In thinking through the dilemmas we face in staying slim and healthy, one overriding problem trumps them all: the absence of traditional health wisdom in our country. If we had traditional wisdom, would we believe that taking Lipitor was an answer to our heart ailment? If we had traditional wisdom, would America be reaching for the can of SlimFast, believing it to be the solution to obesity? Would we believe that getting our gallbladder removed was the answer to our late-night gallstone attack? The list is long.
Of course, we did have threads of traditional wisdom at one time, but they have been eradicated by science. Every week the latest medical journals eradicate everything that preceded them. Very few Americans know, for example, that homeopathy was a dominant medicine in our country for much of the 19th century. We are a nation without a medical history, and worse, without a traditional cultural wisdom on how to stay healthy. Now we are paying the multi-billion dollar price tag for it.
Although there may be a place for continual scientific revolution in the realm of electronics, it is doubtful if we are so well served in the realm of our health. The irony is that if our exorbitant health care spending were suddenly slashed to nothing, after recovering from the shock, we would quickly work our way to being a much healthier country. We would find out that most of what we spent on pharmaceutical drugs, surgeries, and other technology, in the end was not only unnecessary, but counter-productive.
The ancient traditions of China and India went into great detail on how to stay healthy. Not only health, but happiness was the direct result of following the wisdom laid down by the ancients. In India, the ancient Vedic scriptures defined “right living,” teaching you exactly what to do to stay healthy. In China arose the great Taoist tradition, which emphasized being in tune with natural forces. Although there have been refinements to this wisdom, very little has changed, and even today people still use it to live long and avoid medications and doctors.
The idea of “balance” or “staying in tune with nature” is central to most ancient cultural wisdom. Listen to the attitude expressed in this excerpt from The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, written in China 4600 years ago:
I have heard that in ancient times the people lived to be over a hundred years, and yet they remained active and did not become decrepit in their activities. But nowadays people reach only half of that age and yet become decrepit and failing. Is it because the world changes from generation to generation? Or is it because humankind is becoming negligent (of the laws of nature)?
Every morning, I wake up, do my qigong (an ancient Chinese breathing exercise), marvel at it, and wonder, with what do we fill the void? How do we develop an intrinsic knowledge in our country about how to stay in balance? Although I love the ancient Vedic system in India, I do not think it will ever take root in the US. Acupuncture I think will become more mainstream here, but probably never will be used by a majority of us. Chinese herbalism and the Chinese tradition of energy work (qiqong), on the other hand, have much greater adaptability.
We need to do some work on translation, developing our own language of energy and healing. Then we need to develop channels of passing on the wisdom we gain. Schools should begin the day with fifteen minutes of health practices that tap into ancient wisdom. We should teach our children a holistic approach to food and eating and how to keep our bodies in tune with seasons. It’s not that difficult. The first step is realizing that most of what we do is not working. The second step is accepting that our absence of traditional health wisdom is the main reason why.