It is overwhelming sometimes -- how much is going wrong with the environment and how many issues there are to confront, from our forests turning into housing developments to greenhouse gasses to depleted uranium shells in Iraq to genetically engineered food on the grocery store shelves. And let's face it -- if we're going to survive as a race, we've got to change. We, as human beings have had a tremendous impact on the earth and there is literally not a way for us to continue our lifestyle indefinitely -- we're losing our forests, our oceans, our drinking water, and using up every resource faster than can be replenished.
At the same time, there is a striking correlation to the chronic diseases currently on the rise and the way humans have treated the world. Just a very brief overview includes skyrocketing asthma occurrences as our air becomes filled with car exhaust and coal fumes; Multiple Chemical Sensitivity as our lives become full of chemicals; hormone-influenced problems such as breast cancer and prostate cancer having seen a huge rise in the past 50 years, the same time period in which animals have been fed more hormones and our food has become filled with hormone-like substances called xenoestrogens from pesticides and plastics. It's all part of one big package.
Seeing the problem in this way, as one interconnected whole, also gives us a way to work with it. Truly holistic healing offers us a way of thinking that can help heal the planet, moving from the personal to the interpersonal to the transpersonal, for as we can see, they are all connected. How can one be a healthy individual in a sick society? Or on a sick planet? We heal the planet and heal ourselves in the process.
The most holistic healing possible is to use the same principles on a grand scale we use when we heal our own bodies. We must first recognize our connections, how the fate of our community is also our own fate. Secondly, we need to acknowledge the strength and power in diversity. Above all, we must take responsibility for our health and the health of our home in the broadest sense. And while doing this we must keep in mind one big question: what is sustainable? Because the way we are living right now, we are burning through our resources much faster than we can maintain. We need to not just slow the problem, we need to stop what's causing the problems.
CONNECTION AS HEALING
One of the deepest lessons of herbal medicine for me is that taking plant medicines is only part of the healing. The truest and deepest healing comes from connection -- connection with other humans and connection with all that is.
First, there is the connection between practitioner and client, the heart-to-heart that takes place in the consulting room. I often say that more than half the healing takes place before the client leaves the room or takes a sip of tea. It is human connection, the opportunity for someone to tell their story and be listened to that is the first healer.
The second and less obvious connection that takes place (hopefully) is the deepest lesson and deepest healing of herbal medicine: the implicit knowledge that we are NOT alone, that nature, the Earth, that life itself steps forward to assist us.
We are not physically different from human beings that lived 20,000 years ago, and we can still use plants for food and healing just as humans always have. Nature is not separate from us; we are a part of the great circle.
We live in a culture of alienation; this is part of the disease state. Loneliness is the most rampant disease of our culture and depression is one of the most widely diagnosed disorders in the U.S. We are taught to think of ourselves as alone and separate from each other, our family, our community, the place and planet we live in, the Divine (however we may experience it), and ultimately, seperate even from ourselves as we give up pieces of ourselves to education, work, "being an adult."
Our first act of healing is to build community, to get to know our neighbors, our families, and ultimately to grope our way towards the deepest expression of our own selves that we can.
Plants have much to teach us. Plants never grow in a monoculture in nature -- they are always in community. Humans do better in community too, and a community with diversity.
Most flowers have both male and female parts that mature at different times, which prevents self-fertilization. This would be a bad thing because plants that self-fertilize are genetically identical and can't change or adapt, won't evolve and could become stricken down by the same cause where in a diverse environment, ideally some of the plants will have or will evolve an "answer".
Humans that aren't open minded can't change or evolve either. We learn and grow by learning both from our own experiences and by interacting with others who can "cross pollinate" us with new ideas.
TAKING ON RESPONSIBILITY
In modern medicine, patients look to doctors for the answer and then do "what the doctor orders". Part of the philosophy of holistic medicine is that the clients need to take responsibility for their own health and healing. Many practitioners won't even call themselves healers. As one friend of mine said, "I just provide the tools; it's my clients who do the healing."
Whatever system of medicine we choose, we need to take responsibility for our own health, to ask questions, listen to our own body and intuition, and be open to the answers. And be willing to take the necessary actions.
Just so in the greater world -- we are part of a species that has had a huge effect on the earth and the creatures of the earth, including our own species. As long as we choose to participate in our modern lifestyle, it is our own responsibility to work against the negative effects we have on the earth and to begin creating positive alternatives.
The beautiful thing is that the same principles we have talked about here are also part of permaculture thinking. If you're not familiar with the term, permaculture asks the simple question -- "What is sustainable?" How can we live a lifestyle in a way that can be lived for another 500 years?
It is not my place to give answers or tell you what to do. But to survive we must take responsibility for our actions, recognize and honor our connection to all that is, and to think creatively about solutions.
For just as in holistic medicine doesn't treat disease but people with disease, we must work with each problem on its own terms. This is holistic healing on the grand scale, working towards a goal of balance.