The Greening of Healthcare

By Robyn Benson, DOM

“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all of the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the U.S. Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

– Dr. Marcia Angell, Former Editor in Chief, New England Journal of Medicine

This alarming statistic reveals how increasingly dependent we’re becoming on the idea of a “miracle pill” to cure everything from pain, depression and sexual dysfunction to adult attention deficit disorder. If we examine this closer, it clearly represents all the ways in which many of us have become disconnected from the healing properties of nature and our innate intelligence to deal with life’s challenges. Only 100 years ago, we thrived on the health benefits of whole foods and plant-based medicines, and tuned in daily to the seasonal cycles of nature as guideposts for our most important daily decisions. The greening of healthcare is in our hands as we make choices today to value this path of vitality and wellness, and to honor our role to restore and maintain our personal, environmental and planetary health.

Each day, we are witness to and are part of a period of transformative shifts, sobering climatic changes, encroaching (and potentially dehumanizing) technology, paralyzing levels of daily stress, social isolation, and an abandoning of values. All major systems educational, political and economic, including the healthcare system  are going through major change. In New Mexico alone, 17% of our population is living at or below poverty line, while 22% do not have access to basic healthcare needs. Addictions, depression, cancer, and autoimmune and environment-related illnesses are at an all time high throughout the U.S. It’s time we each take a serious look at how each of us contributes to the healthcare crisis in our daily lives.

As we re-vision and co-create our future and consider the role of health in our lives, our commitment to personal sustainability is critical to our success. To “sustain” means to keep in existence, to withstand and to support the vitality of life. To sustain ourselves, it is imperative that taking care of our own body, mind, and spirit be our number one priority. From there, everything else will follow.

No magic pill can fulfill this mission; no one can delegate this responsibility or institute this by law. We achieve the greening of healthcare when we take charge of our lives and balance our most important life-values with how we live everyday. This starts by making daily choices that support us—eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and most importantly, to clear and redirect our thoughts in a positive and proactive direction.

Our Inner Health and that of the earth reflect each other

With so many well-intentioned individuals working to bring our world into balance, why haven’t we reached the point of critical mass in which a shift toward greater global health and harmony can occur? The answer lies not “out there” in the world, but right at home.

The answer is in our refrigerators. It’s in the television and media programming that fills our minds. It is reflected by unused gym memberships and dusty treadmills. It is in prescription bottles that fill our medicine cabinets and drugs that run through our collective veins.

So again, why have we not reached “critical mass”? This is where personal sustainability enters into the equation. Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” By practicing personal sustainability, our individual goals merge with the change we want to see in the world. We become the change!

The Mandala of Being

The choices we make each day and how we spend our time are strong indicators of how connected we are with the essence of our being.

Mandala of ChaosThe mandala on the left represents the chaos that defines many of our lives. The aspects of life that bring joy and support health are relegated to time left after all the “important” things are finished. Of course, the “important” things are never definitively finished and we are left unfulfilled and unhealthy. Over time, this lifestyle hastens disease, rapid aging, and mental decline.

Mandala of BeingThe greatest breakthrough emerging from the present healthcare system is the growth of integrative and complementary medicine. Three-quarters of medical schools now offer programs in complementary alternative medicine (CAM). More than 40% of Americans seek help through acupuncture, biofeedback, energy medicine, hypnotherapy and other CAM modalities. Medical practitioners are beginning to see the value of addressing patients’ needs in a holistic manner. Physicians are replacing eight-minute visits with thorough investigations into every single factor that could potentially cause poor health or disease. As a result, the best preventive, natural, and cost-effective measures can potentially be called upon to treat clients. Finally, the heart and soul of medicine can be reclaimed; healthcare can grow green in its own right.

With deeper understanding of interconnectedness, and awareness that one wavelike motion of the web affects the whole, sustainable communities and 21st century healthcare models are developing worldwide. In keeping with its rich history of culture and health, Santa Fe continues to be a leader in the development of holistic-style healing centers, centers for spiritual wellbeing, spas, innovative schools, and living communities. It is thrilling for me to see my two young children learn principles of co-creation, recycling, water conservation, and unity of all life. Meeting in a circle each morning at their public school has reinforced their understanding of conscious communication. We recently participated as a family in a community event to create the school’s first garden.

Although we have a long way to go, we’re beginning to live in harmony with self, community, and the natural world. This is how we stay healthy in a changing world, how we participate in the greening of medicine: by moving away from the overwhelming dependency on the pharmaceutical industry and toward living sustainably. We can accomplish this if we support our local food-growers and our local economy in general. Every chance we get, we must help to reduce, not increase, our carbon footprint. Every moment of every day holds the possibility of embracing this movement through our choices and actions, big and small.

In the end, what matters most?

Did you give and receive love?

Did you live and nurture your divine potential?

Did you learn to be at peace with what is?

Did you learn to live in a harmonious relationship with Mother Earth?

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