such a view, we might see ourselves, as being the victims of some terrorist like disease where there is little room for personal responsibility. It does not often register that the chemicals we are putting down our drains, or on our crops are accumulating in our waters and directly affecting our well- being. Yet if we do not understand the way that chemicals are building in the ecosystem we will likely not bother to become “conscious consumers.” We will not likely read a label to see whether it is filled with harmful chemicals or if it is natural and safe for our self and our loved ones.
This is not about becoming fearful nor neurotic, it is just about becoming informed of our choices and choosing wisely – as if we truly cared. It’s amazing that we are a species so intelligent that we can fly ourselves into space, yet we could be so easily lead to self-harm by flashy labels and crafty brand loyalty sciences.
On a much more positive note we do seem to be waking up, even our doctors are waking up from the illusion of the paradigm of “chemical wars” against “terrible diseases.” We are realizing that we arrived here as a result of misplaced trust and poor relationships to our food, the elements, and ourselves. We have blindly trusted that there are “parental organizations” that have our best interests in mind over their own power and profit. We are waking up to the fact that it is time we ask questions directly to the powers that be and expect some intelligent answers.
There is a very high likelihood that we will look back at this era as a chemical nightmare that took us decades to awaken and disentangle from. The irony is that we are running around searching for an amazing cure for diseases that are often caused by the toxicity levels of chemicals in our elements and a poor relationship to the earth. Relationship is at the heart of most healing, and not simply the suppression of symptoms via more chemicals.
Through grand funding campaigns we have raised money in our quest to eradicate disease – but we generally don’t want to look at the chemicals in our own homes and lives or our own lifestyle patterns. Ironically, the money raised by such campaigns is often going right back into the very empires that produced the chemicals in the first place.
Now to return to our main thread, the trillion-dollar question one young doctor aske: “What if I want to prescribe herbs that I feel have sufficient research and historical use, why can’t I?“ An additional question was “why can’t we as North American doctors prescribe both pharmaceuticals and herbalism medicine or homeopathy as is the case in other countries like China and India, and parts of Europe?” I had to explain that although herbalism is as old as the hills, and there had been a concerted effort here in North America to create a monopoly for chemical interest groups – interest groups are still running the show in our times. If anyone wants to learn more about this they need only research the formation of the American Medical Association well over 100 years ago. We also discussed the reality that no person or company can patent nature or a plant and how this posed a problem to the profit model of modern medicine.
One very reasonable suggestion was that “herbal medicine needs to be more evidence based,” and that “we as doctors must be able to know who a reliable herbalist might be so that we can refer patients to them.” Though I couldn’t agree more; and we need more research on herbalism, the truth is there already are a great deal of studies that are going nearly completely ignored. As far as knowing who to refer their patients to, right now there is the Canadian Council of Herbalists Associations, which is as great a place to start as any in order find out what Professional Herbalist Associations exist in Canada.
The theme I see emerging is much more than a battle for the control of corporate medicine. I see people like you and I literally re-membering a view of the livingness of the earth and doing our part to restore the sacred relationship between human beings and our greater planetary body. I see people seeking to relearn what their Great Grandparents knew and the desire to keep a living tradition alive.
I call this the sunrise culture of love and healing. The old paradigm of control and profit over love and healing is what I refer to as the sunset culture. The sunset culture is designed to implode in much the same way as a building with poor engineering might be – it is simply unsustainable. Today we are increasingly seeing people who are inspired to avoid needing pharmaceuticals by caring for themselves in the here and now and adjusting their relationship to life and nature’s laws. This is the traditional way, to live in balance and avoid disease by honoring harmony.
When it comes right down to it this is a movement of choosing to care. We are not getting any tax breaks for taking care of ourselves or our planet, it’s all coming from our hearts and the very intelligence of nature that seeks balance and healing within each of us and the whole. We can receive all the information in the world about health and environment but it’s meaningless without our human capacity to care. As such we could say this movement is not simply born out of the age of information but the tenacity of the human conscience, ability to care, and apply our intelligence combined.
Maybe nothing short of caring can mend the wound of disconnection and not caring. We are living in an information age, but maybe we are entering an age where we will be forced to care much more and to acknowledge the livingness of the earth and that not only is the body an ecosystem but the ecosystem a body. We are being asked to be more than heads of information with financial interests, we are being asked to be passionate and caring humans beings.
Just as it is a healing response of nature to re-green the wounded earth we call a parking lot, caring and compassion are at the core of healing. It is the role of the herbalist to mend broken views that lack integrity as much as it is to assist one in healing any physical wound. Of course we can use the great technologies available to us today, but what is really endangered is the number of truly well fed (information included), awakened, and compassionate human beings. Human beings that are at least as interested in our role as stewards of the planet as we are in our favourite television shows or next travel plans.
Somehow, we got duped along the way into the idea that money, a magic chemical pill, and surgery are all we need to heal and live a happy life. Somehow we nearly threw away all that was real to us and to our ancestors for centuries.
There was a tear in time, in the fabric of our traditional knowledge, that we ourselves our patching up today. It is a highly natural movement just like putting our hands on a scraped knee or holding our head when it hurts. We want to grow to become Grandmothers that can show our children around the
garden, we want to be Grandfathers that know which herbal oils to rub onto the chests of our little ones. It is this deep innate sense of what is good and what is right that takes this whole conversation beyond who is doing what studies and who owns what patent.
Yes the herbal industry should be regulated and yes we need both modern medicine and traditional herbalism in our communities. But our right to use plants (and to tend to them) as a part of our treatment – even in hospitals, should no longer be in question. It is the plants that give us the air we breath. It’s the plants that capture the light of the sun and feed us. It should not even be up for debate that plants can heal us on so very many levels? Even the vast majority of synthetic pharmaceuticals themselves have come from plants.
Today what we need are herbalists that can respond to the growing interest in natural ways of living, we need people who are committed to bringing the knowledge and safe practices of herbalism back into our families and communities. Yet we also need doctors who are inspired and tuned in enough to ask the right questions and be a part of the necessary emergence of an Integrative Medical Model. What it means to be a doctor and to honor the oaths taken upon graduation is taking on new depth for the awakening physicians of today.
Learning about our plant allies, along side practices such as Yoga and Qi Gong, we generate a more dynamic movement toward freedom, health, and happiness. Beauty and longevity are simply natural side effects of adopting such methods. Yet these are timeless technologies that go far beyond beauty and longevity – to the heart of abiding in our natural “state of health” and assisting in evolution and planetary harmony. In the end this is more than an issue of politics or philosophy. This topic is at the heart of our cultural and planetary vitality and is essential to the quality of life we might all expect in the decades to come.