Make Full Use of The Healing Power of Nature

Sometimes we try too hard to control our fate. Astrophysicists estimate that planet earth was formed well over four billion years ago. For most of that time

it was just a barren wilderness of water and rocks. Fossil records show that conditions eventually became ripe for primitive life forms to be created out of the primeval slime. This was about 530 million years ago. Darwin showed that these simple, prokaryotic cells gradually evolved into more complex organisms. After countless millennia tiny rodent mammals were formed, and these over time gave rise to tree living primates. Homo sapiens only appeared on the scene when our simian ancestors learnt to leave the safety of the trees, adopt the upright posture and develop the skill of chasing game on the open savannah. That was no more than three or four million years ago. This is a mere blink in the annals of geological time.

How on earth did life proceed before we arrogant naked apes arrived, and imagined ourselves to be the lords and masters of

all creation? Creationists and neo-Darwinists may argue over the exact timing of our arrival – whether on the sixth day or after four billion years – but both factions agree that the world and everything in it is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Its powers of self-regulation are awesome. This marvel of auto-adjustment was investigated by James Lovelock, the English chemist and polymath, who chronicled it in his book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. In this seminal work he marshaled evidence to show that the earth’s biosphere acts as a single, integrated system with extensive powers of self-management. He called this super-organism Gaia, because this was the name of the Greek goddess of the earth. Whatever catastrophes our planet suffers – whether volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, meteor impacts or changes in the level of sun spot activity – Lovelock showed how Gaia works to maintain the stability of the chemistry of the cosmic environment, including the oxygen concentration of the air and the salinity of the sea.
A century or so earlier the French physician Claude Bernard had made a similar observation regarding the human body. Like Gaia, we too are capable of maintaining the fixity of our ‘milieu intérieur’. Without any conscious effort on our part, our bodies are capable of regulating their core temperature, heart rate, oxygen intake and blood pressure according to the needs of the moment. This constant balancing act was later referred to as ‘homeostasis’, a term devised by the American physician Walter Cannon in 1922. Bernard’s discoveries led to the formulation of the principle of the ‘vis medicatrix naturae’, the healing power of nature. This concept had been around for many years, but now took on a new life as the foundation stone of the emerging nature cure movement. Most weeks we suffer damage to some part of our bodily framework. We bruise a knee, burn a hand or sprain an ankle. Each time the wound heals, whether or not we apply poultices, plasters and antiseptic dressings. This was recognized by Ambroise Paré, the famous sixteenth century French surgeon who, despite being the official surgeon to three French kings, had the modesty to admit: ‘I dressed the wound, God healed the patient.’
Today we face a totally different problem. Now we have the benefit of a medical profession which commands the powers of life and death. Doctors, by virtue of their training, are interventionists. We, their patients, have also been brought up to believe that there’s a pill for every ill. That’s a dangerous combination, because there are many times when the correct medical prescription is reassurance, advice and masterful inactivity. We must accept that most disorders are self-limiting. If left alone, they disappear like snowflakes on a heated window pane. If we become dependent on regular medication – tranquillisers, sleeping pills, statins and anti-hypertensive drugs – we run the risk of treating symptoms when we should be tackling underlying causes. We also negate the body’s powers of instantaneous self regulation. To be autonomous, self-regulating individuals we must become less reliant on long term medication, and more reliant on the vis medicatrix naturae. That was the message of Milton, who wrote: ‘Accuse not Nature, she has done her part, do thou but thine.’


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