Health and Heritage
by Kennan Elkman, MD
The Millennium is upon us - though to the academic purists there is a further twelve months to go. It is a time of moving forward which also requires some looking back to see what is still relevant and current for the new era. Because a new era it is, irrespective of the arbitrariness of the Millennium, coupled to a questionable historical event some two thousand years ago.
In the heavens we are moving from Pisces to Aquarius; from the structured and patriarchal to the egalitarian and holistic; and this archetypal movement is reflected in the patterns that underlay our major structures in the world. More specifically in the world of medicine we are coming to the end of the dominance of the scientific era with its rational frameworks and patriarchal overtones as a new paradigm is being ushered in. This is characterised by a return to the artistic; a feminine and receptive quality; acknowledgement of nature and things natural, and an equal relationship between patient and healer. However, this is not simply a swing from one extreme to an opposite: it is more fundamentally wholesome and integrative of both where we have come from and what is emerging. Hence my reason for this perspective of our heritage is to examine how it still talks to us in matters of health and what is its relevance to us as we move into this new era.
This change is receiving plenty of attention and many names from the early days of psychosomatic medicine to the more current complementary, integrative, holistic, vibrational and so on. I personally favour the term holistic, which the Oxford dictionary defines as the "tendency in nature to form wholes that are more than the sum of the parts by creative evolution". It would be possible to write an essay on this definition alone, but it serves to stress the role of nature and implies qualities of subtlety and transcendence which have long been neglected in the realm of healing. Evolution also implies not only what we are moving toward, but also where we have come from, and that it is essentially a creative process that has a wider vision than the strictly reductionist Darwinian approach.
Medicine has been reaching back more deeply into the patterns that govern and influence illness, as we have long known the significance and power of our predetermined genetic state. Consequently DNA has received much attention and it is here that we are now looking for the "causes" for many diseases and the ability to change their natural history. Whilst this is a logical development it is still governed by old paradigm thinking, and contains many of the pitfalls inherent in this. The arrogance that we have in believing we can make such assumptions and changes when the vast majority of the function of DNA remains a mystery remains a serious concern. Coupled to this are the ethical issues which many have commented on but are receiving little attention and are certainly not keeping progress with the scientific advances.
My concern extends beyond this to the essentially reductionist view that governs this approach which sees all of our patterns not only physical but also emotional, mental and even spiritual to be dictated to by the physical aspects of our genetic structure. This is heightened in the field of mental disease where such illnesses as schizophrenia and depression have been woven into the constraints of genetics as explanation. However, depth psychologies such as those of Jung, which are not restricted by the reductiveness of the psychologies of a behaviouristic and materialist bent, offer insights into the patterns that stand behind diseases such as these and offer views of them that are more psychic than physical, and thus amenable to a management approach that is not governed by chemical treatments and future genetic manipulations.
What this made me realise is that DNA is more than a bunch of chemicals. If we take a symbolic perspective, it also contains our psychic heritage - and hence my concerns regarding the crass physical manipulation of genetic structure. Or to put it another way, we can consider our heritage to be a reflection of our psychic genetics. If we watch a cell dividing and the DNA material replicating from one set to two, we can be in awe of the amazing dance that the chemicals go through and the beauty that is contained in the process. It can bring up feelings of reverence and respect, if we have the emotional maturity to acknowledge and recognise these dimensions behind the simple physical act.
In many cases the old paradigm lacks this insight. Which means what in practical terms? Do we have access to these psychic patterns that stretch beyond the simply developmental ones of this lifetime upon which most psychology remains stubbornly fixed? The answer is yes, if we also recognise that the tools to do this belong more to the new paradigm than the old. To illustrate this I propose to take a wander through some topics of current health interest and hope this encourages you, the reader, to pursue this line of inquiry further.
You may have been impressed that there are almost as many books giving nutritional advice as there are authors to deal with the explosion in food related problems. Leaving the issue of chemicals, poisons and genetic engineering on one side, there are many problems that are distinctly related to nutrition now receiving attention. From ADD and ADHD to asthma, epilepsy to irritable bowel syndrome, dermatitis to diabetes, allergies to arthritis, heart disease to cancer, and the list goes on. Not only that, but it seems to encapsulate almost the whole range of adult and aged healthcare problems. This is not to say that nutritional problems are the cause of these diseases, as we are looking for patterns in the new paradigm, not causes. But they are significantly implicated and involved to vaying degress.
But how do we tackle such a vast field? I was first put on the trail by a lovely little book by Leon Chaitow called the "Stone Age Diet", where Leon, a previously avowed vegetarian, explored the arguments for appropriate meat and game ingestion amongst other issues. A little exploration reveals that north European people can handle foods such as meat and game, fruit and vegetables, and some (usually fermented) milk products but not too much grain and wheat in particular (which, to my way of thinking, explains much of the diabetes epidemic that is occurring). Why is this? Because in their heritage these people where hunter-gatherers and not farmers, and they also had to preserve and store foods for the harsh winters. Southern Europeans, on the other hand, are tilling fields of wheat regularly in the bible. Small wonder that breads and pastas are a staple. You also don't see many Asian people drinking from a milk container....I could go on.
So, know your heritage and you'll know what foods will best serve you, and you may save on supplement bills if nothing else, though I do predict you'll lessen the liklihood of affliction from many of the degenerative diseases. It is also best to individualise this inquiry which can be achieved by trial and error. I have been intrigued to see the advent of a different line of inquiry that mirrors my own, and that is relating your blood group to a list of "can and can't eat". This essentially structures this approach, and is quite valid, though can be too dictatorial for mine. However, it serves to show that our genetic background matches our heritage, as evidenced by the research into blood groups and nutritional patterns.
I believe that psychic expression, that is coupled to physical genetics, is essentially symbolic. To grasp this we need to attune our creative selves and recognise the place and importance of dreams and visions along with our intuitive sides. Small wonder that in a world that values the material, functional, political and dogmatically religious that these aspects of our personality have atrophied. It takes a lot of work to retrieve these functions, but we are riding on a tide of change when they are actually reemerging into the psychic mainstream for our attention and bringing with them the winds of change as reflected in the paradigm shift of medicine.
The first flowerings of the new age have given way to a tide of "alternative" and "complementary" therapies and medicine that reflect this process. These changes have a depth that we haven't fully recognised as yet, because they reach back to our deep past and are asking we acknowledge our ancestral heritage. Within this are patterns of medicine that we would do well to rediscover. The idea that the healer has been through his own severe illness permeates traditional cultures as shamanism, and gives insight into the empathy that working in health areas would demand. Also such a healer would not fear death and madness in the same way that uninitiated present practitioners do, a view that would transform the way we deal with the dying and the mentally ill. And who would argue that such a revision is not long overdue? In mental health in particular the place and role of an old concept - the soul - has been relegated to the psychologists structured and often behavioural view. Yet old cultures understand illness to be related to soul loss and possession; archaic concepts indeed, but the bible is full of them. And many practitioners find them very useful still. For example, to see a mental illness often as a possession state, where a psychic structure (alien or otherwise) has taken possession of the patient warranting a ritual of cleansing and purification, even exorcism, can be quite expansive and offers a metaphor of explanation that "speak" more to the patient than adjustment of his or her neurochemistry. And how often do we see a major illness such as a cancer "emptying" a person, leaving them "soul-less" as the medical "systems" rush in to the void and control the treatment and demise of the patient.
It is no small wonder to me that places like Lourdes are more effective in healing these illnesses than surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. This talks to us of the role of our spiritual heritage, which is not to be confused with formal religion. For many, particularly those drawn inwardly to the natural dimensions, there is little succour in the dogma of the highly political and controlling monotheistic religions. It is through our inner dimensions and their symbolic expression that we also discover the religious patterns that most resonate within us, which can be helped and reinforced by the mass of information and material that the "new age" has restored to the marketplace. At a deep level this represents the fundamentals of healing and health. This respect values the place of nature in herbs and foods, but also the inner nature - our bodies - and the wisdom they contain. Healing is an art that supports this natural process, stimulates, nurtures and encourages it. It does not have the arrogance to believe that it is he or she, the healer, that is doing the healing. Which means something significant: not to confuse healing and curing. Curing is governed by fear, particularly the fear of death. It is adversarial and wants to "attack" and "get rid of" the problem, infection, tumour or whatever. Healing accepts that the illness is also us, and looks to "messages", often symbolic and intuitive, about what the illness is "saying". In this manner the patient can be put in contact with what stands behind the overt illness and understand what it is telling him or her, and what it is there to serve. In this manner healing may mean dying, but a dying that is governed by dignity and acceptance.
A word of caution: we have made tremendous inroads with scientific knowledge, the real challenge is to integrate these developments and their wisdoms into the new paradigm so that our exploration of our heritage is not simply a regression away from the challenges of the future.