Sweet, Slow Medicine

OndrikSeedlings

David Ondrik, Seedlings, from the Arid Harvests series

I recently read Victoria Sweet’s 2017 book, Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. Sweet is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, and also has a Ph.D. in history. She practiced medicine for over twenty years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, and is a storyteller skilled at bridging medicine and the humanities. She explores the multitude of reasons people seek doctors to sustain them—not just to fix their ailments—and argues that encouraging and allowing doctors to slow down can benefit everyone: doctors, nurses, and patients alike.

“Anything that contributes to healing power should be employed; anything that takes away from it should be abandoned,” Sweet writes. How can contemporary medicine help people to heal in the least damaging way possible? By tending them s-l-o-w-l-y, is the suggestion. This doesn’t mean that medicine should give up moving quickly; rather, Sweet asserts that Fast Medicine and Slow Medicine work best together, alternating as needed. When you’re having a heart attack, you want everybody working at a clip! But when the heart attack is over, it’s time to recover, to heal and address prevention of future heart attacks. This is the time to employ slow medicine, to ask how a patient wants their life to look going forward, and what the patient can do to help their life move in that direction. How can their doctor support them in this important work? Slow medicine is partly about a doctor listening to and observing a patient to learn the areas in which the patient can be empowered.

Although Reiki isn’t mentioned in Slow Medicine, the concept of chi is referenced a few times—Sweet laments its depletion in weary medical interns. Of course, I was thinking about Reiki as I read this book, and how the very particular slow-listening of Reiki practice can serve as a powerful accompaniment to the rigors of modern fast medicine.

Sweet also writes at length about Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine nun who emphasized the concept of viriditas or “greenness,” a metaphor for life force, and spiritual and physical health. (Sweet’s PhD in history focused on Bingen and pre-modern medicine.) She says the implications of Bingen’s idea, “which for me was revolutionary, [was] that as a doctor I should be not only a mechanic of the body, looking for what is broken and trying to fix it, but also a gardener of the body, nourishing viriditas, and removing what is in its way.”

Sweet does a great job of expanding this notion of viriditas beyond the individual patient, to the organizational level. What does a healthy health care system look like? What nourishes the garden of health care so that it can provide the right services at the right time, and what stands in the way of hospitals and doctors truly serving the people? I found myself thinking in new ways about the health care (eco) system.

I have previously associated viriditas with the vitality that Reiki seems to evoke, vitality that nourishes and restores balance in myself, and in the individuals I treat. Reiki practice appears to meet people right where they are, never pushing or forcing an issue, always gently encouraging the recipient to balance, however that might appear for them. I believe that Reiki practice is naturally and deeply aligned with Slow Medicine, “where relationship is key and the theme is attention, quietness, openness.”

Reiki as an Adaptogenic Practice

I was recently talking to a good friend about Reiki, exchanging our experiences of the practice and musing about how it “works” for each of us. My experience of Reiki is that it supports whatever is going on. I think of it as bolstering what is working within the person (or animal, plant, situation) and minimizing negative factors that drain life force.

My friend, who is well attuned to the magic of medicinal plants, responded with this: “So you feel Reiki is like an adaptogen?” The light bulb went on in my mind (and more importantly, in my gut). YES! That is exactly how I experience Reiki.

In the world of herbal medicine, an adaptogen is a plant that meets the body where it needs support, and assists in bringing the body’s systems back to balance. Adaptogens gently tug the body in the direction of wellness and away from the effects of stress, illness, and depletion. It’s less about curing symptoms than about supporting balance and resilience, so that symptoms lose the upper hand.

Here’s another way of looking at it: we all have a friend or family member that we feel especially close with. And no matter what’s going on in our lives, we’re always pleased to be in that person’s company. He or she somehow manages to make things better, simply through their presence, and they help us adapt to whatever is going on.

Thinking of Reiki as an “adaptogenic friend” has been a good meditation: it is wise to check in often and appreciate its quiet strength–like watering an herb garden or catching up with a dear friend–and then let “the work” happen naturally.

 

 

Summer Garden Walk, June 25 & 26

Buckwheat

Orange Flower Healing is happy to be a sponsor for the Bloomington Garden Club’s annual Summer Garden Walk, taking place this weekend, June 25 & 26. Visit 5 private gardens and the Monroe County History Center! Hours and ticket info are at the Garden Club website. What better way to top off Pollinator Week?

This photo of blooming buckwheat comes from my own rag-tag, fits-and-starts garden. Buckwheat is great for pollinators, especially honeybees, who use the nectar to make a dark honey with a potent, molasses-like flavor. I think of it as bee medicine…

 

 

Susan Brackney’s Honeybee Garden

honey_bee_garden_copy-2

Yesterday I saw the first honeybees in our yard, working their way around an explosion of dandelions in front of the house. In a round about way, beekeeping brought me to the practice of Reiki, and I never pass up a chance to talk about bees.

Back in February, I had the opportunity to speak with beekeeper and author Susan Brackney, and I wrote our conversation up for Local Food Bloomington.

Many thanks to Susan, for sharing her colorful honeybee garden map….