One of the basic naturopathic tenets I attempt to bring to each healing encounter and therapeutic strategy as a natural therapist is vis medicatrix naturae, translated somewhat as the healing power of nature.
This is one of a handful of basic tenets that every naturopath is taught within the philosophy of natural medicine, likely within their very first topics covered when undertaking study.
In semester one, year one of my degree (a long time ago now!), I was taught this basic tenet and held it intellectually in my mind. I knew deeply that it was important, but didn’t quite understand how to apply it to my treatment strategies or communicate about it with my patients. I returned to my home island of Tasmania two years ago and found myself working as a walking guide in the Bay of Fires. Little did I know this work would bring me so much closer to naturopathy. I found myself after spending many, many days and nights on the trail and the coast (more consistent time in nature than I had ever spent) experiencing life very differently. My mind, my physical body, my mood, my spirit, my health, my coping mechanisms, my nervous system – the transformation I experienced was profound and led me to deeply contemplate what was occurring. After about 12-18 months of consideration and contemplation, it hit me – this was the vis medicatrix naturae. What I was experiencing was the healing power of nature. It was this experiential understanding that was integral to being ready to start my own business and to call it naturelab42° as an exploration of health within Tasmania’s wild nature; using nature as classroom, nature as teacher, a deeper look into humanity as an integral part of nature. A percolation of investigation within what our innate nature really is.
When people are buying over the counter herbs and using natural medicine in a prescriptive way based on their pathophysiology alone, what strikes me as a disappointment is that if they are not already aware, they are missing out on the philosophy that underpins, encapsulates and guides a treatment and healing process.
After a recent two day workshop, I was intrigued by hearing various others also speak about the healing power of nature. I had not heard others communicate about it so directly since my own revelation. I knew it wasn’t a new concept (the original text we use is in latin and that was certainly not the earliest point of conception of such an understanding) and wasn’t only available to me; but hearing it spoken about has inspired me to more deeply investigate this experience. I want to find out what the larger community is experiencing and find out just how prominent this picture could be. Only by asking will people have the opportunity to share in what may be a hugely collective experience.
It’s no easy feat to use language to convey such experiences (this is why I believe our artists are so important to our culture, for perhaps they can inspire in us some pathway of thought which leads us to sanctuaries we may never have known). So if it’s unclear what the vis medicatrix naturae even is – you certainly are not alone. I would suggest this is for each person to explore and experience in their own unique way. But as some form of guidance it seems to be a force, energy or vitalism that runs through the natural world. When naturopaths tend to the human being (whom are nature in themselves – not separate to it), we are tending also to this vital force. We may be stimulating it, calming it down, rewiring its path, removing obstacles in its way, encouraging the patterns we have created in ourselves on every level to exist in such a way so as to let this vitalism flow freely so it may support us to maintain equilibrium. The herbs and plants and foods we use, which all stem from nature, carry this vital energy. By consuming these intelligent components of nature in a particular way (understanding what each particular herb and food carry innately in them) we are tending to this vital force.
Of course, I understood this intellectually in herbs and foods through my scientific, evidence based degree. What I have since experienced are glimpses and then frequent immersions of the larger picture of what it is they carry; what it is we all carry. Vis medicatrix naturae. The deep wilderness is for me the easiest place to feel this, as it is there that it still runs strong. I encourage anyone interested in their wellbeing to explore their connection to nature, their connection to their own internal energy, and the interplay between all things wild.