What do immunity and healing really mean?
I’ve recently had a surprisingly powerful experience of treatment to heal the pain in my knees, hips and lower back by addressing the subluxations in my feet. This required a series of regular adjustments over some months, exercises and awareness of a new way of walking. It’s an example of moving beyond the pain or ill health of an underlying problem in a way which has always appealed to me. Seeking the deepest level of causation and taking responsibility for addressing it is a notion I connect with.
Our habits of simple cause and effect analysis, and our ideas that ‘deactivation’ and ‘suppression’ are the only pathways may need to be questioned. The cancel culture thrives not just on social media but also in our approach to pests, illness and disease, and yes, that virus. Of course we are facing a threat but maybe it’s just one of many which also deserve attention. And maybe they’re inter-related. I wonder what happens when we choose a single pathway ‘out’, which consists of medical and public health approaches which may have future outcomes we don’t anticipate.
I also wonder what can help us to take a step back – how can we examine the causal and fundamental factors influencing any state of ill health or disease to see how to address challenges at their root causes as well as in their acute manifestation?
For example, why did the pandemic appear and then flourish in the places where it first manifested? What are the environmental and contextual factors that are present in those places? What are they asking for from us? How can we respond helpfully for human health without getting trapped into responses that may have a range of harmful effects?
Curiosity and deep questioning is what is needed in just about any crisis: personal, organisational, national or global. Take a step back, try to see and sense what is happening from the periphery rather than from within an individual, systemic or other framework. Move beyond the frame. Otherwise we risk making decisions with impacts we haven’t chosen.
In economics, the concept of negative externalities describes those things which emerge as collateral damage to an innovation. In our quick-fix approach to stamping out problems, we can end up with a lot of stamped ground yet not much clear space to see what is going on. There are undesirable outcomes in many approaches to large-scale problems which may require a more nuanced approach based on contextual investigation.
We have, for example, spent the last few decades attempting to destroy weeds with glyphosate and other pesticides only to recognise their devastating impact on health and sustainability at many levels. Our bodies, oceans, forests and the soil itself are affected in unhealthy and destructive ways. These innovations have failed in their impossible promises of ongoing increases in human and farm prosperity. Yet with the assistance of multinational chemical companies we have doubled down and added genetically modified crops to further deepen the vicious cycle.
Some of us have begun to realise that we need to make change and introduced regenerative approaches to agriculture such as biodynamic and organic agriculture, holistic grazing, and contour farming. International activists like Vandana Shiva continually identify the changes needed especially in developing nations. In Australia a burgeoning regenerative agriculture movement led by farmers like Charles Massy whose brilliant book ‘Call of the reed warbler’ outlines the damage our farms and farmers have suffered and the enormous potential of simpler, wiser ways in tune with a new kind of holistic consciousness unafraid of moving beyond simplistic cause and effect cycles, aware of relationships with the realms of soil, plant, animal and human life.
In the last couple of years, we have tried with increasing desperation to combat a virus and now find that one of the impacts of our scrupulous attention to hygiene and avoidance of bugs, contamination, and even each other, is that we risk immunity debt. That is, we may avoid the particular virus we perceive as threatening and also fail to develop immunity to other viruses that our bodies may need to experience.
When I asked a friend who is a nurse with a broad understanding of health and medicine about immunity, she emphasised the need to look at the topic more broadly rather than just narrowcasting to defeat one particular disease. We need to be able to meet whatever the world delivers to us as a potential element in our healing journey. For example, my friend stressed the importance of fevers to allow us to ‘burn through’ an illness and emerge strengthened by the experience.
In our singlemindedness, we may also ignore another source of ill health and even mortality which is already impacting beyond that of the coronavirus if these statistics are any indication. The impacts of climate change may have huge effects on human life in ways that we already feel and experience as we can see in the floods in central Europe and the record heat in North America.
On the day I checked the statistics on coronavirus mortality (over the entire pandemic), the deaths from extreme temperatures (over a year) outpaced them by at least a million. Whilst we take enormous steps to address the virus and spend billions to support people affected, money which cannot always address the impacts on income, mental health and livelihood as a result of lockdowns and other measures, we neglect the huge impacts awaiting us from our failure to recognise the ways in which we are heating and poisoning our only home, our shared home.
I have been fascinated by the suggestions of Zach Bush a US physician who left academia and went ‘rogue’ beyond the paradigm of current allopathic medicine. With a background in endocrinology, cancer research and palliative care, he has used his experience and capacity to interpret research to synthesise an understanding of the potential causal factors, the possible mistakes in treatment, and the danger of condemning viruses in our current situation. He takes a conspiracy theory-free approach which is beyond my capacity to present in the kind of detail he outlines. Yes, some of his insights and suggestions may be highly controversial but his notion that viruses serve a purpose and have always served a purpose is one to consider in our ‘stamp it out’ culture.
As Bush describes it, we are stuck in an outdated paradigm which fails to appreciate what he describes as the ‘virome’: the viruses and bacteria that surround us which contribute to our development and overall wellbeing as well as leading us into states of disease. Our anachronistic approaches may be well-intentioned yet not the ones that we need at this stage of our existence. He argues for a shift to a much more curious approach, a perspective that is willing to consider all the factors that are involved in the manifestation of illness. Rather than narrowing our perspective to ‘weeds bad/pesticide good’ or ‘virus bad/vaccine good’, we can begin to explore the dimensions of what it will take to provide maximal immunity in a complex system, whether that is human, systemic, national, or earthly. Rather than defeating a particular ‘enemy’ we may be called upon to strengthen our entire system to enable resilience against multiple ills.
In a situation like the one we face currently, it is up to each of us to investigate our own path through the maze of propaganda and fearmongering to glean what resonates to us as truth. We can then choose the action that feels right in our own context and situation. Meditation, contemplation, willingness to face what is unknown, and curiosity may serve us better than judgment, certainty and silver bullets.
Quiet, deep research is the only way we can move towards the wisest approach to intervention. In this kind of approach, of course we must choose an emergency response when a crisis calls for immediate response. Yet a crisis is also a call to explore the deepest causal and contextual factors. It’s a call to understand healing and immunity through as broad and deep a perspective as possible. We can decide against reactivity and eradication as our only approach and seek to understand what a situation is trying to tell us. Our capacity to do that is our great gift to the earth as humans – our uniquely attentive consciousness which can listen carefully, reflect deeply and act wisely.
Can I picture immunity
as something other than a battle
where I range my ragged body
against a hated enemy?
Millions of tiny forms of quasi-life
make a human being.
You range around my body
in a longing to evolve
as a part of who I am.
Active in almost every part of me,
you let me digest and grow and change.
Tiny portions of the universe
you help me and you hinder me
in a symbiosis I’m too big to see
as I breathe you in
and pick you up
you make your way through me.
Caught by something foreign
that my body does not know –
maybe I will burn you off through fever
and move towards resilience
or some day in the future
will your way be the one to let me leave?
Meanwhile all around the big table
epidemiologists and virologists,
the varied health administrators
newly crowned as heroes
they peer at you
through their particular prisms.
They dream up ways to overwhelm you
or render you inactive
while they forget to ask you why you came.