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Healing as a sign

There is a profound philosophical distinction buried in everyday experience of our bodies. The same distinction is readily applied in other spheres. Let’s start with an application and return to our bodies shortly.

I wrote, with Richard Veryard, a paper for the Microsoft Architecture journal about IT security. As I recall it said many moons ago that people still worked with a model like a mediaeval castle: a strong boundary to keep out the outside world. The assumption is that inside is safe and needs to be kept safe, and outside is dangerous. For a company these outer ramparts are the boundaries of the organisation. Of course, this is not the way the world actually works: most security breaches are down to people within the company being lazy, corrupt, or bamboozled.

Two examples from the long ago, partly to show nothing changes. On a global network security intervention for CSFB, the client wanted to know that all traffic on their global network was from authorised software. We found very quickly that star traders could in practice load their workstations with any software they chose to use … and no-one was going to stop them.

On a project to allow railway signalling engineers to visualise what they had programmed into the solid-state devices that control signals, we reverse-engineered the code used in the devices and put a simulation on a screen. The signalling engineers were thrilled about an increase in safety of the railway, but the engineering labs vetoed the project because it threatened their IP.

Projects need to work with the world as it is, not as it should be. That means that security issues need to be live and learned from no matter how bizarre and undesirable.

Life

Which thrives, a baby raised in a clean environment, or a baby who grubs in the garden? I think there is a syndrome named for babies raised in Swedish homes that were too sterile and who do not have a well-formed immune system. There is a balance here, but the point of this blog is that if the baby has the resources to deal with the sources of infection she may come across, then two things follow: the immune system in all its impossible complexity will be trained, and the thriving is, conversely, a sign that the necessary resources were indeed present.

Instead of worrying about the castle walls and all those germs in the bathroom we need to be concerned about eating properly, sleeping properly, and getting clean air and exercise. We need to know we have thriving gut biomes, skin biomes, mouth, nose, vagina, whatever.

Think about muscles, tendons, and joints in your body. I moved to a smallholding and I am on my feet much of the day. Lifting heavy things, climbing up and down steep slopes on rough and slippery ground. Long periods doing repetitive work like scything or strimming or hedgecutting. I get strains and cramps and muscle soreness, and there are no rest days. Since I am not young there is a point of view that says I should limit my work to stay fit.

Where I go with this is that if I make sure my body has the resource to heal itself then it will do so unless something gets in the way. My body will adjust its weight, my muscles and joints will get stronger as required, energy to do what is needed will be found. And if the healing and adjustment does not happen then I should conclude that resources are missing rather than backing off the work. Living comes first. Life and thriving come in response to challenges.

Cancer theories

People like to believe that cancers come from genetic mutations that we have no control over. Cancer frightens people and we need a story about how indiscriminate it is, alongside myths about healthy lifestyles.

If we pick up on the philosophical point here, there are two extremes. Either genetic mutations that tend to cancer are rare and unlucky, or that mutations are ten a penny and that our bodies have the ability to correct them en masse. Castle walls or a healthy society where people want to belong.

This philosophical difference matters hugely. One disaffected employee is enough to threaten the security of a company. If we believe we are correcting genetic mutations every hour of every day we will make sure we are resourced to do so.

High blood glucose does not “give you cancer”. But it seems well established that high blood glucose interferes in several ways with the body’s ability to deal with genetic mutations. If we pay attention to whether body processes that should be routine are working as they should, we have a chance to correct their functioning when they do not. We systematically underestimate what the body can do in the way of healing itself and in doing so produce the result that we feared.

The everyday practical example is exposure to the sun. We all know people who spend most of their lives in the sun, working maybe, with no ill effects and often radiating health. Those people are no less exposed to “harmful” UV and cosmic rays that produce genetic damage. Despite medical warnings, they are better off than people who obsess about sunscreens and hats and staying in the shade. They are clearly able to deal with routine damage routinely. Remember just how often the cells that make up our organs including the skin are recreated.

The fact that few people think like that, that medical professionals are not trained to think that way, means we look for cures rather than healing. Many cures are worse than the original condition over the long term. Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, the Soviets using gamma rays to treat minor skin conditions, is now only a metaphor for what happens throughout the world. But can you imagine a world where medical professionals back off treating a condition with an intervention so that the healing processes of the body can assert themselves?

Who knows, for instance, that if you don’t eat carbohydrates or processed food, you don’t need dentists. We have a vast industry of dentists, dentistry, toothpastes, and toothbrushes. We have marketing hype layered on with a trowel. Your mouth, my mouth, really will heal itself if it is not given fermentation material several times a day. But we won’t go there, its not what you do.

Conversely, our inflamed gums and tooth decay are an anti-healing red flag telling us of a raised risk of cancer. It really is that simple: you can’t get one part of the body demonstrably wrong and expect everything else to work properly. If pure orange juice rots your teeth then it is not healthy food. Not ever.

The consumer angle

We are desperate to add something to situation to mend or alleviate it. Medicine of course but almost all our interventions want you to use something extra. It is not surprising that companies want to sell you something and despite massive innovation and creativity selling the absence of something remains ticklish. How are you going to sell the absence of glyphosate that allows healing of the soil biome, the gut biome and human wellbeing?

And for a product to be sold as a solution to a problem it needs to be seen as the factor that will make the difference. Anti-depressants for instance need to be seen as making a crucial difference to depression, need to be seen as necessary. If we look at the complex causes of the symptoms we call depression, this is so unlikely to be true. And that is before we discuss side-effects and difficulties coming off the drugs, which can be truly life-threatening, unlike the condition itself. There are doubtless some complex and heavily science-based reasons for going deeper into this, but the philosophy is clear again: you WILL be sold a simple solution to a complex problem and there is no accountability in that selling. You will not be addressed as an individual in a difficult situation that resonates with other difficulties and traumas in your past.

Fasting

Perhaps the ultimate way to not be a consumer is to fast! To consume nothing, for a while. Don’t listen to marketing nonsense about this being dangerous or a bad idea. There was an experiment recently where a number of people ran 100 miles in five days on no food. They were closely supervised and included the Olympian James Cracknell. We do not need food for energy on any timescale that people worry about. I know this from repeated personal experience, feeling better after missing out a day’s eating.

It turns out that there is a close link between fasting and healing. Somehow fasting gets the healing processes going. Whether healing is about injuries, long term conditions, mental states, you name it. I love this conjunction of a really powerful intervention that no-one will tell you about and broad-spectrum healing that proves that the intervention was correct.

The ancient Greeks had a custom called incubation. When there was a problem that no-one could solve, someone would lie down in a dark place such as a cave and in the company of a spirit guide be transported to a place where they would be given something. Perhaps they would be given a new law that would heal a fractured polis. Something we so badly need now. The gift comes from absence.

Satiation

The body has some intimate knowledge of what it needs to be resourced to run these amazing healing processes, and of course everything else it does. This is the crunchiest part of the message of this blog because we are almost never aware of what our bodies need. As well-trained consumers, we eat for pleasure or for social reasons or out of habit, not to meet our need for nutrients. We may have theories about what we need to eat but that is not the same thing as listening to our bodies.

This is such an important angle that it has been thoroughly subverted and obfuscated by industry and dietary science alike. The Dorito Effect describes how the remnants of our sense of what we need can be hijacked by synthetic flavours and smells to making us think that junk food is what we need to eat, subliminally of course.

To allow ourselves to regain our sense of what we need and when that need has been satiated we have to overcome some formidable obstacles. We first of all need to stop eating for pleasure, which is not to say that eating what we need is not pleasurable. Then we need to turn off our internalised mothers telling us to eat up and not to waste good food. If we are part of the 99% who are addicted to carbohydrates, we need to overcome the addiction.

My own progress in this direction is a bit fake-it-until-you-can-make-it. If I guess well about what your body might need, and especially if it not what I might otherwise choose to eat, I can get a sense of wellbeing that is its own reward and guides me towards other choices. For me the most difficult bit is not to institutionalise those choices but to recognise that my body will need different things over time. A good image for me is the alpine goatherd who leads his flock through a variety of habitats and pastures each day so that they can take what they need.

To return to fasting for a moment, there is also a significant change in what I think I might need to eat over the period of a fast. I think this change is a realignment from a conventional “I want to eat now” to a more nuanced “this might really suit how I feel”.

No matter what, healing processes need to be resourced, especially if the condition that needs healing developed because of a deficiency. The range and power of the healing processes is not in doubt, even if it suits the medical profession to keep people sick.

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Aidan Ward

Aidan Ward

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Smallholder rapidly learning about the way the world works