Andrew Weil, MD, and Larry Dossey, MD. and four more of this country’s leading integrative doctors dialogued candidly among themselves over lunch. What is the calling of a physician in today’s world? What must integrative medicine address to care for peoples’ health? I was fortunate to be a fly on the wall–or to be more accurate, the journalist with the tape recorder. Assembled in New York City to be honored as Pioneers of Integrative Medicine by the Bravewell Collaborative, (a foundation directed by Christy Mack and devoted to promoting integrative health care), these distinguished doctors with nearly four decades of research and clinical experience, had so much to say to each other. I sat and listened.

“Medicine comes out of a human tradition that’s passed on, from generation to generation. It aims to encourage what’s most important, what’s most authentic in each of us, and to find ways to maintain that in the face of the forces of dissipation, greed, acquisition, hatred, and the dualism of us vs. them,” offered Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, whose pioneering work with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has helped to clarify the scientific efficacy of mind-body medicine.

“”Fun, love and pleasure are sustainable, fear, pain and guilt are not, and that’s true on a personal and a corporate level,” said Dean Ornish, MD, whose research has demonstrated that heart disease can be reversed through diet and lifestyle changes.

“When something’s wrong in the collective consciousness, it takes a toll psychologically and physically,” psychiatrist James Gordon, MD, the first chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy told his peers.

“The body politic is diseased. The body politic is ailing. If we only address health care on the individual level and not on the organizational, corporate, or social level, then it’s self-defeating. Medicine lies nested in a much larger culture and can’t move freely,” said Kabat-Zinn. “A shift needs to happen on multiple levels simultaneously. We’re at a crisis point.”

The pioneering physicians shared the view that the current crisis in health and hospital care arises, in part, from flawed infrastructures.

“We have ten to twelve million children without medical insurance. This happens in no other civilized, first-world country,” said Larry Dossey, MD, an internationally recognized advocate of the role of the mind and of spirituality in health care.

“[Through subsidies] the government has made unhealthy foods cheap and healthy foods expensive. Our priorities for health reimbursement are reversed. We reimburse costly surgeries and drugs, but don’t support the doctors talking to patients to prevent the need for surgery,” Andrew Weil MD, who trains integrative physicians, pointed out.

“If we don’t inquire into the cause but only bypass a problem, then we haven’t really solved anything,” offered Ornish. “The cause of suffering is viewing ourselves as separate. That will backfire because the truth is that we are all connected, so what affects one of us, affects us all.”

“Whether in medicine, or the body politic, a mis-diagnosis results in a mis-treatment. Far worse than cancer, heart disease, or chronic pain, is chronic ignorance that’s blind to what’s fundamental in life,” said Kabat-Zinn.

“It’s not our diseases that are going to kill us, it’s our beliefs. In the 14th century, the physician Maimonides, offered a prayer,” said Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, who trains physicians in the art of caring. “”Inspire me with love for all of thy creatures. May I see in all who suffer only a fellow human being.”

Medicine is about creating a place of refuge no matter who you are,” said this noted healer and author, whose courses are offered in sixty medical schools nationwide, “Whatever your age, your race or your religion–your suffering matters. And when that place of refuge disappears no one is safe anywhere in the world.”

The six Pioneers with nearly two centuries of leading health care practice among them agreed on the prescription: Balance, well-being, integrity, health of the body politic, the embodiment of compassion, and freedom are the fundamentals. True freedom reveals itself in simple things we take for granted.

Kabat-Zinn points to “a sense of safety when you go to the hospital, a sense of well-being in your own body. Freedom means not having to wonder what’s being done in your name.”

“We have a lot of work to do,” Dossey acknowledged.

“It’s really about collaboration and it’s a conspiracy of love–so I feel grateful to the Bravewell Collaborative for the opportunity to be with agent provocateurs,” told Ornish the group. (More of this conversation is on my ezine at: www.HealthJournalist.com)
Copyright, 2007, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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