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Why are we drawn to Integral theory as a tool for developing a new paradigm for herbal medicine?
5 March 2012
12:16 pm
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owenokie
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I think the title says it all. As the subject is rather immense I think maybe the place to start is describing how we discovered Integral theory and why we think it can be applied to herbal medicine, why we each think its needed, what’s missing in current herbal approaches, our history in regards to herbal medicine and integral theory. I think fleshing out these questions will help us in figuring out the “how” of this endeavor and will get us started in an more focused fashion. 

7 March 2012
11:06 am
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owenokie
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One of the criticisms pointed out by medical practitioners from India and China is that Western medicine has no paradigm. At a conference for evolution and medicine I heard Dr’s from Yale and Harvard make the same statement and say that Evolution provided the best framework for teaching and practicing medicine. Western Herbal medicine is a hodge-podge of influences, practitioners are largely self-taught there is a huge cross-pollination between East and West as well as between different academic disciplines but there is no paradigm creating a consistent frame-work. When first introduced to Integral theory and AQAL I realized this was an excellent tool for formulating a new paradigm for herbal medicine that was a synthesis of all the influences East and West, modern and traditional, etc… One of the aspects of western “medicine” that is sorely lacking is the ability, the language, to communicate between different fields (physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, physiology, ecology, psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and so forth) are barely even able to speak to each other. This is partially a side-effect of reductionism and the mind-body split. In Ayurvedic, Tibetan or Chinese medicine there is a paradigm, a metaphysics if you will, that includes a consistent understanding and a common language to describe all things from the spiritual to the mental, emotional, physiological, and material…all along the spectrum. What this means is that I can diagnosis someones emotional state as showing excess heat (anger), I can see the signs of excess heat in their physiology (inflammation), and I can treat it by selecting herbs and foods that are known to have cooling effects, or by prescribing spiritual exercises (meditation), teaching ways of working with anger, or cooling breathing techniques. The ability to communicate and work up and down the spectrum is very powerful as even if I’m specialized with one part of the spectrum (say the physiological) I can communicate with and be understood by someone else, say a Chi Gong teacher, and we can develop an integrated approach to healing. In the west a neuroscientist and a psychologist might not have any common language and might even be at complete philosophical odds.

I was introduced to the work of Ken Wilber by my martial arts teacher and first read a Theory of Everything. Besides the usage of integral theory as a tool for developing a new paradigm I was also struck by Wilber’s statement that in order for humanity to survive the environmental challenges of our time we would need more than activism, and political change, but also personal transformation. For me this really helped clarify my role as an herbalist with a very strong interest in environmental concerns who is not drawn to the activist and fighting approach but more on making my own life as  sustainable as possible and hopefully sharing my inspirations with others. Herbal medicine and buddhist psychotherapy are steps in assisting people in a transformative process and Integral Herbalism will be a very effective tool in this regard.

8 March 2012
11:09 pm
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Mark Jack
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That is a really great idea Owen, and I resonate and am inspired by a lot of what you have written about what draws you. I will give you my input when I have a little more spare time over the next couple of days.

12 March 2012
4:08 pm
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Mark Jack
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So why Integral Herbalsim? I wanted Integral before I had even heard of it and wished for it while studying herbal medicine without really knowing what I was wishing for!

A big problem I has when studying herbal medicine at uni was that western herbal medicine didn’t have much of a framework or model around which it was built. We were introduced to many different ideas and ways of practising but not given any real map of how to navigate the different possibilities or alternatives. For example, were were introduced to medical diagnosis, plant actions and constituents, humoral medicine, physiomedicalism, Goethean plant studies, notions of plants being good for different emotional or spiritual problems (with different authors saying different things), and such like, but there was no set way of where and when to include these things to the best effectiveness or not even much in the way of pointers as to how to go about choosing what is best. It meant that you didn’t really know if you were including something that was no good or missing something that was important; there was no agreed on map of the terrain. It kinda seemed like the best approach to herbal medicine was the approach that the herbalist has taken, unless of course you are a different herbalist, and then it is the approach you have taken!

But I didn’t want to just randomly piece together an approach or methodology, I wanted to give the best treatment possible. I wanted a specific framework with which to approach herbalism, to know what the best practices were, and have a rigorous approach that included all the best bits. I couldn’t fully conscribe to one methodology because non stood out as being better than all the rest: the eastern traditions seemed quite good, but then they focused mainly on eastern herbs, were steeped in eastern culture, and still left out some of the modern understandings of physiology and diseases; the humoral system had some useful parts, but it was also very dated and had its faults, being based on such old understanding of the body; the physiomedicalist approach, which seemed an improvement on the humoural system, but was still in need of a fair bit of updating; then there was the phenomenological and intuitive methods of Goethe and Steven Buhner, which I was very drawn to and felt like they were a very valuable piece of the picture, but seemed somehow not to be enough; and of course there was the evidence-based approach, which while giving valuable information and being necessary to include, would require immense financial resources to carry out all the studies needed, and by the nature of RCTs would cut out many of the variables or factors that are actually important in herbal practice.

It seemed to me that many of these practices had something to offer or might have been pointing at some underlying truth, but I was at a loss of how to navigate them and was somewhat overwhelmed, wanting the best and most effective approach to practice, but not really knowing where to start. I didn’t know which bits to take on, couldn’t take it all on, didn’t have the motivation to take something on fully when it seemed partially wrong (I hadn’t then come across the idea of freeing a paradigm by limiting it), and I didn’t know how to deal with contradictions between the different methods and philosophies.
Looking at it now there were three main questions that I could have done with knowing answers for: what areas should be covered, what are the best ways to cover them, and how to put them together into a rigorous methodology.

Enter Integral…

So eventually I came in contact with the Integral model a year or two after finishing uni (I think through links from the conscious evolution people). It really resonated with me as a way for understanding the human condition more, understanding where we are and shedding clarity on some of the issues and conflicts we face. It was so refreshing to come across something that was intelligent, rigorous and so inclusive. As it gave me a better model in which to frame my experiences it really helped me come to peace more with the world around me and it improved my understanding and acceptance of other ways of being. It also seems like a brilliant tool for seriously taking the human endeavour forwards by a big leap, to take us out of some of the traps we fall into such as the pluralistic, relativistic trap, or the fighting between ideologies.

So now I see the Integral modal as a really good way to understand the terrain of the human situation and what different domains need addressing; as a way to start filtering through all of the practices, techniques and understandings that can be found in and around herbal medicine; to take the most fundamental aspects and most effective practices and arrange them in a clear and more rigorous way; to cut out the crap; and ultimately to create a new system that includes and transcends what has come before.

12 March 2012
4:20 pm
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Mark Jack
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Perhaps summarizing these might be a good idea at this point?

 

So Owen, would it be fair to summarize what draws you as being the following?

  • Developing A unifying paradigm that brings together all the different influences herbal medicine.
  • Developing a shared language around the underlying principles
  • Helping people transform and so helping humanity and the environment survive
And for me perhaps the following?
  • Increasing understanding, particularly of humans and human development.
  • Increasing clarity by having a better framework to fit everything in.
  • Increasing efficiency, by getting to what matters in each area.
  • Increasing effectiveness, by finding what works best.

I imagine all these are shared by both of us, and they do all seem part of one another. What are your thoughts, and do you have more to add?

15 March 2012
12:42 pm
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owenokie
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Yes, what you say resonates with me and I have no points of contention. I think a big piece of the integral herbal paradigm will be allowing us to work at (or at least be aware of the need for change in) many different levels from the gross material to the spiritual layers of being, as well as from the individual to the environmental (social, cultural, ecological).

 

Encountering the Integral framework was a great eye-opener for me as well and I’ve found it very helpful in interacting with others in getting a better understanding of where they are coming from (the spiral dynamics in particular).

15 March 2012
12:57 pm
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Mark Jack
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So a big piece is making herbal medicine deeply holistic, but also bringing in ideas of levels within each of the quadrants and so increasing differentiation or clarity to the parts of treatment and therefore potentially much more expertise.

 

Yes, being able to understand better where someone is coming from is crucial. I think this could really benefit herbalist in increasing the range of people that they can help (and market too). For example, a lot of herbalists may very strongly appeal to green altitude, but this would put off others at blue/amber altitude or orange altitude.

I was speaking to a herbalist that practices near me (in Glastonbury) and he says he gets most of his clients from amber or orange altitudes as those at green altitude tend to feel they know enough about herbs already (though not in those words!). This seems useful to know when setting up practice!

18 March 2012
11:39 am
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owenokie
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Interesting to think about…Yes how one phrases things, approaches the client, describes an assessment or an herbal or nutritional recommendation would need to take into account spiral dynamics as well as other factors. I think the marketing is well taken as well…a challenge to write up a flyer for example that could speak to both blue/amber and green simultaneously. A bit like Sufi stories with their multiple layers of meaning.

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