Toward healing community

11/23/2016

In my work as a primary care physician, I receive the great gift of an honest answer to my question, “How are you?” Since Nov. 8, I have been listening very carefully to the answer, and thinking about resilience in the face of trauma. How can we rise to meet challenging circumstances without despairing? What opportunities for growth and healing are wrapped up in this staggering disappointment?

My dear community members, many studies show the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside of the family. Whether we feel loved and supported, held in our grieving and heard in our moments of fear and pain predicts how well we will cope with trauma or stress. Are we suffering along with so many fellow Americans in isolation and separation? Can we imagine a world in which we are deeply connected to each other, to our communities and to the natural world?

The importance of interconnectedness in our wellbeing is an animating principle for me. In fact, I spent the week prior to Election Day in dynamic conversation and deep listening at the Academy of Integrative and Holistic Medicine’s annual conference on this very topic. 

There is a movement afoot in medicine articulating the need for a new model of care incorporating this understanding. Studies show that as little as 10 percent of health outcomes are determined by what we medical providers say or do. Our health is determined in large part by lifestyle and behavior choices we make, and these decisions occur within a social context. 

So here we are, human beings with a common future on a precious planet in peril. Human beings with skyrocketing rates of illness related to lifestyle choices often born of disconnection, operating within systems—like the medical system and food system—that don’t honor the whole interconnected web of life. We are awakening, rather rudely, to the reality that there is a wide chasm between our personal belief system and that of, often, family members, and a large percentage of our fellow Americans. Many of us have lost touch with our life-sustaining Mother Earth. Is this a crisis, or an opportunity for healing? We get to choose the meaning with which we imbue this moment.

I am experiencing this as an opportunity of epic proportions. Faced with a sudden collapse of leadership at the federal level in areas as diverse as gender equality, racial justice, health policy and the stewardship of the Earth, we must all assume leadership positions in our spheres. Teach your children to love one another and be kind. Speak up, loudly, if you witness objectification—or assault—of a woman. Learn the stories behind the often painful decision to emigrate from one’s home to this country, and honor the inherent beauty and worth of every single human life. Curb your consumerism. Look into the eyes of each person you encounter with kindness and transcend “othering.” Listen. We have the opportunity to choose love and connection every single day.

Choosing love and deepening connections also promotes healing. The field of epigenetics describes how the nourishing foods we eat and the love we experience turn on health-promoting genes and turn off genes promoting disease. As many face losing health care coverage, exploring health and vitality within a social framework becomes all the more relevant. Coastal Health Alliance’s Integrative Medicine meetings at Commonweal Garden embody innovation at the intersection of health and community building. The Art of Vitality program in the garden offers a deepening of this exploration. 

Our community honors connection, food and farmers, the soil and our Earth. A community-level dialogue on a culture of wellness is unfolding. As medicine awakens to the promise of an alternative to business as usual, we could serve as guiding lights. As our country awakens to the need for collective healing, may we shine our lights as brightly as we can.

 

Anna O’Malley is an integrative family medicine physician with the Coastal Health Alliance. She lives in Bolinas.