Why is a new approach to health and medicine necessary? Lack of a coherent paradigm for Western herbal, conventional and alternative medicine results in reductionism, lost in the sea of specialization, treating only symptoms, neglecting broader aspects of health.
Healthcare professionals, scientists and patients are aware of the shortcomings of conventional medicine and frustrated with an increasingly fractured, impersonal, and expensive healthcare system.
A practitioner focused on the mind (a psychologist) is blind to the body, while a practitioner focused on the body (a doctor) is blind to the mind.
However, the root causes of disease are generally lodged within multiple aspects of a person’s being (body, mind, soul and spirit), and his life context. Treating only the symptoms rarely results in long-term resolution, especially with chronic conditions. Socioeconomic and environmental conditions, as well as the modern lifestyle, impact a client’s physiology in measurable ways that are associated with subjective experiences of anxiety, fear, loneliness, and depression. These conditions include toxins, unhealthy eating patterns, lack of activity, nature deficiency, chronic stress, family situations, racism, consumerist society, breakdown of community, etc.
There is a need for specialization as the universe becomes increasingly complex. However, a more complete picture requires an understanding of the structures/parts of individual functions, the dynamics of their processes, the network of interactions within and between various levels of scale, and the emergent phenomena.
Many practitioners are finding that integrative approaches usually work best. Herbs, nutrition and lifestyle modifications often prevent the need for pharmaceuticals, whereas concurrent usage often results in synergistic effects; decreasing dosage, improving outcome and reducing side-effects Conventional medicine has enormously advanced the field of medicine. However, the rise of the diseases of western civilization are testimony to limitations that must be surmounted.
A framework based on biological evolutionary theory still falls short of an integral medical paradigm. The goal is to to incorporate many aspects of human health revealed by AQAL meta-theory. A strictly biologically-based evolutionary theory neglects interior aspects of the individual (thoughts and emotions), as well as her cultural, socioeconomic and ecological environment. Other important methodologies (such as allostasis or Eastern philosophy) and modalities (such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, etc.) are needed to create a fuller picture.
We can evaluate all of the patient’s bodily systems (circulatory, digestive, etc.), furthermore, we can discuss medical and family history, emotional states, stress level and management, relationships, social support, work, hobbies, living environment, life events, nutrition, and exercise. All these aspects are necessary to an integral understanding of health.
A Western herbalist may have studied physiology, evolutionary medicine, and traditional schools of herbal medicine (both Chinese and Western), but may not know how those fields and skills relate. Cross-correlating and synthesizing Western and Eastern medical systems are valuable contributions toward developing an integral meta-paradigm. . A meta-framework is required for practitioners to support clients, to evaluate and integrate the diverse approaches to health and healing in a coherent fashion, and to facilitate dialogue between modalities of healing. IT (IMP, Zones, and AQAL) provide tools for developing this framework. Fleshing out an AQAL Medicine requires understanding theories and modalities that “bridge” the 5-elements and put theory into practice. These include theories such as allostasis, (eco) psychoneuroendoimmunology, and Eastern paradigms, and modalities such as HeartMath, functional and herbal medicines. An integral understanding of these theories and modalities (their strengths and weaknesses) enables integrally informed practitioners to support and catalyse healing and transformation. An integral map will allow a practitioner to spot the aspects of an individual’s life that will provide the most effective leverage for healing and change, and to coordinate interventions and modalities in a synergistic and efficient manner.
My goal is not to specialize in every field, but to learn how to coordinate knowledge systems into a whole that provides us with an integral understanding of health. My approach will involve a cyclical feedback system with three basic phases:
- The big picture – drawing the large-scale map. Systemic literature review and development of a basic meta-framework for health and healing.
- Using the map to explore the territory. Seeing how well it fits. Application and testing of the meta-framework and of its basic premises “in the field.”
- Adding more detail — developing smaller-scale maps followed by revaluation, correction and elaboration of the large-scale map in light of the results.
There is a first and final, fundamental awareness that must be maintained. In a sense this is the territory within which the three phases operate. It is remembering that the map is not the territory. It is an awareness of our conditioned perspectives and a willingness to discard the maps and sit in phenomenological, experiential and embodied space. It is openness to pure experience and the maintenance of a stance responsive to criticism, course corrections, and alternative perspectives. Finally it is
the ability to sit with a client, to listen to her story and be simply present.
Owen Okie – MSc. Herbal Medicine, PhD candidate and Heartmath Coach.
Herbal medicine bound together my varied interests by a common thread. Yet the unifying values and framework was invisible until I discovered Integral and the exigency of individual transformation to heal our world. Since then, I’ve been exploring the application of IT as a health practitioner, as well as a founder of EarthMind Fellowship — a social enterprise for nature-based therapeutic exploration. I live in Scotland with my family, where we are creating a retreat for Integral Healing.