(Continued from part 1)
GREATER THAN OUR PARTS
Scientism, or Reductionism, which currently frames our reaction to disease in general and to COVID-19 and its variants in particular, has also been a strong motivator for civilization’s progress during the past century. Reductionism, Materialism, and Isolationism, at the time of their emergence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offered refreshing alternatives to the prevailing medieval religious superstitions of the day. And indeed, the scientific method at the heart of the reductionist paradigm has solved many problems and improved our quality of life for a time.
But it appears as if the reductionist paradigm and especially its technological innovations have also created an alarming measure of environmental, social, and health threats, setting the stage for a COVID-19 pandemic to run rampant. Reductionism, with its hyper-rational and value-free position, inherently neglects to honor the natural environment, the genius construct and power of our own body/spirit, the ecological and relational webs we inhabit, and our innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury.
Dr. Jacob Israel (a pseudonym to protect privacy), a member of my community, lost his mother a while ago to a multi-disease condition. Dr. Israel has been a beloved and deeply respected pediatrician in our town. His mother, like many of our aging parents, had been geographically distant, which prevented him from being at her side frequently enough during her last months of hospitalization.
When Dr. Israel was sharing his grief with me at his home in the days following the funeral, he told me the following story. During his last visit to the hospital, shortly before mom’s passing, he took a close look at her medical charts. Dr. Israel noticed that nine different specialists had been visiting his mother’s hospital bed to attend to nine separate diseased organs or systems, each prescribing a separate medication regimen. He described his shock and dismay at the sheer number of isolated interventions, uncoordinated as far as he knew. He suspected that the massive uncoordinated medication cocktail she was receiving may have hastened his mother’s death.
There was something extremely inhumane in the assembly-line-style health care process Dr. Israel’s mom had undergone at the hospital, though it seemed as if each individual specialist at the assembly line was doing exactly the “right” thing. Dr. Israel, thus, felt through the realization that the same medical paradigm he was devotedly and proudly practicing had failed his mother at a time of need by reducing her to component parts, treating her as a sum of her chemistry, each practitioner isolated in the bubble of his/her expertise. Mom’s treatment looked more like a mismanaged lab experiment than a compassionate and caring effort to tend to a precious living soul. This was deeply disturbing to Dr. Israel. In retrospect, it seems as if his insights were an uncomfortable gaze at some of the fault lines of the Reductionist medical approach.
A PATIENT’S REAL NEEDS
In my early midlife, I sought out the advice of a urologist, Dr. P., due to uncomfortable bladder related symptoms. Over the course of three visits, a variety of urinary statistics were measured and noted. Urine samples were sent to the lab for analysis a couple of times, to be returned with encouraging results. The most fascinating test, though, was the cystoscopy. Dr. P. had reached into my bladder with a probe that was equipped with a micro-camera. As I had received only partial anesthesia, Dr. P. was able to share and discuss the images on the screen before us. He seemed to express genuine pleasure with what he was seeing as nothing looked “grossly out of the ordinary”, certainly not to my untrained eye, with the exception of a red spot “that could have been an infection,” he said.
During my next visit, Dr. P. initiated a conversation that presumed my compliance with more aggressive testing, at which point I balked. “I thought everything was looking good,” I had reminded him. He reasoned that “it is incumbent upon us to explore all avenues” and eliminate any possibility of “foreign cells,” a euphemism for cancer. He proceeded to inquire whether I would elect to have my biopsy at the hospital or at his office, with a nudge towards doing it at his office.
Red flags popped up. My relationship with my doctor began to feel like a visit to the mechanic’s shop for a protocol of maintenance tests. It had all been made worse by the gentle push to accommodate Dr. P.’s convenience and/or profit-making interests. A conversation that I had expected to be about a patient’s real needs and concerns took a wrong turn. Visits with Dr. P. had been typically in-and-out. At best I had spent 15 minutes in conversation with my “caregiver” during any given visit. Something about this dynamic was gnawingly disturbing, but I knew it to be “normal.” Having lost trust in my physician, I decided to leave, even though Dr. P. came highly recommended because of his excellent reputation in the community. I still do not doubt Dr. P.’s personal integrity. As I see it today, he was an innocent actor in a quite normative Reductionist, Materialist, and Isolationist medical paradigm.
While we are experiencing systemic challenges in medicine and elsewhere, there is also good news. A new twenty-first century scientific and cultural paradigm, “Holism,” is currently emerging. The dictionary defines Holism in the following ways:
In the field of PHILOSOPHY:
The theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts. Holism is often applied to mental states, language, and ecology.
In the field of MEDICINE: The treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.
Holism is a scientific perspective that informs theory and research in fields such as ecology, systems theory, information technology, neural networks, quantum computing, microbiome, microvirome, climate, and sea changes in our understanding of human behavior and, yes, the human spirit. The exciting news is that within this emerging perspective, and with a return to first principles, we are more likely to find new and effective solutions to COVID-19 and its variants in the context of the iceberg of crises underneath it and around it.
What happens when a new paradigm like Holism gradually emerges to replace an old paradigm such as Reductionism? Why would something that had worked well for so long need to be replaced? How do we know whether the “new paradigm” is any good? Isn’t it risky? What happens to the old? Is it tossed away, banned, censored? Let’s learn from the past.
In the early 1600s, Galileo Galilei had challenged the old paradigm in the field of astronomy, that of Geocentrism, or the belief that the sun orbits the earth. Galileo proposed a daring new observation: Heliocentrism, or that the earth was in fact orbiting the sun. Galileo was harshly opposed by both the scientific community of his time and by the Catholic Church, which considered his views dangerously heretical. The science of astronomy then and now is fundamental to the craft of navigation and world travel. How then did Galileo’s findings impact navigation and world travel? As we know Galileo’s findings were ultimately accepted, albeit posthumously, and indeed did not destroy navigation nor travel. His insights helped advance navigation, opening up travel to greater possibilities. Galileo’s insights in fact expanded sea navigation capabilities, ultimately enabling current deep space exploration.
An emerging new paradigm by definition solves problems that had remained unsolvable within the old framework. This emerging new paradigm, Holism, does not negate Reductionism, but builds upon it. It teases out the full potential of the old, just like salt teases out the full flavor of food. With a more accurate and higher bird’s-eye-view of scientific reality, new possibilities and proficiencies are enabled, especially at present time in the fields of private and public health. The COVID-19 pandemic may require a reframing and a new set of tools, as the current reductionist lens is failing at explaining and adequately responding to the real problems of contagion, emerging new variants, and effective infection control.
HEALTHIER THAN EVER
A friend had recommended that I see David Kramer, a seasoned Classical Homeopath with a thriving practice out of his home in Upstate New York. Sitting in David’s office, with a wide-open view of his manicured garden and the rolling farmland beyond, I had described my experience with the urologist, my terror about even the slightest probability of having bladder cancer, as well as my honest reluctance to put my fate in the hands of a healer without a post-nominal MD. David smiled and began an educational process that over time had opened my eyes to a new way of viewing health and wellness, a holistic one.
“Your urologist is trained to address your symptoms through a variety of recommendations and interventions. His goal is to relieve you of your bladder symptoms,” David explained. “Sounds good to me” I replied, “Why else would I go to the urologist?” “The contract with me is an entirely different one,” David continued. “In my practice, you will visit me every six weeks on a regular basis and in ten years you will be, head to toe, healthier than you have ever been in your life.” We proceeded to spend the next two hours reviewing my entire health profile, during which David took copious notes of my “symptomatic picture” -- physical, social, emotional, mental, career, relationships, past, present, all of it. The healing plan for Everything, including the bladder, started from there. It felt grounded, real, thorough, connected, and coherent. It had a flavor I had never before experienced in a health care context.
My symptomatic picture revealed that I was a normal, hard-working, though exhausted, man in midlife. Besides bladder irritation, I had considered myself to be fairly vital and healthy. I had been functioning quite well with the help of three psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs. But that was okay because lots of people did. I was an insomniac who could hardly ever sleep through the night. But that was okay, a lot of people were. I was a workaholic attempting a second career, exhausted but proud of my dedication and my willingness to work hard. My asthma wasn’t too bad; it just came up occasionally, but I really couldn’t complain because others I knew had it much worse, including my mother. And finally, my relationship with my significant other was mentally and emotionally challenging on a good day, but I chose it and was committed. Egged on by prevailing cultural influences, I had accepted as just “normal” what holistically would be considered a system under crisis-level stress.
With a good dose of initial skepticism, I had decided to give this holistic system a try. Every six weeks I showed up for my health maintenance checkup, which always lasted for at least a full hour. David continued to take copious notes during each visit as the file kept growing thicker and thicker over time. In a year and a half, I was off all psychiatric performance-enhancing drugs with Dr. M’s, my psychiatrist’s, blessing. She was a grounded practitioner of Reductionist Medicine with a kind heart and an open mind. I was cured when I finally left her practice, and she acknowledged that it wasn’t her prescriptions that cured my “performance lapses.” They weren’t designed for curing anyway.
EATING FOR HEALING
Now, fifteen years later, in my late midlife, I am a testament to a holistic health practitioner’s promise kept. I am healthier than I have ever been. With holistic guidance, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and an actual healthcare plan that continues to be hopeful and proactive, I have been solving old health problems with new tools and vision. I was fortunate to discover a Galileo of sorts, a daring Holism practitioner on the fringes of the healthcare field. The bladder issues were only the tip of my iceberg. Fifteen years ago, I was also fortunate to have mustered the nerve to resist a treatment path that at best would have “reorganized the furniture on the deck of the sinking Titanic.” Instead, I chose to melt the iceberg.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, stated in his “Innovation Hub'' radio interview that one of the easy and quick ways to increase resilience in COVID-19 patients (or anyone in the population, for that matter) is to improve their metabolic health through diet. “People think that if you’re obese, it takes years and years to deal with that and get healthy,” he said. “But many well-controlled trials have shown that if you have poor metabolic health, and you just change what you eat… within four to six weeks, [there are] dramatic improvements in many metabolic parameters.” Food as medicine and eating for healing is a yet-to-be appreciated path to wellbeing, that Western science is just beginning to recognize and quantify. Thus, the degree of our healthy eating habits is likely to be closely correlated to our degree of vulnerability to COVID-19 and its variants. The government’s Department of Agriculture, not the CDC, may be holding the keys to a robust COVID-19 response. Can we think outside the box?
According to Dr. Zach Bush, toxins in the air, water, soil, and ultimately in our food system are, in the aggregate, a critical determinant of our vulnerability to COVID-19 infection. Additionally, the body/spirit considers certain toxic pharmaceutical medications in and of themselves as intruding foreign bodies that need to be resisted. In fact, many pharmaceuticals for common diseases literally act as toxins, providing short term relief while instigating long term vulnerabilities in a variety of the body’s systems. Sometimes those processes are listed in plain view by the manufacturers themselves as “side effects.” Why not simply label those holistically for what they are, “harmful effects?”
Extreme caution and wisdom are required for effective chemical healing interventions, which must be left as a very last resort. From a holistic perspective the smart first response to health crisis, personal or public, usually involves critical nutritional reassessment and lifestyle tweaks. When a car’s engine goes dead, the smart first response is to check the gauge of the gas tank before booking an appointment for an engine replacement, to borrow and industrial revolution analogy.
TRUST YOUR GUT
Gastrointestinal health and its role in immunity is a current emerging field of scientific research that is uncovering the critical significance of the microbial and viral environments, both internally and externally. From a holistic perspective, we are beginning to understand that disease is not necessarily caused by a “malicious” microbe or “nasty” virus. Rather the ecological diversity and health of the microbiome and microvirome, especially that of the gastrointestinal track, are the critical elements that sustain and protect the body/spirit’s health. The richness of the microbiome and microvirome community not the presence of any isolated “pathogen” determines levels of disease or levels of immunity and resilience.
As Dr. Bush sees it, when you view the body/spirit as its own ecology, you find that no one part can be changed without affecting the entire system, for better or for worse. Thus the significance of running profound risk benefit analyses before initiating any artificial interventions in the body/spirit. With the emerging discoveries about the microbiome and microvirome, a whole new strategic path for addressing disease is revealing itself, highlighting the central role of nutritional and lifestyle interventions in health and healing. With new holistic insights about the inner matrix of a healthy body/spirit a superior approach to disease resiliency, both personally and publicly, is becoming evident, gut health central to it. This new medical approach focuses on metabolic health improvements, natural immunity-building, and vitality-enhancing lifestyle adjustments in order to save lives, and ensure lasting quality of life.
RETURNING TO HEALTHY LIVING
According to the emerging holistic sciences, returning to first principles of healthy living is not overly complicated, but it does require the courage to think outside of the box. A fresh look at COVID-19 response options, for example, would include a creative embrace of:
1. A humble respect for Mother Nature. Harmony with nature’s patterns and rhythms sustains our health and wellness. Our immunity and wellness thus depend on a balanced climate, and on food, air, water that are naturally sourced and toxin free. Without a well-functioning ecology, both around us and within us, our current attempts to control COVID-19 and its variants are woefully insufficient, if not literally dead on arrival. Thus far COVID 19 interventions, while successful in reducing symptom severity for a time, are yet far from meeting originally stated expectations. Perhaps it is so because interventions haven’t been addressing COVID’s root cause in the degraded natural environment we now inhabit? Studies have shown, for example, that the proliferation of zoonotic diseases (passed from animals to humans), COVID 19 likely among them, are caused by modern agricultural practices. Pandemic level healing will improve when we design solutions that are grounded in an understanding of the fragility and complexity of the natural world, not only the pathogen world.
2. A firm scientific and philosophical grasp of the ecological web that interlinks all organisms within the body and all around it. According to general systems theory, all is dynamically interconnected, including microbes and viruses, affecting our health and wellbeing at all times. Developing practical strategies for living in harmony with(in) a viral-rich environment, enhancing immunity instead of attempting to eradicate or suppress pathogens, may simply yield more bang for our private and public-health buck.
By neglecting sound ecological stewardship we have created our own self inflicted vulnerabilities to Western disease causing in turn hyper vulnerability to COVID 19 and its variants. Can we assume the viruses’ innocence for a moment and refocus where we truly have control, our own individual and collective actions? Who is our own worst enemy, systemically speaking? Let’s be real. An ecological approach enables us to accept the purposeful functionality of The Virus, and learn how to cooperate and collaborate with it, instead of only waging war against it. The ecological approach is proving itself useful in regenerative agriculture, in sustainable energy production, and in bio-mimicry technologies. Why not apply the same wisdom to pandemic management as well?
3. A subjective knowledge of each his/her own particular body/spirit dynamics. Practically nurturing her nurtures us, truly boosting her will boost us. Engaging in daily physical, energetic, and contemplative practices, promoting personal hygiene in all dimensions - physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual - secures true immunity. How can this insight translate into public policy and a national (and international) educational campaign theme? Can we create an anti-smoking-style, or a dental-hygiene-style campaign to promote effective holistic health awareness to manage this pandemic as well as prevent the next one?
4. Individual and collective trust in the innate capacity to self-heal most disease and injury. Outside interventions merely assist the body/spirit’s natural healing capacity, they do not cause healing. Holistically, a doctor does not heal but rather serves as a “doula” for the individual’s innate healing impulse. Medical clinicians and healers know this truth just too well. At times outside interventions, including chemical ones, assist with the natural healing process. Conversely, they can harm or kill the patient.
Chemical interventions, especially on a large scale need to be exercised with extreme caution as an option of last resort. We need to take seriously the data that proves long-term harm caused by frivolous chemical inputs into our bodies. We need to apply the same extreme caution when introducing toxic substances into our life supporting systems, such as agriculture, body care, home care, drinking water, and air. Moreover, the problems caused by overmedication of human patients is well known. Secondary overmedication through the routine medical treatments of animals grown for food are well documented as well. Prevailing reductionist technologies, and medical practices have been weakening our immunity for decades according to numerous studies. The most sustainable healing interventions both individually and publicly are those that wisely respect and enhance our natural capacity to heal.
Not enough is known about how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic in spite of a century long history of reductionist medical successes, including past vaccination campaigns. We have been caught by surprise by a new magnitude of health crisis. The pandemic apparently is revealing critical fault lines in the reductionist sciences that have been shaping our lifestyles. The pandemic is revealing profound systemic and slow-moving crises such as the obesity pandemic, a toxin-saturated agricultural system, climate and environmental degradation, to mention just a few.
A quote attributed to Albert Einstein goes as follows: "The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation." A new scientific paradigm, Holism, that acknowledges reality’s interconnectedness, especially the interconnectedness of health factors as well as disease factors, is the new language that will articulate solutions to the crises underlying COVID-19 and its variants. The pandemic is forcing us to reassess how we manage human life on the planet. You may be familiar with the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” A new breed of resolute medical and public health visionaries and practitioners have been rising to this occasion. Let’s embrace and join these leaders, as we too each do our part to collectively assure a healthy future for our children and grandchildren.
Continue reading in Part 3
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Rabbi Reuben Modek