It's Really Quite Simple: We Are the Medicine


Emergent, Relational Medicine: A Preamble

Humans are profoundly social creatures. For 99% of human existence on Earth (and still in some cases today), we lived in relatively small, tight-knit, intimate tribes and villages in which everyone was known, supported, loved and had an important role in contributing to the coherence, safety, and viability of the group that in turn supported every individual because it was known that the health and safety of the group was dependent on that of the individuals, and vice versa, in a mutually-constituting holistic, collective emergence (i.e., this is autopoietic theory in a nutshell). With the rise of civilization, industrialization, neoliberalism and now the rapid spread of hyper-fast, disembodied digital and virtual communications technologies, society has become profoundly fragmented.

Health and wellbeing cannot coexist with fragmentation. By definition -- both etymologically and scientifically -- health = wholeness ("health" derives from the Old English hælþ, meaning "wholeness; being whole, sound or well). But this wholeness cannot be isolated to individual organisms -- that would be, rather ironically, an un-whole situation! Wholeness, as I am using it here, refers to and is infused with the extensive and complex understanding of living systems as enumerated by the autopoietic theory of life-mind-cognition. Wholeness obtains on multiple, intersecting physical-spatial layers (and across time, but here I won't get into the complexity of the non-linear, diachronic development of living systems and evolution). A cell is an autopoietic unity, but so can be tissues, organs, organ systems, the whole body, a partnership, a family, a group, a society, a species, and, yes, the entire planet! (And the entire cosmos! As John Dewey, the pioneering neuropragmatist and one of the first scholars to develop a process-ontological autopoietic theory of life-mind-cognition-communication, says: the entire universe is "a unity of interrelated organic unity, not a mere self-identical oneness...a unity of activity, a dynamic process." (Leibniz's New Essays Concerning Human Understanding, p. 415)

As Martín Prechtel writes in The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants,

The world, earth, body, and universe are concentric versions of each other, held in tangible layers one inside the next by the net of time like infinite nestings of matryoshka dolls."

Science has shown for decades -- and indigenous wisdom has known forever -- that the entire Earth is one autopoietically-unified planetary ecosystem: an organism ("Gaia"). It is only in this weird, mechanical modern age that some humans have grown accustomed to thinking primarily or exclusively in terms of supposedly isolated, independent individuals. From this perspective, health and medicine have focused primarily on the physical workings of the body, where the body has been understood mechanically -- and the mind as a computer. Both metaphors (and make no mistake, these are metaphors on which hundreds of years of supposedly -- but not actually -- "objective" and "impartial" science and medicine have been based; as the evolutionary biologist, mathematician, and geneticist Richard Lewontin, Ph.D., says, "It is not possible to do the work of science without using a language that is filled with metaphors.") are woefully inadequate for understanding the diachronically-ontologically emergent trans-spatial quantum analog story-makers that humans are. Yeah, I'm guessing you never read that definition of a biological organism in your biology textbooks! :)

The Simple Lesson of an Infinitely Complex Science of Health: Connection is the Medicine

So, let's make this very simple. Health is a functionally-integrated wholeness. But this includes both internal processes and systems and external/relational processes and systems. As humans, we cannot manifest optimal health in isolation. Neurophysiologically, the wounding that is "trauma" is a prevention of our natural, adaptive ability to regulate and re-integrate following the shift into a defensive or survival response. Due to the massive, non-linear, quantum complexity of our cognitive systems, it can be very difficult to allow this spontaneous/emergent regulation by ourselves. As social creatures, being in the presence of an unconditionally supportive, patient, kind and compassionate other is one of the most effective ways to feel safe -- this is called co-regulation. Feeling safe is essential for allowing our nervous systems to complete their natural cycles of defensive/survival responses, which is essential for health and wellbeing.

So, by compassionately being with one another and affirming their experience as inherently valid for what it is -- not trying to "fix" or "help" or give "advice" to someone who is experiencing the distress and/or lethargy/emotional flatness characteristic of neurophysiological dysregulation (i.e. "anxiety" or "depression") -- we can help one another to feel safe enough to spontaneously release the stored sympathetic-stress response energy built-up during a fight/flight response, which disrupts the unified functioning of all our systems and processes, which is necessary for -- and definitional of -- health.

Trauma -- being made to feel unsafe and then getting stuck in that feeling of danger/threat, due to our natural, adaptive responses being repressed or even forcefully curtailed -- disconnects us from ourselves and from one another and the many living worlds around us. Health is returning to wholeness. When we feel safe within ourselves -- which is helped immensely by being with people who make us feel safe with them -- we can connect relationally. Thus, we heal on multiple levels: as unique, individual components of a larger social organism, and as relational components within those social organisms. As social-autopoietic creatures, our being is not limited to or contained exclusively within the physical parameters of our bodies: what we are incorporates our individual corporeality and the trans-spatial, transpersonal energetic entanglements that constitute relational phenomena.

When we come together in shared compassion, mutual support, and affirmation, thereby enabling the co-regulation essential for individual and collective health, we become relational medicine for ourselves and one another.

Ultimately, health is wholeness, which entails connectedness and uninterrupted relational dynamics. We are all interdependent processes, relations, events, occurrences, happenings, activities, and stories being mixed and expanding in, through, and as our dynamic relating to the countless other stories doing the same all around, through, and with us. When we move, breathe, speak, and feel harmoniously, within ourselves and in relationships with all those other forms of life swirling around us, we contribute to the tuning of the entire planetary organism, the Somatic Symphony that is Earth.


"Each human is a complex, contradictory story. Some stories within us have been unfolding for years, others are trembling with fresh life as they peek above the horizon. Each is a zigzag of emotional design and ancestral architecture. All the stories in the earth's mind are connected." U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings


"Earth is a solar-powered jukebox."
Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton


"Following that experience, I could see that there was a destiny and purpose unfolding around me, and that my life experience was simply a microcosmic view of a larger unfolding that was taking place in the universe. I was also able to see my own involvement in determining the path that my life would take. Somehow, knowing that it was my choice to be here, and that I was a willing participant rather than a hapless victim empowered me to more actively participate in my life. It allowed me to enter more deeply into harmony with the larger unfolding process. In the end, I was able to see that my individual creation song was only one note in a larger composition, and that my task was to harmonize my song with the larger symphony of life and help facilitate its progression. This realization and alignment was my first act of conscious co-creation. When we align our own process to the unfolding actualization of the universe, we consciously participate in shaping the new reality that is manifesting before us. To engage this process clearly, we must learn to look beyond the obstructions that have clouded our vision. This begins with looking deeply into the illusions that we have labeled as 'truth,' which have kept us separated from our higher mind and from one another. This requires us to end our reliance on outside sources that promote division and seek the internal source that leads to unity. This inner source is the teacher we have all been seeking."

 Sherri Mitchell, from Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change