The Healing Powers of Nature
When faced with an illness, the first thing people turn to is the modern pharmacy. Hazardous chemicals disguised in the form of tiny, harmless capsules are then prescribed for the frail to consume and take into their bodies in hopes of becoming healed. However, a crucial criticism remains- is the disappearance of several indicators of the sickness equivalent to being fully cured? Conventional medicine does not address the root cause of illnesses; instead, it treats the symptoms. The 200 year old philosophy, transcendentalism, defined as an idealistic philosophical and social movement which taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity by the Oxford dictionary, and relatively new medical research support the theory that focusing more on treating the origin of the illness is more efficient and beneficial than just treating the symptoms.
The concept of transcendentalism challenges conventional medicine because, although it promises results, most “treatments” prescribed today have sky-high costs and only address the symptoms of the illness. Often, the patient feels better temporarily, but because the root cause hasn’t been considered, the illness may return. Alternatively, transcendentalism suggests turning to the celestial ability of humans to heal through self-actualization and the power of nature. The notion affirms healing “through plants, animals, and natural landscapes”, in place of “pump[ing] you up with a witches’ brew of toxic poisons and maybe fry[ing] you with some radiation”. Today, many universities and professionals are conducting research on naturopathic medicine, whose treatments consist not of chemotherapy and painkillers, but rather of “our life in nature…rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense!” The Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota offers eight different courses on Nature-Based Therapeutics, including but not limited to, therapeutic horticulture, restorative environments, facilitated green exercise, and healing gardens, in hopes of strengthening the supposition that “working with plants or animals can improve concentration, encourage relaxation, and improve self-esteem”.
Multiple studies in and outside of these classes suggest that consistent exposure to nature yields positive psychological benefits. For example, children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are observed to be more relaxed playing in an outdoor environment as opposed to an enclosed room. Listening to the soft ruffle of leaves in the gentle wind tends to improve cognition; not only is stress decreased, immune responses are amplified as well. This is due to the enhanced activity of the natural killer (NK) cells in the blood. These cells are designed to detect viruses and combat foreign cells that enter the bloodstream.
Currently, meticulous research is being conducted to see how this can affect various cancers. If the results of this research are positive, cancer may be potentially cured by simply spending time in nature in place of painful hours of surgery. Additionally, just as there are benefits to being among nature, there are adverse consequences to being away from it. Time spent in front of a computer screen has a multitude of destructive effects, including an increase in the risk of developing mental health disorders. Social media that exists within the screen can easily become addictive, taking away people’s ability to critically think.
Users “are recording all the miniscule, mundane details of their lives on things like Twitter and Facebook and so you’ll know what someone had for lunch…but they’re not sitting there, critically thinking about why [they do what they do]”. As Henry David Thoreau eloquently pieced together in Walden, “perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow while I have clutched”.
Furthermore, a 2012 study by the US National Institutes of Health alerts that constant social media use can potentially damage a person’s psychological well-being and induce ailments as severe as depression. In order to restore full health, people diagnosed with depression have been “balance[ing] certain neurotransmitters with drugs”. As much as these patients would like to believe that these drugs do have a healing effect, in plain reality, they “work only as well as placebos, and have a lot of unwanted side effects…[and they] don’t target the real cause of the disease – just the symptoms”. Not delving into the root cause prevents secure antidote; the symptoms may reappear at any given moment. In one instance, upon losing her job in HIV prevention in 2010, J.
Phoenix Smith was diagnosed with depression. Refusing to go along with the “regular” treatments that consist of prescription medicine and therapy, she took “long hikes in the Northern California hills, and was inspired to volunteer at a garden in East Oakland”. She claimed to have remembered “walking into the garden, and immediately [feeling] better…[and that she] just saw wealth and abundance. There was food growing, and flowers. It really helped to shift [her] thinking”. Her natural curative experience inspired her not only to graduate from the ecotherapy certificate program at John F.
Kennedy University in California, but also to start a consulting company called EcoSoul. Today, Smith works as an ecotherapist who turns to nature’s remedial effects to treat her patients. Doctors and transcendentalists both seem to agree that nature truly is a leap towards health restoration. “The environment plays a critical role in your overall wellbeing, and a growing number of researchers and human service professionals believe that many issues facing people today – issues that include depression, anxiety, and stress – are due, in part, to our separation from nature”. Transcendentalism clearly corresponds to the aforementioned principle.
The healing effects of nature are generous and overflowing. Naturopathic physicians who make use of nature to cure their patients understand that “the body has an inherent ability to maintain and restore health”. Taking pills into one’s body, of which the side effects are dangerously unknown, in an attempt to help aid the process of recovery is not necessary. The ideal method of healing has already been predetermined about 200 years ago by central and revered figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau-“In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me”. Personifying nature and implying that it is friendly indicate that it has subtle powers to console the hurt and mend the broken, as a friend would do to his wounded companion. Nature is not only confined to support however, it also offers remedy- cost-free, side effect free, and truly satisfactory.
Unlike conventional medicine that is saturated with cruel side effects, nature “is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest”.