What is Integral Medicine?
If you could design the ideal medicine to help yourself heal and stay healthy, what would it look like?
Integral medicine is my best effort to offer you the ideal medicine. I have been developing it over the last 30 or so years of my career. Since medicine is a practice (some believe that means that we never quite get it rightJ), Integral medicine is a work in progress. I am always learning new things and thinking about how to offer you better service. I would like to hear what you think would be the ideal medicine for you. Below is what I came up with.
First, you would want it to be safe. Like Hippocrates said, “First, do no harm.” It turns out that going to a conventional medical doctor for conventional medical treatments is now the third leading cause of death in the United States (http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139). So, conventional medicine, as it is routinely practiced, does not meet this safety criteria. I think we can do better.
Conventional medicine encompasses a wide range of ideas and treatment options, not all of them bad. In fact, some are downright powerful and very helpful. When I broke my ankle, I was thankful there was someone around who knew how to screw it back together. But I was even more thankful that there was anesthesia and sterile technique for the procedure. But, once the surgeon was done, I took over with my nutrition and herbs, affirmations, visualizations, and exercises. I healed quickly and got a very good result.
So, for the ideal medicine, we want to be able to include the tools and techniques of conventional medicine but use them with the proper consciousness and in balance with other support. With carefully considered personalized use, you can receive the benefits of conventional medicine and avoid most of the hazards. I have spent years figuring out how to use conventional medicine this way.
Find and Treat Root Causes
Second, you would want your medicine to find and treat root causes of your problems, whenever possible. Most conventional, and even most alternative approaches, just put you on treatments that suppress the symptoms but do nothing for why the symptoms are there in the first place. I think this is due to the fact that our society in general, and the medical community in particular, has a very incomplete understanding of root causes.
I have some dedicated patients who have helped me understand root causes in more detail. They have stuck with me for years as we have peeled down through the layers of their health issues. These layers have a peculiar property: each new layer, when first it was uncovered, felt like the root causes until, with further exploration, deeper layers were found. We kept searching until the level of pure consciousness was reached. So far, we have not found any deeper layers.
What we have learned is that there seems to be some property of the Universe that I will call Consciousness, with a capital “C”, which is at the root of all of physical manifestation. Some properties of you determine what aspects of this essentially infinite Consciousness manifest as your life. Unless you are working with these properties of yourself and aspects of Consciousness, you are not working with the roots.
Whenever you are working to change things that have already been created in your life, you are treating symptoms. This is necessary much of the time and we are fortunate to have a very large palate of both conventional and alternative supportive treatments from which to choose. But don’t stop there. If you don’t also change whatever is determining what you are creating as your life, you will keep creating more of what you don’t want. Integral medicine integrates this two-pronged approach to your health issues: we use the safest, most effective, most natural treatments to support you while we are searching for and changing the determinants of your creativity. You can stop creating what you don’t want and start creating what you do want. I want your treatment plan to be personalized for you, so please let me know if you want to use this two-pronged approach.
Treat You as a Whole Human Being
Third, try to come up with some aspect of your life that has absolutely no impact or influence upon your health. Most people can’t. So, the ideal medicine would be able to take every aspect of your life into account when looking for causes and treatments. How you eat and exercise impacts your health. How you sleep, how you stress out, your relationships, your work, your play, what you think and believe, the environment around you…the list goes on…they all play a role in your health, and imbalances can occur any place in your system and fields, not just in your body. The ideal medicine would be able to treat you as a whole human being (not just a skin-bag of biochemicals) involved in society and immersed in your environment.
Utilize Every Valid Concept of Health and Healing
Fourth, people all over the world have been thinking about health and disease for centuries and some of them have come up with some pretty good ideas. The ideal medicine would have a place in it for every valid concept and every effective treatment that we, as a species, have so far devised. But, to put this noble goal into practice, two major challenges need to be met. First, we need to figure out how to determine whether or not a particular idea or treatment is valid, and then we need to figure out how to fit all of the valid approaches together into one seamless, internally consistent framework.
Conventional medicine as solved these problems by being exclusive: it defined what it does as valid and excludes everything else. This strategy essentially ignores the challenges and leads to the exclusion of some very safe, effective, and affordable approaches that we would like to be able to utilize. Integral medicine rises to and solves these two challenges.
Integral medicine is inclusive but, obviously, not every idea can be included: there needs to be some validity to it. One of my students summed it up nicely, “I want to be open-minded, but not so open that my brain plops out onto the floor.”
So, how do we determine whether or not a medical idea or treatment is valid and effective? The materialist science upon which conventional medicine is based has its ideas about what is valid and what is bogus and it steadfastly refuses to accept the validity of any kind of knowing other than the third-person, objective knowing.
That is a problem because, if you want your medicine to be able to take into account all of human experience, humans can know things three different ways, not just one:
1. You can know something objectively, by looking at it, examining it, and measuring its physical properties.
2. You can also know something subjectively, your own impression or personal experience of something.
3. And, it turns out, you can know something transcendently. You can just sit and think about something and a level of understanding of that thing will come to you. Have you ever practiced that? It is called “contemplation” and is a valued method of teaching in many parts of the world.
The scientific process of inquiry can be applied to each of the three ways of knowing, it doesn’t have to be limited to just the objective; and each way of knowing has its own way of sorting the valid from the bogus. So, your ideal medicine would, ideally, be based upon a broad science of all three ways of knowing, rather than the narrow science of only objective knowing. That would make it more able to take all aspects of your life and experiences into account. Integral medicine is based upon such a broad science.
Integrate all Ideas
So, we’ve solved the first challenge: how to determine the validity of all the world’s ideas about health, disease, and healing. The second challenge arises because these ideas and treatments are so varied, how do we get them to fit and work together? Some of them, Chinese medicine and conventional medicine, for example, come from such different world views that, unless both practitioners know each other’s systems, they can’t even talk to each other about a patient.
But every system of healing so far examined can be placed into one of the four quadrants of Ken Wilber’s integral world view. This integral world view provides the framework that can hold all the different healing traditions. If patients and practitioners are willing to adopt this integral world view and learn a bit about other healing traditions, everyone can get along and work toward the benefit of the patient.
I believe that the Integral medicine that I practice solves these two challenges so that we can bring to bear the best the world has to offer for you to use on your healing path.
Fifth, you’ve probably heard the saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.” I don’t know if this has been scientifically proven: in my experience, sometimes it saves a lot more than nine. The point is that prevention is often a better strategy than needing to dig yourself out of the pit once you’ve fallen into it. So, again, you would like your ideal medicine to be focused on prevention at least as much as it does on treatment. “Prevention” to the conventional physician usually means “immunizations”. But there is so much more to real preventative medicine. Learning how to listen to the messages coming to you from your life and taking actions when the warnings are little whispers generally prevents the need for a 2x4 upside the head. You don’t want your life coming after you with a 2x4, believe me.
Sixth, if you’re like me, I bet you don’t like being told what to do. I bet you like understanding the reasons you ought to do something and would like a say in the decision-making process. Your ideal medicine would be fully explained to you and encourage you to participate in the decisions and treatments, as much as possible.
Also, no one size fits all, so your ideal medicine would be personalized for you, for your unique genetic makeup, your personality, your life. You would be in the driver’s seat. Your practitioners are your advisors, not your dictators.
A Healthy Delivery System for a Healthy Medicine
Medicine is also dependent upon the social systems used to dispense it. I bet you would also like your ideal medicine to be accessible and affordable. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the healthcare delivery system in the US is as sick as is conventional medicine. I have tried many different practice formats over the course of my career, looking for the best way to dispense Integral medicine. In order to get insurance coverage for you to see me, I have had to make certain compromises to stay within the requirements put forth my your insurance companies. But I keep searching and, for now, the compromises are working fairly well.
So, let’s summarize. You would like your ideal medicine to be:
Did I leave anything out? Please let me know if you would like to add anything to this list.