Alternative Medicine As An Effective Alternative to Conventional Medicine

As we progress into the twenty-first century, we have made many inroads and advances in medicine due to new discoveries in chemistry, biology, and physics. Conventional medicine, our generally accepted system of medical knowledge, is practiced almost exclusively in the United States and abroad. Using this system, medical doctors and other health professionals treat diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Conventional medicine is also known as allopathic, mainstream, modern or Western medicine.

As a technically advanced society, we have become proud of our achievements in science but modern medicine has yet to solve our health problems. There are several diseases such as cancer, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and a wide variety of serious as well as chronic diseases where a cure has been pending for many, many years. Those who are suffering with incurable illnesses, are questioning the true advancement of modern medicine, and wondering, considering the modern innovations in science, if it has really made so much progress at all. We do have everyday experience of the wonders of medical science in the areas of nuclear and emergency medicine, immunology, surgery and medical testing, and certainly these systems are extremely important, but actual disease prevention and treatment for many chronic diseases is still eluding the modern medical establishment.

There has existed a driving force behind alternative medicine for centuries, and the motivation has been to heal others. Although practitioners of alternative medicine and their patients are reporting effective results, there are some persons who propose that such medicine is fraudulent, and is being practiced by insufficient or under/uneducated persons. This certainly could be true is some cases, but has also been true regarding conventional medical doctors who have had their licenses revoked for negligence or incompetence.

If doctors were not sexists, then there would be no need to offer seminars on how to sensitively handle a woman’s pelvic exam in a “non-sexist manner.” This type of mentality is one of many reasons women especially, and men also, are turning away from their medical doctors and enlisting the help of alternative practitioners. Michael P. Annavi, Ph.D., in his essay on allopathic authority, entitled Scraps from the Table of Allopathic Power, states that “the allopathic medical industry has created a process of invalidation that promotes the ideology that knowledge is real only if it is established within this tautological framework of European thought”.

The difficulty in establishing the practices and rights of non-traditional health professionals has been thwarted for the past two centuries from those who advocate the practice of scientifically validated medicine, from the traditional medical societies, and, of course, from the medical doctors themselves. This is nothing more than systematic prejudice and racism, especially in regard to the Chinese and E. Indian medical practitioners of acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine.

Larry Altshuler, M.D., in his book Balanced Healing, states that many alternative healing methods are simply more effective than conventional treatments are for certain conditions, and many treatments have fewer side effects and potential dangerss. Throughout his book, Dr. Altshuler discusses natural treatments he has used effectively on patients for many years. A proponent of preventative and natural medicine, Dr. Altshuler explains, for example, that there is a strong correlation between diabetes and obesity. As a truly alternative medical treatment, firstly he mentions that patients should completely avoid alcohol, which is very high in sugar content. Secondly he says to eat a balanced diet, low in refined sugars, fat, and animal products, and high in plant fiber. Thirdly he recommends the vitamins, nutrients and herbs necessary for supplementation. Lastly he recommends getting acupuncture treatments.

In the documentary film, The True Story of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Otto C. Schwarth, an American P.O.W., forced to work on the railway between Burma and Thailand during World War II, described how hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, British and American, sick and dying of various diseases, were treated by a handful of physicians. In his interview, Mr. Schwarth, then in his eighties, recalled: “The Americans were forever grateful to Dutch medical doctor Henry Hecking. Dr. Hecking was born and raised in Indonesia by his grandmother who was an herbalist. He was our savior, actually, because he knew all the local herbs. Our group ended up having the lowest death rate on the line.

Michael Wayne, Ph.D., author of Quantum Integral Medicine, explains in his interview with Acupuncture Today: This biomedicine (conventional medicine) has been based on a model on linear determination and reductionism – approaches that see the world in very black and white terms. This approach has gotten our selves into a lot of trouble, not only with its approach to the human body, but also with its approach to solving world problems. It is very cause-and-effect oriented and is always looking to find the one ultimate cause that created the dilemma (par. 3). Modern medical science has denied the larger picture of health and healing, being induced by corporate influence and profiteering. We are presently seeing the outcomes of such corruption and greed – like war in the Mid East in an attempt to monopolize oil reserves, global warming along with the melting of the polar ice caps, and worldwide economic collapse.

It has also become an amusement of some medical doctors to criticize natural medicine and its practitioners. In an interview with an Orthopedic Surgeon in Fresno, CA (who preferred to keep his name anonymous), revealed that chiropractors are referred to, in the conservative medical world, as “pseudo-doctors.” In the early twentieth century the medical establishment fought against the profession of Chiropractic, saying that due to public welfare and protection, these types of alternative medical practitioners should not be licensed. We find that it was actually due to economic self-interest and not public welfare, or as Chiropractors state “the ermine gloves of altruism frequently conceal the brass knuckles of greed” (Whorton 138). Plainly speaking, the medical profession does not want to share its economic benefits with other medicine men. Hippocrates was also considered a heretic or “quack” of his time because the medical thinking of his day was that disease and recovery were caused or influenced by gods and demons.. Hippocrates (born 460 BC) is considered the father of Western allopathic medicine. He is credited with greatly advancing the systematic study of clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians.

Twentieth-century medicine has made incredible inroads of discovery including nuclear technology for diagnosis and treatment. Although conventional medicine has made a great deal of scientific advancement, many people are still suffering from chronic debilitating diseases and incurable diseases. Allopathic medicine has hundred years of research and discovery, but does not seem to be making valuable and affordable solutions as we progress into the twenty-first century. The cost of medical treatment is staggeringly high, especially for diagnostic testing and hospitals visits. Medical practitioners are concerned not only with there own economic progress, but keeping at bay those who are not deemed worthy of the title Medical Doctor or M.D. In ancient China, the doctor was not paid for their services if a person became ill. They were only compensated for keeping patrons healthy via advice on diet, nutrition and exercise. They prescribed herbal medicines, not only for illness but for preventative health as well, so it was the healthy that supported the Chinese practitioner and not the sick. Unfortunately, in our modern society, it is the sick that provide the practitioner with a healthy income.

An Afternoon With “In Search of the Medicine Buddha” Author David Crow

In 2002, I came upon a book whose alluring title sucked me in right away: In Search of the Medicine Buddha. Given its setting in Nepal, where I trekked twenty years ago, and author David Crow’s exploration of the great ancient medical traditions of Tibet, China and Ayurveda, I did everything I could to absorb this book. Then, a couple of years ago, after gaining more knowledge on all of these traditions, I read the book again.

My feeling was the same: In Search of the Medicine Buddha was more than a travelogue, one man’s search for his deeper purpose, a memoir, the author’s fascination with plants, or a study of alchemy and medicine in ways that are simply beyond conventional medicine. It was all of the above, and more: a lyrical narrative with information and story woven together so fluidly and beautifully that, I swore, a great seamstress in the sky was conducting the literary show. It also took its permanent place as one of the 50 best books I’ve ever read.

Imagine my delight earlier this week, when David Crow – now a universally respected expert on Ayurveda, aromatherapy, Tibetan and Chinese medicine and botanical medicine – came to the Ananda College campus and spent an hour and a half with several of my writing students and I. He shared stories from In Search of the Medicine Buddha, discussed the medicinal values of various plants, talked about career opportunities in the herbalism field and explained how one book completely changed his life on a global scale – and how he craves the time to write so creatively again.

But the thrill of the visit was something quite different. Crow returned to his innate love of bringing words to paper (or laptop) with a style that is as mellifluous and beautiful as it gets. He spent the time talking about his process of writing In Search of the Medicine Buddha, going back and forth with us on approaches he took to his stories, his mountains of notes from 10 years of apprenticing with masters of Eastern medicine, and the way he languaged it into a book that is as much poetry as journalism, as much soul narrative as travelogue, as much personal discovery as the shared wisdom of his teachers. Then, to top it off, he shared a great secret about forming the language to write about scents and smells – and about nature – and finished by reading two pieces aloud, one a prose poem about lavender, the other an archetypal journey into our relationship with plants as medicinals.

I’ve hosted quite a few noteworthy people in classrooms, writer’s conferences, retreats and other venues. Never have I seen what I saw the other day: the guest of honor, who is quite honored in his field on a global level, wanting to hang out with the class, stay extra, just be with other writers. As it was, he stayed for an hour longer than scheduled.

During our discourse, David broke down how he wrote In Search of the Medicine Buddha. Some of what he said is very instructive for all narrative non-fiction, essay and memoir writers:

He wrote out of sequence. The stories became more important than their chronological order in his life. This alone plays to the creative imagination in the reader’s mind.

He interwove and layered stories. Two of the most poignant stories in the book – the beautiful account of canoeing at Lake Pokhara and identifying the medicinals on the lakeshore, watching masters prepare and properly use the greatest alchemical of all, mercury – are breathtaking pieces of true storytelling. He wrote out the basic story, then he wove in other layers from other experiences to create a composite (which you can do when you’re not writing in chronological sequence). He layered, and layered some more, then fine-tuned it in editing. Consequently, these stories offer a vast array of visual and verbal tastes and experiences within their small spaces.

He listened to and trusted his creative process. Crow said he spent weeks, at times, wandering in the woods, waiting for the inner spark to ignite. When it did, he wrote what passed through – which, as all accomplished writers know, is a feeling of no-time and no-space that results in the best and most ordered pure writing, the good stuff readers cannot pass up.

In order to adequately describe the scents and tastes of the plants, life and landscape surrounding his quest for the Medicine Buddha, Crow instinctively utilized bits and pieces of what he later discovered was a sub-language unto itself: The Language of Perfumery, known to winemakers, botanists, perfumists and not too many others. “The sense of smell is the only sense where our brain doesn’t make an automatic verbal association,” he said. “We’ve had to develop a vocabulary to describe scents, and memorize the words.”