Tell me a thing.
What colour is a yummy, ripe banana?
Not if you’re in Bali.
I’ve always grown up to believe that green bananas are starchy, chalky, and raw. Until I couldn’t help but wonder why our hotel would bring us raw bananas in a fruit basket – and I took a chance on challenging what I thought I knew…. and discovered the banana was as ripe as bananas come.
It’s time to start de-conditioning my mind – unlearning the things I’ve known to be true.
So… in my pursuit of “energy” and how it fits into my life.. .. what I know so far is this:
Energy is a weird concept that nobody seems to really be able to target; its sources are identifiable, and its effects can be measured… but I’ve still yet to receive any kind of answer on what it actually is.
Okay. Fine. I’ll just choose to believe in its existence, then – regardless of the fact that I can’t logic my way into or out of it. (de-conditioning has begun).
I’ve also learned that my ability to perceive energy is based on a few things (as shown in my efforts to harness a lightning storm):
- Trust – I needed to trust that I was capable of bearing witness to energy (or else I wouldn’t have made the effort at all)
- Faith – I had to believe that my efforts were more valuable than to not engage in them at all.
- Patience – it doesn’t come on demand.
- Openness – to re-calibrating my measuring tools
- Grit – I shouldn’t quit just because I’m ‘mostly happy’ or because the process is hard
- Gratitude – gratitude is like a lightning rod for awesomeness
So essentially I just need to know that it exists – that it’s this other plane of being – a thing that requires acknowledgement.. and… dare I say…. nurturance? healing? I dunno.
Two months ago I ended up in Thailand with Mark having no idea why we’d actually gone to that particular place – until it became apparent to us that we needed to heal aspects of ourselves as individuals. It’s referred to as a healing island and it seems everyone there vibrates on a higher frequency – whatever that means. But there’s definitely a palpable sense of awareness in the air; you can taste it when you breathe. So there’s no denying the increase in energy – despite the fact that I can’t make sense of it… yet.
Okay. Energy is this invisible force that causes a particular outcome. Reading anything outside of just ‘nutritional energy’ for the body, definitions begin to twirl around the idea of ‘spiritual energy’. And then things seem to get all “new-age-y” and hokey… right? Except, for… it kind of makes sense.
I studied neuroscience and biological psychology in university and I have a degree is understanding how the interactions of our physical components give rise to our perception of life. Medicine makes sense…. if I have low cortisol, I’m relaxed. High serotonin? I’m happy. Lots of oxytocin? I want to cuddle the fuxk out of you.
It’s linear. It’s logical. I get it.
But what happened to people before western medicine came along?
Maybe this is where I need to take the mind I’ve been conditioned to have and crack it open.
Her name was Alice and we met her getting on the plane in Singapore en route to Bali. “Is your carry-on specifically designed to carry a yoga mat?!” she exclaimed from behind me. I turned to see this strikingly gorgeous blonde yogini walking down the jetway behind me. “It is! I picked it up at Lululemon before we came to Asia.”
“I’ll have to look into getting one.” she concluded – in her definitively kiwi accent.
“Is this your first time to Bali?” Mark asked her.
“Not at all.” she replied. “I live in Singapore now – I escape to Bali for the weekend as often as I can.”
First world problems, right?
She was on her way to catch the tail end of Bali Spirit Fest – a consortium of gurus, hippies, healers, gypsies, and creatures in pursuit of enlightenment.
“So you’re heading into Ubud, then? Let’s share a taxi. Meet us at baggage claim.” I made some quick plans to connect with our like-minded new friend as we piled into our aircraft. Ironically, she was sitting just a couple of rows ahead of us.
By the time we landed in Denpasar it was obvious our paths weren’t likely to cross again: the walk through the airport was long, immigration lines were crazy long (and painfully slow), mine and Mark’s trekking packs were already out on the belt by the time we got downstairs. I tried to look back a few times to catch a glimpse of our taxi-sharing-friend but to no avail.
And just before we called our own Uber to drive us the 45ish minutes to Ubud, Mark took a quick bathroom break and as we walked back out to me – guess who I saw walking toward us?? Our beautiful blonde kiwi yogini alongside the driver she’d just hailed.
“Come with me!” she exclaimed. And we decided to share a car.
Any time you get into conversation with someone in SE Asia who’s living a life removed from the ‘norm’ you can bet you’ll have at least a thing or two in common. It’s always fun to figure out whether it’ll be a digitally nomadic life, wanderlust, nonmonogamy, spiritual pursuit. As it turns out, with Alice, it was her definitive spiritual awakening that struck us, and it was our non-monogamous relationship that struck her. Good thing we figured out what we’d talk about for the next hour!
As our driver weaved in and out of crazy evening traffic, our conversation ebbed and flowed from what we do for a living, how we choose to live our lives, and why we consider ourselves on a ‘journey’. It was the story of how Alice’s journey began that would permeate down into my cells and demand to be examined:
“I just couldn’t accept that all health, happiness and wellness originated within the schools of thought of a handful of affluent white dudes.” – She was mostly healthy, mostly happy – but wasn’t… RADIATING, you know? She just kind of existed.. like most of us do.
And the academic conversation she was referring to was a university lecture that drew all modern medicine and advanced thinking back to the originating works of some pretty smart dudes: mostly Hippocrates, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato.
SO WEIRD! I learned the exact same basis for modern thought in my History of Psychology course in 4th year (though, replace Hippocrates with Descartes, who came a little later) – and the idea that these guys are largely accredited with the foundation for everything we feel we know today.
“So then what came before them?” Alice pressed of her professor.
I don’t presume he was super open to de-conditioning the way she was.
There’s no denying that how history is written has been influenced by its authors. It’s the same logic as the skew of Wikipedia-based knowledge – all curated and reviewed by a particularly tilted group of users. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were ground-breaking thinkers in their time, between 500 and 300 BC – sure… but what happened BEFORE them? cavemen and dark abyss?
Now, I’m FAR from a history buff in any way…. but even with our modern-day sensitivities to the sources of our accepted truths, am I the only one who can’t help but wonder what came, wellness-ly speaking, before the affluent white guys came along??
Hippocrates has gone down in all our history books as being the Father of Modern Medicine because he observed stuff that happened in the body, theorized around it, began building empirical evidence – all around a time when the ‘world’ was growing in size and preserved information began to matter.
So does that mean bodies and health and wellness didn’t exist prior to Hippocrates? Obviously not. Obviously this dude just came along and employed the tools of the time to begin a systematic approach to what had obviously been transpiring between people for thousands of years before that. What then, was accredited to wellness before he came along? Well – perhaps some of these quotes shed some light:
Natural forces, you say? Energy, perhaps? Hmmm…
Traditionally, health has been described as the absence of disease. But just because we’re not diagnosed with a medical condition, do we claim to be healthy?
Day in, day out – we complain that we’re tired, that we feel heavy, we’re lethargic, we’re unhappy. Our libidos stutter, our self-confidence plummets, our moods swing back and forth like a pendulum. Just because we don’t have a shiny diagnosis to boast doesn’t mean we feel our healthiest selves. We’re not “ill”, but we’re not well either.
Tell me then, how did humans combat depression before SSRIs were mass manufactured?
Mostly everything we’re taught about contemporary health and wellness comes from ‘western’ schools of thought.. that is, everything that’s not eastern…. yet, some of the oldest cultures in the world exist in the East. What happened to all the shit they spent thousands of years perfecting??
Please don’t tell me that the capitalism of human health tilted the conditioning we’re exposed to? Is it possible that we’ve been raised to believe that viagra, zoloft, and twinrix are the solution because they’re man-made, manufactured, and come with an astronomical profit margin?
Here’s the historical snapshot:
While certain elements of this timeline thoroughly confuse me, it’s an interesting visual depiction of how “medicine” has unfolded over time.
Egyptian physicians, which I know nothing about… 3000 BC.
Chinese medicine – well, if acupunture counts, I’m beginning to learn.. but alas… 2500ish BC. – Qi. (chi). ENERGY.
Ayurvedic Medicine – now there’s a term I’ve been hearing a lot in SE Asia this time around: ayurvedic healing, ayurvedic eating… early wellness practices from India. Intriguing.
And then we fast forward to that 500 BC mark where the “western” schools of thought from WASPy white guys begins to make its mark.
So what we know about health/wellness today obviously didn’t exist in a silo.
Prehistoric medicine is rooted in the use of plants, herbs, clays and soils as healing agents. Sure, maybe it wasn’t documented the way modern-day cancer studies are laid out… but does that make it worthless? Hippocrates didn’t seem to think so. I mean, these ancient practices were to use what they had at the time – to combat the ailments they faced in their particular ways of life.
So only after health/wellness practices from earliest civilizations (ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, India, and China) did we arrive at modern medicine:
But apparently only when modern civilization happened did the heavens part and angels sang and lo and behold, the Greeks and Romans came along and THANK GOD they did because they built the foundation upon which we’ll all be saved, right?! Okay… so that was written in sarcastic font. I guess the entire reason I’m feeling a little aggravated at the idea of ‘healing’ as I’ve always known is the fact that we, as a western mind, have totally discredited all the things cultures knew predating “us” by literally thousands of years.
Do we really have the audacity to believe that the only solution to every pathology is what we feel we know today? surgery and pharmaceuticals?
I mean, sure.. if I get bitten by an aggressive insect and that bite gets infected and my skin starts to swell and ooze and turning colours it shouldn’t be – I’m DEEPLY grateful for Fleming and penicillin and all its modern-day derivatives. Like, I wouldn’t sit and stare at a gangrenous foot with burning sage and a rose quartz and hope it goes away on its own…
But… humans began to live a largely unnatural life at one point – and our demands for health, wellness, and medicine really had to respond to shit like environmental pollution and unnaturally fast shifts in geographic locations – no? Would I have the same reaction to said aggressive insect if I’d grown up in the country it lives – allowing my natural immunities to build up over time to its shitty sting?
To pull this ancient medicine talk back to where I started….
I started with energy… because so much of what I’m learning these days, and so many people I’m meeting these days, are guided by the seemingly mystical pulls of energy.
Koh Phangan is deemed a healing island – and while there is a western hospital now for things like orthopedic surgery (when Full Mooner assholes crash their motorbikes), most of the healing happens in a dimension outside of western medicine: nutrition + herbal supplements, body work (massage, alignment, acupuncture), meditation, exercise. And beneath all those? That damn ENERGY again.
It sounds much more…. preventative, doesn’t it? Compared to the west’s…. almost …. “reactive” treatment approach? If this thing is about to kill you we’ll go in with super invasive procedures and chemicals to kill it first…. with very little regard for the imbalances being caused as side effects everywhere else?
After only a few weeks in Thailand I began to formulate a judgment for myself:
Western medicine treats the body like a machine, and when it’s broken – it hopes to fix it – but the historic Hippocratic Oath (still pledged by physicians today) – and specifically the promise to “Do No Harm” – well, that’s crap. Western medicine does harm. Pharmacology harms. Surgeries can harm. Mis-diagnoses harm. Malpractice harms. Yup, when I have a gangrenous foot I’m super willing to deal with the risk of nausea or constipation in exchange for antibiotic treatment…. but I don’t think the western approach, if in a vacuum, is quite as ‘healthy’ as we’d like to believe it to be.
And then there’s Eastern medicine – which treats the body like a garden…. it focuses on tending to your garden in such a way as to reap its benefits predictably, repeatedly, without end. Yup.. there’s a definitive lack of emergency procedures and chemical interventions for when shit in the garden goes SUPER sideways…. but it’s also this incredibly nourishing, balanced, holistic substrate that theoretically protects against the chronic, long-term struggles that our western lifestyle yields: chronic heart conditions, blood pressure, obesity, depression.
While my understanding of Eastern-based wellness is so limited that its barely even worthy of mention – wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where ENERGY (you know, that underlying thing that we can’t explain but that clearly exists – because – well, like – we charge our phones and stuff) is incorporated into our approach to health?
Did we honestly reach a point in history where Western medicine became threatened by the inexplicability and non-replicability of Eastern schools of thought that it struck them from the record entirely? Maybe ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practices don’t withstand the scientific method – but does that render them entirely useless? I mean, not even amoxycillin is 100% effective in 100% of cases, right? It’s long list of side effects definitely demand some acknowledgment.
Was it ever meant to be an either/or?
Are pathological conditions outlined in medical journals the only healing we need to pursue? Or is there something to be said for the healing that came before those WASPy white guys did?
Maybe… just maybe… if we started with the nourishing, natural, holistic approach – maybe our machines wouldn’t break down so often? Maybe eastern wellness is like the green bananas of Bali…. counterintuitive, seemingly unnatural – but actually just as good (if not better) than anything else I’ve ever known? The de-conditioning continues….