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The Sustainable Herbalist; The Sustainable Life

Currently, we are seeing herbal medicine reaching out to many people in our society. There are increased numbers of herbal students, practitioners, and schools engaged in learning and promoting the use of herbal medicine. All this appears to reflect a booming state of herbal medicine, but if we really respect our tradition as a living organism it becomes evident that the original vitality of the system is expiring. The deeper layers if its pulse is becoming weak.

The folkloric texture of herbal medicine is being expunged from the memory and in its stead is an allopathic model and its various offshoots. If we do not pay heed to the signs which are showing we may become thoroughly entrapped in the spiritless mechanistic view of herbs and will be forced to concede to the standardized, packaged approach to learning, applying and relating to herbal healing. If this type of entrapment continues then we will find ourselves under the control of state agencies, insurance companies and corporate made standardized products.

Due to the market driven priorities we are seeing more advertisements expounding the virtues of an herb, pigeon holing it into a fixed category and removing it from its deeper roots and meaning. The information promoted by the corporate interests on herbs is being given to us in fragmented form - chemically as well as therapeutically. This is being done to promote the idea of herbs being a profitable commodity. Remember, little money can be made when we address diet and lifestyle as probable causes for an ailment.

It is our contention that for herbalism to survive such an onslaught of abuse by corporate interests, we have to acknowledge and live a reality that integrates Heaven and Earth, a vertical reality that has its roots in the earth and inspiration in heaven. The herbs, food, our shelter, our relations and those things visible and invisible which help sustain life as part of a continuing circle must be seen as an integrated whole - each aspect engendering and supporting one another in an ongoing dance.

Seeing the whole of life as in integrated web is a neglected aspect in our current modern paradigm. We have noticed also that many herbal colleagues are becoming apologists and feeling that they must eliminate from certifying exams any reference to plants spirits, ceremony and meditations with plants because it will not be seen as valid by the current medical/ legislative model.

Another example is our tendency to categorize and break down our knowledge of herbs into minute chemical constituents, which is in fact a particularly Western mind thing to do. Yet this type of thinking is what the Buddhist term avidya; ignorance or "basic unconsciousness" as a result of which it appears that the universe is a collection of separate things and events, divided into measurements, classes and parts. A Buddha or "awakened one" is precisely the person who has overcome this unconsciousness and is no more mesmerized by the vision of separateness. In other words, one may see parts of nature and one may even learn the chemical constituents of plants but one is not to ignore its relation to the Whole.

If we look to ancient Greek medicine we can see how healing was approached by some of the great philosophers and healers of that time. In one of Plato's dialogues a young man named Charmides complains about a headache. He would like a certain drug; but Socrates explains to him at length that this simple treatment is not adequate. " To treat the head by itself, apart from the body as a whole," he says, " is utter folly." A Thracian physician had once described the ideal approach to him.

You ought not to attempt to cure eyes
Without head,
Or head without body,
So you should not treat body
Without soul.

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Wisdom from the Ages

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