Are You Heroic or Wise?
Practitioners of health and medical arts fall into three categories, or “Traditions” according to Susun Weed in her book “Healing Traditions”.
We are all pretty familiar with the Scientific Tradition, so I will keep my summary of this category brief in order to focus on the other categories. We are most familiar in our current society with medical professionals in clean white coats, with many years of formal training in institutions of reknown, with credentials and degrees and letters after their names, and an almost god-like reverence. These people with technology and research stand between patients and death/pain. Or at least that is how the system is viewed. It’s all very sterile and well documented and serious. I am one of these people. My patients are animals, but the tradition is the same. Admittedly, I haven’t worn a white coat in several years now, but I am still part of this Tradition.
Some people choose something different. They seek out an alternative. A Tradition based more on ancient healing, using more natural and even spiritual approaches to health and disease. Most of these people will find themselves with some variation of a Heroic tradition. We all have images in our heads of who these practitioners are. They have amazing skills at body manipulation or healing touch. They have near-magical and mysterious remedies often sourced from exotic places or used in very specific special ways. They are the holders of ancient secrets. Gurus.
If the Scientific Tradition can be represented by a shrinking spiral, the Heroic Tradition is represented by a near-perfect circle. The Scientific Tradition practitioner will point out flaws in the patient, and will expect gradual loss of function and health over time, as we become less and less like the perfection of youth and masculine strength and virility. We gradually spiral down down down in quality until we cease to exist at all. In the Heroic Tradition we seek to create a perfect circle. If we balance and maintain and do the right things perfectly, then we can stay perfectly vital and youthful and masculine forever. We never spiral down. We just reach enlightened perfection.
I mean, except that doesn’t actually happen. Because we are flawed humans. Imperfect. We can’t be perfectly balanced. So we slowly spiral down in the Heroic Tradition too. But then it is our fault for not doing everything perfectly and for not maintaining clean, balanced perfection. One Tradition (Scientific) fixed mechanistic problems with surgery and pills and mechanistic micronutrient analysis. The other (Heroic) maintains balance and cleanses imperfection with clean diets, body manipulation, mental discipline, and spiritual enlightenment. Both offer external heroes ready to step in to save you from pain and disease. Both hold up an impossible ideal of masculine youth as the goal of health.
So what else is there? There is a way of looking at health that sees every moment of life as perfection. Every experience adds to our whole. Each challenge brings us more knowledge, compassion, patience, skills, tools, and connection to others. We become MORE over time.
This Tradition can be viewed as a spiral that is ever-widening, becoming larger over time as our experiences bring more into us.
This is often called the “Wise Woman” Tradition or the “Wise” Traditions. While there may be some professionals that support this Tradition, it is not reliant on heros or gurus or elite training at all. Instead is reliant on simple knowledge of self and simple knowledge carried on within communities by those who have always cared for the community. By this I mean the mothers, the aunties, the grannies. Men can certainly have these skills, but they tend to be the men who are very in touch and comfortable with their nurturing aspects. These people do not seek to control or limit or establish rules and protocols. These people support and nurture and nourish.
Nourishment is the key here. If our spiral is growing, then it is being fed. Wise Tradition practitioners feed patients. Literally, they seek out the most nourishing foods available, and prepare them with intention. But we can be nourished in many ways. Actually in any way. Anything that is useful in creating healing is an option. All paths are open. The individual is fed and the spiral widens.
Sometimes the tools in these Traditions overlap quite bit. Acupuncture is usually put in a Heroic category, with skilled practitioners moving energy patterns in mysterious ways, it definitely fits. However, medical acupuncture is now widely taught and used in numerous Scientific settings, with peer-reviewed research articles to back it up. And to Wise Traditions participant, acupuncture can be one of several tools used to bring healing and wholeness to nourish the patient. It is the intent and the way it is used that determines which Tradition we are using.
Scientific and Heroic Traditions place the professional at the apex of a triangle. This person makes the decisions and determines the goals and outcomes. The Wise tradition places the patient at the apex, and anyone else is there to help meet that person’s goals, in a servant role.
The doctor is the servant. That pretty much turns the whole thing on its head doesn’t it?
I recently listened to an IndieBirth podcast from Maryn Green on midwifery and the Wise Woman Tradition. She does not go into great detail, but her main point is that midwifery care should be 100% about serving the birthing person. Not the state or the law or the institution. And any limitation placed on a midwife from a state or law or institution stands between a midwife and her service to a birthing person.
This is an amazing thing to say. Truly revolutionary in a Scientific Tradition, and very extreme in a Heroic Tradition as well.
In veterinary medicine, we serve the human-animal pair. We must serve the needs of the human, even while the patient is the animal. It is an interesting dynamic. But very simple if we approach it from the Wise Tradition. How can I serve this human-animal pair to the best of my ability? What need do they have? How can I add to their experience and nourish their wellbeing?
Is your holistic practitioner Heroic or Wise? Who is at the Apex of the Triangle? Do they see the spiral as slowly spiraling down without balancing and cleansing? Or do nourish a widening uplifting spiral of life?
I believe in meeting the needs of my human-animal pair. I believe in placing them in the position of making decisions. I believe in supporting all life stages with beauty and respect. I believe in using all paths open to me, as appropriate to each individual. I believe that health and wholeness are achieved in an infinite number of ways, and that they look different for each individual.
If you are a practitioner, are you the guru with cleanses and balancing and aims of perfection? Or are you the servant nourishing wholeness?
If you are the patient, do you want a hero to save you? Or do you want to create and experience wholeness of self just as you are, and then nourish yourself to become more?
If you are caring for an animal, do you want a hero to save your companion? Or do you want someone to serve your needs, who recognizes the wholeness and beauty in your companion just as they are right now, and then nourishes them to become more?