In recent years, there have been many advances in our understanding of the state of health of Planet Earth. Early ecologists began with a cry into the void, but gradually awareness has widened, and with the active involvement of many researchers, the precariousness of the situation is now becoming increasingly undeniable. This does not mean that we are all in agreement, either about the nature of the problem or the remedy; in fact, there seems to be a hardening polarisation taking place, which may be framed by the following questions: If the advancing destabilisation of the Earth is being caused by human activity, what should we now do about it? What is the appropriate role for humanity on our planet? Do we have the right to cause the collapsing of eco-systems and wide scale species extinctions?

Climate change deniers have, of course, shifted their position in response to the sheer weight of evidence. But rather than abandon the practices that most heavily contribute to the advancing calamity, we seem to be responding with accelerating collective dissociation. Leaders and media commentators often discuss the rectification of the mess that we are creating as a luxury that we cannot afford, that it has to be “balanced” within the concerns of business-as-usual, and that probably future generations will find technological solutions.

As a homeopath and psychotherapist, with thirty years experience in holistic health care, I work on the front line of a very similar polarisation of understanding. In my practice, I am faced day to day with patients suffering with chronic symptoms of toxicity. They consult  physicians in the hope of finding a cure, and a return to health. However, what they receive from the health care system is the moderation and control of symptoms with powerful pharmaceutical substances, with the attendant secondary effects of prescribed drugs.

This has come about because mainstream medicine is bound by its limited theories of disease, based in micro-biology and genetics. From that perspective there is no self-regulating, self-healing facility within living organisms, capable of re-establishing health. Such proposals are dismissed as unscientific or dangerous folklore. The idea that the role of medicine could actually be to aid and support this “dynamic force” is considered by some to be heretical.

Any practice of medicine, and especially one that is based empirically on well-grounded axioms, should start from the following questions: What is health? What is disease? What is  a medicine? What is the role of the physician? These questions frame the practice, and allow evaluation to take place. From a holistic perspective, disease is understood as the disruption of the healthy functioning of the organism, based on a pre-disposition and triggered by a susceptibility in the current environment, and manifesting throughout the organism. The indications of the true nature of the totality of the disease can be perceived as mental, emotional and physical symptoms. Gathering this history is central to the physician’s craft. When taken together as a pattern, this totality of symptoms describe the nature of the problem, and provide pointers to the cure. The symptoms are not the disease, they are the expression or the result. The role of the  physician is to perceive the problem and apply the appropriate medicine, according to the laws of nature. A cure is when the root disturbance or cause is resolved. Suppressing symptoms is not enough; doctors know this, patients know it.

The current medical model is tied to a reductive approach that fails to observe and acknowledge the subtle but coherent patterns that operate as underlying causation factors in every case of disease, preferring instead to focus attention only on the diagnostic pathological symptoms, and as a result, the interventions that it offers are often heavy handed and limited in their ability to actually cure. Yet its practitioners nonetheless prefer to dismiss or rubbish the emerging holistic paradigm rather than self-reflect. The parallel with earth science, and the problems that we now face on a planetary scale, is no coincidence. It was for this reason that we decided to establish the Vale das Lobas Project in 2008, and develop a practical program for rural regeneration, based on the universal principals of holistic medicine.

Ecological Medicine

It is clear that the Earth is being poisoned by toxicity, and as a result, her self-regulating powers have become weakened. In this analysis we do not place Humanity outside the natural order, as the perpetrator of the disease, but view us as implicit and embedded. We are part of Nature just as every other species is. However, Humanity’s dissociation, which is delusional and allows self-destructive behaviour to go unchecked, is a characteristic symptom of the disturbance.

The Earth’s finely tuned feedback mechanisms have become disrupted. The conversion of stored carbon into gaseous carbon in such a short timespan has produced a rapid increase in global temperature, which is producing conditions that are inimical to healthy living. The biosphere invests considerable energy in maintaining the Earth temperature within a narrow band, precisely because of the grave importance to healthy function. The industrial poisoning of water sources and river systems has further weakened the homeostatic mechanism of our planetary home, with severe implications to all living beings, including humanity; the water system is our planetary circulation, it nourishes and purifies the worlds eco-systems. Rain forests, tundras, oceans and ice fields all serve crucial purposes for maintaining auto-immunity and homeostasis. As these are being destroyed, the knock-on effects are an escalation of extinctions and disasters.

In the overlapping eco-systems that make up our local environments, we can spot the symptoms in a variety of ways. But the most crucial indicator of collapse is species loss, and in contrast, the best clue to the success of any intervention is the increase in biodiversity, which is an expression of health in the natural world. It is not a luxury, it is at the heart of the process of health and evolution.

About Vale das Lobas

Vale das Lobas is a Rural Regeneration Project in the Beira Alta region of Portugal, with the mission of: Biodiversity, Health and Education. We are a social enterprise, working in close collaboration with local organisations, including the Municipal government, the high school and local business, with a focus on ecological and economic regeneration.

In recent decades the native populations of this region have dwindled through mass migration, leaving behind abandoned farms, unused wells and water resources, and an increasing risk of forest fires. We have established Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Zones with a plan of interventions which we call the protocol for regeneration. The purpose of any interventions is regeneration, both ecological and economic. These remedies are applied in the following form: 1.Planting trees. 2.Creating lakes. 3.Encouraging agro-ecology. 4.Creating facilities for visitors and employment for residents.

Regenerative Farming

Vale das Lobas is a gathering point for horticulturalists and farmers who encompass an holistic understanding of land care, including water management, soil fertility, mycelia and micro-organisms, polyculture planting and organic soil enhancement.  A broad goal is supporting the recovery of biodiversity.

Reforestation

In Iberia, indigenous hardwood forests have been mainly replaced with monoculture plantations for cash crops. Forests become deserts when the tree cover has diminished below a critical point. In Iberia, this “tipping point” has already been reached. Our mountainous region was once covered by lush forests of oaks, chestnuts, pines and a wide variety of other species. It was a mixed forest landscape, with agriculture on the terraces and in river valleys, and the marginal lands were planted as vineyards. Monoculture plantations of pine and eucalyptus are resulting in an increase in forest fires, poor level of land management, and a critical loss of biodiversity habitats. Within the Vale das Lobas Biodiversity Zones, large areas are dedicated to agro-forestry and forest gardening, with the intention of reinstating self-regulating natural forest landscapes.

Rainwater harvesting

We are harvesting rainwater in large lake areas to provide security against summer fires, create new habitats for flora and fauna, improve soil quality, and provide a valuable resource to all. Using the contours of the land for transporting water in swales and channels, lakes  are sited to maximise the quantity of water retained, and to keep it moving and aerated.

Nature Spa

In the heart of our biodiversity zone is a 17th century manor house, once a Seminario, that we plan to convert into a Nature Spa and centre for healing and inspiration. It will house accommodation for visitors, a restaurant, training and conference facilities, medicine gardens and an apothecary. The themes of the conferences and courses will be Natural Medicine, Natural Building, Regenerative Farming, Spiritual Ecology and more. The centre will provide an inspirational focus, and attract visitors to the project.

Economic regeneration

Besides the obvious ecological benefits of the Biodiversity Zone, it will also produce economic benefits for the region and its inhabitants. As the populations have dissipated away from this region, it has lost its sense of value. Many people asked us in the first years why we would want to come to this area, when everyone else is leaving for more “exciting” locations. Yet the region has a myriad of wonderful resources, including ancient Neolithic temples and dolmens, and a subsistence farming tradition, including cheese making and olive and wine production that has hardly changed in a thousand years. In partnership with our local government, we aim to support the re-evaluation of these indigenous resources, and help to establish a new position for our region to attract visitors as nature lovers.

Natural Building

The way we build homes has dramatically changed in only a few generations. The mass production of cement has virtually replaced the time honoured traditions of creating mortars from lime and local earth. Mass transport allows homes to be constructed with materials that are not local, and this has destroyed many local craft traditions. the construction industry, especially through the global production of cement, contributes significantly to the destabilisation of the environment. Although high rise buildings may at first glance appear to offer exciting new cityscapes, many are now looking back in despair at what is being lost in this rush for “progress.” Buildings built from stone, earth and wood have provided natural nests since we first began crafting homes with our hands. The techniques are varied and ingenious, and it is crucial that we return to these practices. Contemporary innovations in thermal insulation, bio-filtration and water recirculation, renewable energy generation and others can make natural homes both comfortable and efficient to live in.

Becoming Earth Physicians

In the natural world, the soil is full of biodiversity, and nutrient rich, organically active soil provides a foundation for healthy environments. Food production should become part of that natural healthy environment, not apart from it. The Biodiversity Zones are helping to frame this purpose. It provides a focus for partnerships of intent. Regeneration programs like ours could be widespread; as the saying goes, we must: Think globally, Act locally.

We can become “Earth Physicians” by studying our landscape, learning its habitats, and discovering the biodiversity. Through this study, we can apply the remedy that fits locally; not heroic interventions, like major surgery, but small changes that stimulate a return to health. We can be allies, supporters and helpers in the process of regenerating our local environment. And then we will also be tackling the most characteristic symptom of the planetary disease: the disconnection between humanity and nature.

Vale das Lobas – Rural Regeneration Project

Mission Statement: Reconnecting Humanity and Nature – Biodiversity, Health, Education

 Tony Conway

24th May 2015

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