The miracle in your own self. Thoughts on natural and cultural medicine - Part 1

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Imagine there is a blackout in a big city for several days. The first day would for surely cause trouble. Since everything is interdependent, we will soon have no water; transportation will be shut down; computers and phones won’t work. This means that we will quickly come to a point where we do not have the technical means of modern medicine available or only to a very limited extent. Medication will be in short supply; inpatient procedures will be no longer possible. In such a situation, physicians would quickly become – nolens volens – barefooted physicians [1] in order to help people in need.

Physicians would practice without any auxiliary means. Four options for healing would possibly remain:

  1. A basic attitude: be available, don't leave the sick alone.
  2. The healing power of nature: use nature's means.
  3. The healing power of culture: use the power of our mind and consciousness.
  4. The miracle in our own self: strengthening the sick person in his self-efficacy and activating the power of self-healing.

The basic attitude: be available, don't leave the sick unattended

Reflecting back on the time when communities had no command of a developed art of healing, the needed and crucial presence in combination with a more restrained but observant attitude towards therapeutic interventions might represent the historical starting point of medicine. For doctors in the time of antiquitiy, the first priority was not to harm; the second was to be careful; and the third was to heal. This rule of three was followed in this exact order.

In this context, a genuine question arises: what does the word healing really mean when the art of healing based on scientific and technical understanding of medicine is not possible or only to a very limited extent?

The philosopher Ivan Illich has described the original grasp of healing simply and accurately.

In most cases, Healing is a traditional way of caring for and comforting people while they are recovering. [2]

Such an understanding of healing prompts doctors to assume an attitude of humility and understanding of their role in encouraging and creating a framework in which healing can take place. Healing, in this regard, is in fact self-healing. It is an inner process of self-control that might require external stimulus. That is why Alfred Goldscheider, a classic researcher of medical history of the 19th century and founder of modern neurology, says, “Healing is always gaining influence on the powers that form the substance, the physical material.“ [3] 

But what are the forces that form the substance? It probably means the forces of nature itself as well as information from the cultural context. The word information derives from the latin word informare which can be translated as "giving shape". Information can, therefore, be seen as the forces that form substance (matter).

In cybernetics, the term “information” is needed as a third dimension besides matter and energy for the understanding of the living as Norbert Wiener pointed out. [4]

Information can actually be everything, even the nothing, because an omission or a gap in communication, too, can in a certain context gain meaning. For example, if the doctor remains silent during an examination (e.g. a sonography) for more than a few seconds, the anxious patient might interpret his silence as an indication of something more serious or negative. Changes in voice or eye contact also create meaning. Everything can be meaningful at any given time, even if it is not explicitly expressed. In medical practice it is well known that you can help and support someone by just giving information or by omitting it. The way in which information is handled can promote the healing process or harm the well-being of the patient or even cause death.

The logic of modern conventional medical science is a logic of feasibility. According to the philosopher Christoph Quarch, [5] it acts with the claim to perform better than nature, or to fix the faults of nature, Modern medical science repairs, develops spare parts and removes what causes trouble.

By comparison, the so called “barefoot medicine” or the ancient art of healing embraces in its essence the concept of “restoring balance”. It targets the restoration of the natural balance of life through healing stimuli (information). Healers try to restore balance by encouraging patients to bring order back into their lives. In this way they support self-regulation, stimulate self-healing and thus contribute to balance and harmonization. This is possible through awareness and information, above all, without reliance on complex instrumentation.

The healing power of nature: using nature's resources

Erwin Liek [6] pointed out that even in the animal kingdom there are attempts to practice the art of healing. Animals lick their wounds, fast and rest and even eat certain plants to regain balance.

In addition to the basic approach just described, in a case of emergency, “barefoot doctors” can use the healing powers that nature grants us. Its possibilities have been well known since ancient medical times and are actually always accessible. In this regard, ancient medicine had developed dietetics, i.e. a holistic art of living both for maintaining health and for the purposes of healing diseases. Already in the "Corpus Hippocratic" of old Greece there are references to healing stimuli, whose goal was to restore balance and harmony. This can be achieved by the following natural means:

• Light and air

• Food and drink

• Work and rest

• Sleep and being awake

• Excretions and secretions


In the history of medical science, a large number of corresponding healing methods were developed very early. In modern naturopathy, they are denoted as “order therapy” or as “regulatory medicine”. They cover the entire lifestyle and range from the physical therapy to psycho hygiene. In this context, Vinzenz Prießnitz, one of the founders of modern naturopathy, has expressed the essence of naturopathy in the following statement: “Salvation is not in the recipe. It is in the sum of daily lifestyle.” [7] Sebastian Kneipp even went one step further. The "order in life" wasn't enough for him, when matters were about healing. He expresses his experience excellently in the following:

Only when I tried to put my patients' souls in order, I fully succeeded. [8]

The important fundamentals of holistic medical sciences and available to the “barefoot doctor” are the treatments using the rich resources of nature in addition to communication, language and last but not least spiritual guidance.


To be continued in part 2

[1] In Wikipedia we find the hint that the term “barefoot doctor” originates from the time of the Chinese Cultural revolution when people in rural areas were educated in traditional Chinese medicine due to the lack of educated physicians. They moved barefoot from village to village.

[2] Ivan Illich: Die Nemesis der Medizin. Die Kritik der Medikalisierung des Lebens (The nemesis of medicine. The critique of the medicalization of life). Munich 1995: C.H. Beck.

[3] Quoted from Erwin Liek, Das Wunder in der Heilkunde (The Miracle in Medicine). Munich 1930.

[4] Norbert Wiener: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Cambridge. MIT Press 1961.

[5] Christoph Quarch: Gesund ist, wenn die Seele stimmt. Heilung als die Kunst, den Leib in gute Stimmung zu versetzen (Healthy is when the soul is right. Healing as the art of putting the body in a good mood). Unpublished manuscript (2012).

[6] Erwin Like: Das Wunder in der Heilkunde (The Miracle in Medicine), Munich 1930, 192, p. 56.

[7] Online: https://www.naturheilbund.de/der-dnb/125-jahre-deutscher-naturheilbund-e-v/.

[8] Online: https://kneipp-verein-spiesen.de/kneipp-philosophie/.

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