Natural Medicine Editorial 🌿 Life Or Death: What Is Medicine/Health Really About?

in naturalmedicine •  last month 

This week @metametheus poses a philosophical question to challenge our beliefs around health, healing, medicine, life and death. We invite you to consider the question Do We Live Healthy Lives to Avoid or Postpone Death? and post your response. 30 Steem (and more) up for grabs to the best entries (see below for details).


A few years ago now, I was sitting in stillness meditation after a particularly potent alchemical Qìgōng session when something dawned on me. A little voice piped up in my consciousness and challenged me:

Why are you afraid of death?

I'm not afraid of death! How can I be afraid of death?

And so, all the pieces of a puzzle began unfolding before me. It started with childhood night-terrors imaging what happens after death comes on, to my refusal to attend funerals, to the challenge of my physiological illness and spiritual 'death', to the anxiety of losing loved ones, and my fascination with Taoist Alchemy, medicine, and longevity practices.

My experience with Graves Disease (the irony on that is not lost on me) was the catalyst for my journey with natural medicine and health. That voice was challenging my intentions behind my health choices: I wasn't 'being healthy' to be healthy, but to prolong life and avoid death!


So I questioned my choices: were they really serving my true nature?

A little bit of extra context is needed here. At the time I had begun to learn a tantric form of yoga, and in doing so familiarising myself particular with the tantric Buddhist ideas from Tibet. I attended a workshop on Yoga & Death and learned about the Bardo Thödol — otherwise called the "Tibetan Book of the Dead".

I have arrived at the time of death, so now, by means of this death
I will adopt only the attitude of the enlightened state of mind,
Friendliness and compassion,
And attain perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings,
As limitless as space.

— from the Bardo Thödol (Tibetak Book of the Dead)

Being a Doctor of Chinese Medicine and practicing primary health-care provider, this challenged my beliefs and very livelihood. The alchemical tradition of TCM which came through a certain Taoist school of thought saw illness as a means of achieving one's 命 mìng or fate/destiny, and I always approached my work with patients in such a way (modelled on my own experience of healing through chronic illness).

But what if someone's mìng is to die? Wouldn't I be getting in the way of that? And how would I even know?

Of course, this becomes part of the major criticisms with modern medical approaches to (for example) Cancer treatments. Often, Oncologists continue to treat a patient with chemo/radio-therapies even when they believe there is no chance of survival.

It is even the criticism of medicating the elderly, keeping people alive who in natural circumstances would have passed on perhaps years prior. And in such cases, what cost to health budgets, society, the taxpayer, etc?

Even the vaccination argument — on both sides of the fence — is driven by a fear of death, either caused by an infectious disease or an enforced vaccination.

Die! Die!
Don't fear the death
Of that which is known
If you die to the temporal
You will become timeless

— Rumi

This critique could not only be directed at mainstream/scientific medicine, but at the natural medicine/health industry also.

Similar to the ancient Chinese alchemists, the natural health industry uses the promises of a long life full of hope, sunshine, and runs along a sandy beach to promote mineral supplements, herbal medicines, diets, exercise, fitness, yoga, etc.

I have even witnessed this same sense of thanatophobia in the field of child-birth, where unnecessary medical interventions are promoted with the mantra of "you don't want your unborn child to die, do you?"

Thinking along these lines pushed my buttons, and continues to do so. Just because I am no longer a health professional, doesn't mean I have somehow become separated from these challenging ideas?

What if we simply let people die when they get cancer?

What happens if we go ahead with a home-birth irrespective of risk factors and allow children or others to not survive?

What if we don't vaccinate, and people die from diseases like measles?

Somehow the complete other end of the spectrum, complete non-intervention, also feels not-quite-right.

Having approached an immortal like you [Yama/Death],
How can I,
Subject to old age and death,
Ever try to rejoice in a long life,
For the sake of the senses' fleeting pleasures?

— from the Katha Upanishad

These words from the Upanishads somehow give me a clue as to all of this — "for the sake of the senses' fleeting pleasures".

In later times, Taoist alchemists began to understand that the concept of longevity was not so much about a long life, but a fulfilled, quality of life.

What do we do with the life that we have? Is it better to have a long life of suffering, or a shorter life that is meaningful?

I'm nowhere near an answer, myself. I still grapple with these questions, and continue to confront and invite my own fear of death. One of the things I will be doing is facing one of my fears and jumping out of a plane in the next couple of months (sky-diving).

But this process of questioning is also beginning to inform my choices with diet, lifestyle, etc. Spending all my money on preventing death — such as herbs, medicines, supplements, visits to health practitioners, etc — doesn't seem as important as spending it on travel, time with loved ones, experiences that enrich my life, and opportunities to help other people live full lives also.

About The Author

@metametheus is a human being with an eclectic and diverse background of experiences and qualifications. He is passionate about re-igniting hope in people, and helping to build a human civilisation founded in diversity, integrity, harmony, and humility.

You can find his work on his website Pandora's Lost Gift

The NM Wisdom Challenge:

Do We Live Healthy Lives to Avoid or Postpone Death?

There's many ways to answer this question.
You might:

  • write about personal experience
  • explore a particularly study on longevity
  • examine psychological or cultural attitudes toward death
  • consider particular diets that are said to help with a longer life
  • explore mindful or meditative practices that assist us in coping with the inevitability of our physical deaths
  • consider challenging the question

Prizes and Winners

Every valid and worthy entry will recieve a 100 Percent upvote from @naturalmedicine and will be resteemed. We'll also celebrate you in a curation wrap up post that goes out to nearly 800 followers to give you more coverage.

Our favourite entries will be shortlisted by the core Natural Medicine team, and if it's not unanimous, we'll use a random name picker to choose a winner from the shortlist to win 20 Steem!

Plus, 2 runners up will get 5 Steem courtesy of @metametheus and @riverflows.

Depending on how many entries we receive, up to 3 runners up may win SBI bonus prizes.


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    Do We Live Healthy Lives to Avoid or Postpone Death?

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I loved your reflection and the quotes used to enhance it. Thanotophobia... of course. I'm not sure I'm scared of death, just of not living life. I think Dad is the same. It is what it is, he says. But I'd like another road trip.

I do think we prolong life longer than needed, often. J's Aunt Sally was furious at the hospital for not doing EVERYTHING they could to keep her 96 year old father from dying, despite the fact he had been wanting to join his wife for the last 20 years, was frustrated with Parkinson's and very, very ready to go. She is currently suing the hospital. Or trying to. How grace is needed at times of dying and the letting go of those who leave us! I know this, but still, this sadness in my bones...

There is a wierd paradox in man where we live in both joy and fear, love and grief.

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
Mary Oliver

I love that quote from Bardo Thodol. In conversations last year as we thought Dad was about to cark it, that's what he was assessing.. have I been a good, compassionate person? He had all the guilts... but as we said, none of them weighed up against the greater beauty of who he was NOW, and he could go with a feather light soul. To practice constantly a life of LOVE is what matters, no matter how short it is. How we have our obsessions and fears and illusions that stop us doing this!!

I asked Dad if he'd do chemo again and he said yes, because of the what ifs. It's funny... he says 'it is what it is' constantly as a personal mantra, but that includes trusting the oncologists. There's been a lot of progress made that CAN keep people ticking with a good quality of life, so why not? Thank God he's got on a trial.. an immunotherapy one I think.. so he avoids chemo again. But he'll let go when the time is right... proud of him for that wisdom and equanimity. As he says, he's just like another road trip. Life's fleeting pleasures. We do love life so.

JUMPING OUT OF A PLANE!!! Wtf, holy nutballs. No way. But yes, life. Live. Xx

Thank you for this beautiful post...

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he could go with a feather light soul.

shivers, here. i think, through it all, this is the highest thing i would wish for those i love who are faced with death (and us with them)... thanatophobida maybe haunts most of us, but it sounds like your dad has it licked.

Thank you for sharing the wisdom @metametheus 🙏🏼 I love listening to the Tibetan Book of Living & Dying -

ancient jewel. 🕉🧘🏼‍♂️🧘🏼‍♀️

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