By Bill Benda, MD
Photo by Rennett Stowe, via flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
This article is reprinted with permission from the peer-reviewed journal Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (www.imjournal.com), vol 7 issue 1, pp 64. Copyright 2008, InnoVision Health Media (www.innovisionhm.com).
My world burned on June 24th of this year. I witnessed its genesis on a beautiful Big Sur summer day, clear and warm, the Pacific luminescent in the afternoon sun. And then, from the north, 3 small, innocent, tumbling clouds, passing overhead barely noticed, until . . .
Boom. Five rapid lightning strikes: 4 over the ocean and 1 touching down half a mile south of my ridge. Ten minutes later, a puff of smoke. After 24 hours, 4 neighboring houses burned to the ground and I began what became a 7-week exodus from my home and bed. More than 200 000 pristine acres and 30 structures destroyed within a month, and nothing we humans, even with our sophisticated airborne fire-fighting technology, could do to stop the advancing flames.
And then, once we were finally allowed to return to our blackened homes, something quite strange and beautiful occurred. The smoke cleared, the ash settled, and the earth, instead of gasping in pain, began to breathe as it hadn’t in a hundred years. The sky acquired a blue not before seen by those now alive, and the coyote pups and fox cubs I feared had perished reappeared, thrilled with the epicurean fare now exposed on the barren earth. The land loved having been burned. It turns out only we humans had suffered from what was, in fact, the ecological equivalent of a good housecleaning. As the only species allowed access to the process of combustion, we were, ironically, the ones who suffered most from its ill temper. It turns out we have become so adept at fire suppression that we have interfered with Nature’s perfect means of clearing away the debris of her own life cycles. It took but 1 lightning strike to dissipate both our sense of security and our delusion of eminent domain.
Which brings us (at last!) to the topic of healthcare. Our media is laden with stories of epidemic obesity and hypertension and diabetes. But obesity, hypertension, and diabetes do not kill. Stroke and myocardial infarctions kill. And ketoacidosis. And sepsis. We, in our exuberance to suppress the unpleasant symptoms of chronic illness, have, with our pharmaceuticals and surgeries, allowed our own toxic accumulation of unhealthy protoplasm—cells and organ systems unable to breathe, to cleanse, to heal. The patient need not really pay attention to nutrition and exercise if a little blue pill can make the pain go away.
But when the lightning strike of a clot hits us or a bit of inflammation starts a forest fire, the results are catastrophic rather than merely inconvenient. We suffer a stroke rather than a little more senility. A cellulitis becomes sepsis.
Life’s disasters have a way of teaching us lessons that we, in our mortal arrogance, tend to ignore until painful remediation engulfs us. Some tutorials are of extraordinary value, such as the rediscovery of compassion that had been nescient until a friend faces heartbreak. Others are more poignant than tragic, as in the revelation that one really does not need and does not miss all that stuff in the drawers and closets.
But above all, through catastrophe we learn that we are not in control, no matter how powerful our war machines or how small our computer chips. Nature trumps all, and when she wishes to correct the insanity of our plans for her planet, we are helpless to stop or even slow her down. “It’s Nature’s way,” goes the old ’60s Spirit tune, “of telling you something’s wrong.”
Perhaps it is time to surrender back to Nature her thrones of omniscience and omnipotence. During some points in our lives, we must become ill. We must age. We must die. Our task as practitioners is not to suppress the symptoms of blocked arteries and failing memories but to clear the toxic load of adipose tissue and calcium deposits and free radicals that will feed the flames of an acute medical event. Most of all, it is time to come to the understanding and acceptance that we are not in control, and that, in fact, we would not benefit by being in control. Nature has given us the most advanced healing technology on the planet, one that has been perfected over tens of millions of years and needs only our respect and attention to function at top performance—our own personal human body.
It is time to stop interfering with the natural processes that possess their own timetable of living and of dying; rather, we should focus on lending support to a cycle we may not fully understand and may never fully accept. This life is not our life. It is but a beautiful, perfect cell in the organism that is our natural world, a place not ours to control but only inhabit. And when we do return to ash, we will assist the earth in breathing deeply, once again.
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