The pandemic shows: the health of the individual, the community and the earth are interrelated. The destruction of river landscapes such as the Yangtze, the industrialized mass farming of domestic and fur animals, deforestation and monocultures, the disturbed heat organization of the earth call: We have to change our lives and make them sustainable. Doctors and agricultural workers should work together.
In a historically unprecedented manner, our medicine is able to capture and combat disease. However, it turns out to be neither conceptually nor practically capable of grasping health and maintaining it sustainably. Waging war is different from making peace. Sustainability is not a concept of warfare, but rather of the peace order!
‹One Health› – ‹one health› for man and earth
As unique as the health of each individual is, it is inseparably dependent on the health of all and on peaceful coexistence. One health is indivisible like peace and closes – in a broad sense 1 – all living things one. For a chicken, too, we can distinguish whether it is pecking grains healthy in the sun or vegetating in a chicken battery. We are now learning that if our lives are based on domination, if we are blind to the care of the atmosphere and its relationship with the sun, we will not live healthily.
Today many are beginning to rediscover the earth and its living heart, the sun, as a living being, as part of a cosmic organism, as was self-evident in early cultures. This is about overall health, ‹planetary health›, and its source in the cosmic heart of the sun. But why do we ourselves threaten the health of future generations and the life of the earth? Why did it not matter until now that medicine itself pollutes the earth’s atmosphere and is responsible for five percent of all climate-damaging emissions in Germany? How did medicine and agriculture come into confrontation with disease and nature? The cause lies in the urge for freedom! It has been the Movens since the dawn of modernity. We want to see differently: The gold ground in the pictures gives way to the perspective-earthly space. We want to live differently: Life in the anonymity of the city gives freedom from the group feeling of the village and the family, ‹city air makes you free›. This urge to develop one’s own personality calls for rejecting everything that is not ‘I’. Agriculture has also followed this path of emancipation and alienation. It broke away from the partnership with nature, towards a deeply negative environmental balance. On the other hand, industrialized agriculture now produces food for 7 billion people and the hunger of 800 million people is based on the fact that the food is not where the people are. The causes are wars, a distribution and waste problem, not a production problem. The strategy of overcoming hunger is a driving force that has so far justified the damage to the earth from industrialized agriculture. But such a path, which destroys its foundation, is not sustainable. So let’s look back one more time.
Crap and clover bring a new era
The ‹ora et labora› sounds like the Middle Ages, the cultural landscapes of Europe emerge. Agriculture, livestock farming, fruit growing and horticulture, which in the pre-Christian cultures were developed and handled separately by different ethnic groups, come together. The Christian impulse in the hearts and in the faith of the people creates a new center, which implemented in the hands of labor enabled a new creation with the old elements: the agricultural organism. With the church in the middle, surrounded by the houses, where there was also room for the domestic animals, then the gardens, a little further out the orchards and the field markings with the three-field farming, the whole thing framed by the forest, this is what agricultural life looked like.
The impact of the Renaissance in the arts, the rise of the cities, the founding of the first universities, everything that marked the beginning of modernity was hardly relevant for the rural population. Life went on there. With stable feeding, manure fertilization and clover cultivation, the first steps towards less religious, more rational agriculture were taken in the 18th century. The real step into the modern age came with Justus Liebig in the 1840s: He brought chemistry to agriculture, and explained how nitrogen, phosphorus and potash determine the growth of plants as nutrients. The nitrogen is usually the limiting factor. So it was a matter of finding new sources of nitrogen. Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch succeed in industrially binding atmospheric nitrogen in ammonia. But the First World War begins and the armies need nitrogen for bombs and grenades. At the end of the war, the chemical industry switched to nitrogen fertilizers and found an almost unlimited market in agriculture. The innocence of the peasants is over; they are becoming part of the industrial system. It is synthetic nitrogen that is essential to the industrialization of agriculture. The plants become physiologically unbalanced through mineral fertilization, their diseases are fought with pesticides that were developed in connection with the Second World War. At the end of the Cold War, genetic engineering drove agriculture even further into technocracy.
In the years when this new form of agriculture took off with industrial nitrogen, there were people who were awake. They noticed that the quality of the products was deteriorating and the seeds were also losing their vigor. They reached Rudolf Steiner with the question of whether he could give a specialist course for farmers. This is how the Agricultural Course arose. One can see a ‘world historical’ moment in this, at this Whitsun conference in Koberwitz in 1924. In any case, it couldn’t have been earlier or later. Rudolf Steiner succeeds in making a breakthrough to the spiritual in the handling of substances and forces in practical agriculture, and he speaks into the hearts and hands of those present. They don’t understand much, but their very existence is struck. This gave rise to a kind of inspiring myth, “the Koberwitz impulse”, which around 10,000 companies around the world have followed to this day. What became a battlefield in conventional farming becomes a peace workshop here.
To be healthy in order to fight
Regarding medicine: Here, too, war is often the father of technical development. In the Crimean War of 1855, five times more soldiers died from infections than from bullets on the part of the Western powers. It was only with chemical disinfection that began around 1910 that it was possible to send soldiers in 1914 to years of trench warfare in which millions of young people had to kill each other. Added to this was the success of the tetanus vaccination systematically used since 1915 to save many wounded from tetanus. Vaccination comes from the military, because “the spread of communicable diseases could considerably weaken the operational readiness of military units,” as a current German judgment states for a soldier who did not want to be vaccinated. Between 1346 and 1353, a third of the population in Europe died of the plague in just seven years. The plague is the equivalent of famine, and that is still subconsciously sitting in people’s souls as fear. With the modern age, a mechanical-material way of seeing and acting developed in dealing with the earth as with the human body. Its divine dimension has been suppressed. The main goal in science-based medicine was to recognize and control disorders of human physiology, to be able to eliminate injuries and diseases in the most reproducible and technical way possible, and finally to subject reproduction to human control, including genetic engineering. From this the freedom grows, but also the alienation from nature.
As in agriculture, other trends developed. Homeopathy became world famous through the success of its founder, Samuel Hahnemann, in epidemics. In 1813, 50 percent of all patients died in the typhoid epidemic that followed the Battle of Leipzig, and only one of Hahnemann’s 183 typhoid patients. And in the area of responsibility of the doctors he instructed in the European cholera epidemic of 1831 with 200,000 deaths, only a tenth of the patients died, as was usual at the time. In an integrative and innovative way, he combined epidemiological and hygienic aspects with substantial and homeopathic medicines. At the same time, it promoted the patient’s individual perception. He taught that one should not interrupt the patient, write down his story and create an individual medical record for each. He thus introduced the latter into medical history.
Like Hahnemann, Rudolf Steiner starts from the self-efficacy of a living and animated organism, which is important for resilience and healing – a contrast to today’s concept of pathogens and epidemics, which neglects human resistance. In order to promote the physical, mental and spiritual recovery of patients in medicine, Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman are developing a multi-professional approach in which doctors, pharmacists, nurses and therapists work together and in which the individuality of the patient is the focus stands. In doing so, Steiner and Wegman do not turn a blind eye to the social side of health, as the development of the “Waldon” preparation for malnourished schoolchildren after the First World War shows.
What is the difference between smallpox and Covid
Nowhere do resilience, hygiene, living conditions, ecology and cosmology interpenetrate as in a pandemic. 400 million people died of smallpox in the 20th century. In 1874, compulsory smallpox vaccination for children was introduced in Germany. Rudolf Steiner voluntarily had himself vaccinated in Berlin in 1917 – a very dangerous vaccination, and he himself had to deal with the side effects for weeks. What a triumph for medicine to eradicate such a serious disease as smallpox with a vaccination – rich in side effects – in 1980. Coronaviruses, however, cannot be eradicated, and corona vaccinations do not prevent the virus from being passed on. For the coexistence with such viruses, it will be decisive whether a naturally acquired immunity can develop from early childhood, which is more sustainable than a vaccine immunity. In 1920 technological medicine dreamed of being able to destroy all bacteria in humans. With the antibiotics developed since around 1935, medicine developed its most powerful drugs in order to be able to defeat most bacterial infectious diseases for a time. Only these funds made factory farming possible, in which two to three times more antibiotics are used in Germany than in humans. It is precisely there that antibiotic resistance is developing, and the Ärzteblatt recently published a study on how such meat is contaminated with multi-resistant bacteria.2
What came as a shock was the appearance of HIV, a virus that was no longer bacterially but virally and often sexually transmitted, a virus that spread to humans due to environmental damage from chimpanzees and gorillas. In Africa, deforestation caused deadly new epidemics such as Ebola and Marburg virus to spread from bats (fruit bats) to humans. Coronavirus-susceptible fur animals are kept and killed in terrible ways in China, as in Europe. The ability of bat coronaviruses to transfer to humans in Wuhan was experimentally investigated in several laboratories and strengthened in the process. The river landscape of the Yangtze between Dreischluchtendamm and Wuhan has been profoundly changed. In this environment, Covid-19 broke out in 2019. (A flood disaster followed there in 2020). More and more people are realizing: The destruction of planetary health, the health of animals, plants and soils endangers the sustainability of human health and triggers correspondingly strong fears.
The paradox of life expectancy and its natural basis
While 820 million people are currently starving, around 40 percent of humanity is already overweight and around 70 percent of all deaths are due to non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs), most commonly to diseases of the heart and lungs, the middle of the human. In India, the number of people who can no longer regulate their own sugar balance is expected to rise to 134 million by 2045. Malnutrition, lack of exercise and luxury foods such as tobacco and alcohol are the main causes. In general, sustainable health depends heavily on education and culture. This also applies globally to the question of population growth! Ita Wegman and Rudolf Steiner dedicated their book to the foundation of anthroposophic medicine3 metabolic diseases. We read the term ‘I-organization’ 211 times. In fact, people who are becoming more and more free are increasingly deciding for themselves with their lifestyle about a healthy or disturbed balance of their organism. For personal as well as planetary health, the following applies: Today, the decisive factor depends on our selves, our selves. Only I can change my lifestyle, only we can make our work climate-friendly.
Life expectancy has never been as high as it is today. In a 2015 report by the Rockefeller Foundation – Lancet Commission on Planetary Health4 one summarizes this development as the paradox of improved health and simultaneous destruction of its natural basis. The improved nutritional situation conceals the destruction of the natural sustainable nutritional basis for a while.
The fight against viruses and bacteria is offset by the knowledge of how essential health depends on a good coexistence, on the right composition of bacteria and viruses in our body. The concept of the ‘I-organization’ in digestion and metabolism becomes evident here because every person regulates this microbiome himself and changes it through his or her lifestyle – and conversely, the intestinal flora affects our ability to think, our feelings and our decisions. They are challenged right now to build the bridge from the I to the we and to see that we are destroying our livelihoods in favor of freedom, power and property. Our present is characterized by a deep dichotomy that we experience in ourselves and in society in the form of fear and fears, doubt and despair, hatred and social division. Covid epidemic and vaccination issue are compounding it. It can be overcome from within the ego; it is a question of our self-knowledge and our actions.
Health through cycles
In biodynamic agriculture, it happens in hundreds of places: The will to change the world flows into the yard. The source of strength is its substance cycle – from the production of feed for the herd of cows to manure and compost, the fertilization of the areas, from which the feed for the animals comes again. This cycle enables the production of milk and meat, of grain and vegetables, from which the company lives and grows. The external yield, the internal renewal power and the health of this structure of life, the agricultural organism, are interlinked.
With the modern age we have entered an age that turns the ego to extremes. The world, the ‘not-me’ as an opposite, becomes the ‘it’, a thing, and now we see that the it, the world, threatens to collapse. Free man, dead planet. Not just today, we are alternating from ‘freedom from’ to ‘freedom for’, from emancipatory to committed freedom. The climate crisis in particular is a call from the periphery, from where we thought there was nothing, there was nobody. I have to change my self-awareness, otherwise I won’t understand the climate language. Can the self expand, become atmospheric, without losing itself? The view rises from the ground to the ear of corn on the stalk, it rises to the crown of the tree, wanders over the edge of the treetops to the heights of the distant mountain peaks. The gaze rises further to the rain clouds, to the stratospheric clouds, to the blue of the sky with the white moon, the bright Venus alternating with the sun as the star of the day. And the view goes even higher to Saturn and the rest stars behind it. Until then, the consciousness can still just with. The ego in the twelfth of the zodiac can just be held as an inner gesture, and instead of letting it explode into infinity, it can turn and find support in the middle, the earth. This now does not appear as a not-ego, as an environment, but appears in the ego as suspended in the spherical ego-consciousness. The earth belongs to me. To my own cultural and spiritual dimension. The old creation myths of all cultures know this. Suspected of the future – together with all unborn children – the earth, our earth with the soil, the plants and the animals and their climate, belong to me. She is me too. From this awareness she calls out to us: “I am waiting for your footprint.” And my answer: “I want to go on earth and do my part for our future.” The earth is the substance of our fate, it is the substance of our health, if we understand this health as performative, as productive in the sense of a common fate, as ‹One Health›.
Is the forest alive?
It is impressive how, for example, Rosalinda Maglana succeeds in realizing anthroposophic medicine and education with the indigenous people in the Philippines. In your work with young adults it is important to make the human ego aware and to learn to regulate yourself from it. Locally produced anthroposophic medicines also enable poor people to use medicines that strengthen the organism’s self-regulation. It is precisely on these climatically endangered islands that one experiences how closely the ecological and health issues are connected. We learn that it’s not just about CO₂ and 1.5 degrees, but about whether a forest really lives itself so that it can then also absorb heavy rain, whether mangroves and reefs protect the banks, that it is about living biodiversity and about whether we are intimately, also spiritually connected to this life, whether we can perceive the living beings around us and live with them. Charles Eisenstein says: “Our stories have power. If we think the world is dead, we will kill it. If we see the world as alive, we will learn how to help it heal. “5
Put people on their feet
“Climate protection becomes practical” was the headline of the “Deutsches Ärzteblatt” recently. Today, strong alliances for climate and health are being formed internationally. The Havelhöhe Hospital wants to become climate neutral by 2030. Christian Grah, doctor at the clinic, worked on the guideline ‹Climate-friendly health facilities› of the Climate Change and Health Alliance (KLUG) 6 . This offers a guideline on how every healthcare facility can transform itself in a more climate-friendly manner, in clinics and doctors’ surgeries, in nursing homes and pharmacies. This can lead to broad peace work for the earth. Not only does the Arlesheim Clinic want to build with wood in a climate-friendly manner, a Munich university clinic is also planning a wood construction on the initiative of climate-committed doctors. If we look at this sensitive relationship between public health and individual health, the decisive factor depends on whether we strengthen the ego in ourselves and whether the ego in every person is addressed, strengthened and encouraged educationally, socially, and politically. But what does that mean medically and practically? The result is a consequence that is reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s considerations in his lectures from 1923 ‘The human being as a harmony of the creative, educational and formative word of the world’7 connects. It is an order that turns people upside down:
Self- movement In our movement we reveal our being. It will be about designing public spaces in such a way that we can and must move around them ourselves. The more people in cities walk and cycle on their own, the lower the frequency of depression. Eurythmy therapy may at the same time serve as an example of a spiritual culture of targeted healing movement. Health depends on self-movement.
Nutrition The influence of nutritional practices on the earth’s atmosphere, on the life of plants and animals and on soil health is enormous. A third of all food grown worldwide spoils or is thrown away, almost half is fed to meat-producing animals or converted into biofuel. A good food stimulates the organism to be active. Plant foods do this far more than animal foods, and nothing contributes more to chronic disease than malnutrition. Hunger, especially in childhood, has a lifelong impact on health. Recently there was a project in the Philippines in which very poor people were invited to eat a healthy biodynamic diet for a few days. These people experienced a profound transformation. It is important that children learn to cook healthily and with low emissions and to manage food.
Healing It has its basis, whether in the organism or in the social, where the ability to self-regulate is invoked. It is a rhythmic process between sleeping and waking, breathing in and out, giving and taking. From an anthroposophical point of view, this rhythmic system is older than the metabolic system. In the words of Steiner: The healer in us is older than the patient in us, and he is a sun being. We have sophisticated disease-specific medicine today, the interventions of which can be very effective. But sustainable recovery depends more on the physical, emotional and spiritual self-regulation ability of the person. It is a matter of developing an individual balance, one’s own measure, a constantly new center – ‘out of nowhere’, with forces that come from the future. This is the dimension that can be called the dimension of the healing spirit, of healing self-knowledge, of one’s own awakening.
One example is the impulse to set up heart schools for patients with heart disease and to work with patient groups. It is touching how self-knowledge and self-change are promoted through such new community formation; also in overweight children and in addiction treatment. Healing processes are increasingly associated with rethinking, with training and education processes. For us medical professionals, this means that we have to be just as skilled in dealing with groups as we are with individual patients. Such groups can often advantageously be led by a multi-professional team. We have to train ourselves for this, the university gives us little here. This is how we will manage the gap between public health and the art of individual healing. Incidentally, the subject of vaccination is particularly suitable for discussing it in professionally guided groups.
Pedagogy “One should actually practice pedagogy in such a way that one starts everywhere from certain pathological processes in people and from the possibility of their healing,” says Rudolf Steiner.8 If he associates chronic metabolic diseases with incorrect or traumatic pedagogy, then we know today that it is precisely unhappiness and neglect, as well as a lack of light and lack of exercise in childhood that promote chronic metabolic and cardiovascular diseases in adults. It is important that children and young people learn how to improve their health, that they dance and that they learn to cook.
Growing up as humanity, that is the project of this time! Above all, it grows through need and poverty. Reading, writing, educational opportunities, freedom opportunities, especially for women, are therefore crucial. Such a mature humanity will be able to take responsibility for the warmth and atmosphere of the earth. Just as important is a circular economy that goes beyond the compulsion to grow, with sustainable recycling. The foundation here is the pedagogy, which, in the words of Rudolf Steiner, neither loads people “parasitically” nor spiritually “poisons” them. Pedagogy, education and culture have a great influence on the development of sustainable individual and planetary health. For their transformation, guiding images and a vision of the world and people are essential.
Beauty and love
A healthy person is beautiful. A healthy, life-filled landscape is beautiful. The garden is the epitome of beauty. According to the myth, we come from a father-divine garden from which we were driven. The Son of God, who is captured in the garden of Gethsemane and crucified on Golgotha, appears as a risen woman, Mary Magdalene, as a gardener. He opens up a new vision for mankind: to become gardeners on the planet that higher powers have created and given us. It can be deeply touching to visit the biodynamically cultivated medicinal herb garden of an anthroposophical drug manufacturer and experience the diverse life that unfolds and blossoms there. Ultimately, we perceive health aesthetically, and it is remarkable that few things have such a strong influence on the health of the elderly as the experience of art.
Many people today despair of the question of meaning. Ecological transformation means sowing fruits that future generations will reap. What gives us the strength to transform the ‘freedom from’ into a ‘freedom to’? The key to this gives us the experience of art, of beauty as a coherence of essence and appearance and a vision of sustainable health for man and earth born from it. At its core, it is about a transformation of what we have previously thought to be love. True love is based on perceiving and understanding the other, the other in his or her being, grasping his or her needs and supporting him, her in his or her development. It is a question of whether we allow nourishment, healing to flow to him, her growth force. Scientifically, we think of the heart as a pump and the sun as a hydrogen reactor. Spiritually and physiologically we know that the heart’s activity lives and is stimulated from what flows to the heart. Could it also be with our relationship to the sun that it can recover from what we let flow towards the sun?
Abridged version of the joint lecture at the annual medical conference on September 17, 2021.
- CL White et al., An Ecological and Conservation Perspective. In: J. Zinsstag et al., One Health. CAB International, Wallingford – Boston, 2nd Ed., 2021, pp. 25-38.
- R. Köck et al., Multi-resistant gram-negative pathogens – a zoonotic problem . Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 2021, 118: pp. 579-586; DOI: 10.3238 / arztebl.m2021.0184.
- R. Steiner, I. Wegman, Fundamentals for an extension of the healing art. Rudolf Steiner Complete Edition, vol. 27, Basel, 8th edition, 2014.
- S. Whitmee et al., Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation – Lancet Commission on planetary health. Lancet 2015, 386: pp. 1973-2028.
- Ch. Eisenstein, anger. Courage. Love! European publishing house 2020.
- Annegret Dickhoff, Christian Grah, Christian Schulz and Edda Weiman (ed.), Climate-friendly health facilities , framework, version 1.0.
- R. Steiner, The world as a harmony of the creative, formative and formative word of the world. GA 230, Basel, 7th edition, 1993.
- See note 6, lecture 12