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Sustainability: Understanding Wholeness - Part 1

Posted 5/7/2008 1:04pm by Leaf Myczack.

Being raised in contemporary mainstream USA doesn't usually prepare a person to understand or comprehend the basic tenets of "wholeness." Our daily lives, based in the dominant American culture, are usually a series of fragmented, self-imposed "boxes" and events, strung together by a nebulous chain of individual needs and wants. This disconnect from holistic thinking manifests itself in numerous ways, not the least of which is found in our own health issues and the healthcare system.

This became most apparent when I approached my own health / illness issues through what we commonly refer to as Western medicine.  In the course of being diagnosed and monitored for a chronic disease, I sat across from physicians who smoked cigaretts, drank cokes and ate so-called "food" bulked-up with copious amounts of fat, sugar, and chemical preservatives. When I brought up issues of nutrition to these doctors, most just shrugged off any suggestion of a connection between health and diet!

Confronted by the contradictions and shortcomings of this western approach, I sought alternative treatment through an out-of-state clinic which practices Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). That approach is much more aligned with the farming practices we employ on our organic teaching farm in East Tennessee. Just as TCM treats the health of the whole body, not just a specific illness, we address the health and vitality of the whole farm, not just a specific area. We have first hand experience that this approach works very effectively without creating any negative side effects.

Our farming approach is centered around the principle that we create no waste product. Whether it be manure, crop plant residue and even weeds, we treat it all as a recyclable component in building the soil fertility. If it grew there, it belongs there. The idea that crop plant residues or weed residues are foreign material needing offsite disposal never crosses our mind. In TCM, no healer would consider removing or discarding body organs because they failed to operate properly. Rather the approach is to restore the body health and thus return the organ to its' rightful place in the healthy functioning of the whole.

On an individual, small residential scale, the fragmented approach is made manifest in the concept of yard waste such as grass clippings, leaves and deadfall tree branches. Grass catcher attachments, lawn rakes and leaf blowers are all used to remove "the crop" from the place it grew and the place it needs to remain. "Weed  plants" are often killed through chemical means because we fail to hear their message. Non-domesticated plant species and their root structures help to indicate underlying soil conditions. Much in the same way that human skin conditions may indicate what is occurring within the blood.

Plants have the unique ability, among living things, to produce their own food. When we remove the organic matter that plants produce, we take away the food that feeds the soil organisms. The soil organisms consume and digest organic matter , turning it into usable plant and tree food. "Rake up the leaves, starve the trees." It is a well designed system that is thwarted when we fail to view the cycle of plant life holistically.

When we burn organic plant food matter, we essentially compound the problem and create significant negative impacts on soil, air, and human and non-human life. We also weaken the whole living complex, allowing disease and pestilence to get a foothold. In response,  we try to compensate and offset the damage by introducing alien and often toxic products that do little to address, and even less in ameliorating the problems we have created. Western medicine tends to follow the same approach, treating disease and illness as something to eradicate, rather than a message about conditions in the body as a whole.

In our next blog, we will continue this discussion of wholeness as we look at  mental well being and its' relationship to intention.


-farmer leaf