The Extraordinary Healing Power of Everyday Things:
Fourteen Natural Steps to Health and Happiness
Larry Dossey, M.D.
New York: Three Rivers Press ©2006
Are we too clean — and making ourselves sick in the process? Don't roll your eyes just yet. The "hygiene hypothesis" is of serious concern to the scientific and medical communities as they try to help us get well and stay healthy. It may actually be our modern desire never to be sick that is, in fact, making us more so. Such a premise nicely coincides with an assessment by my maternal grandmother of the blessings my siblings and I received as children from playing outdoors: "A little good clean dirt never hurt anyone." Maybe that's why the chapter titled "Dirt" in Larry Dossey's book, The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things, really resonates. As one of the "fourteen natural steps to health and happiness," a little good clean dirt has a lot to recommend it.
Growing up on a Midwestern American farm in the 1950s turns out to have conferred an array of interesting and useful benefits, not the least of which might be a relatively healthy immune system. At the time, it was hard to comprehend such advantages of living without indoor plumbing, with well-water and rainwater from the catch-barrel and cistern for drinking and washing, with tantalizingly unknown mysteries, plants, and animals to explore in the farmyard and in the grove of trees at the edge of the cultivated fields. Or living through a childhood winter where two of my siblings and I slogged through mumps, measles, and chickenpox in a blur of itch-filled days, fitful nights, and parental angst. But as Dossey describes, farm families learned from their connection to the natural world, just as humans have for millennia, about how to foster the health of themselves and their communities. Exposure to dirt, germs, and an assortment of diseases in childhood actually helps us build the immune systems that keep us healthy later in life.
The steps of the book's subtitle seem a bit mislabeled, since there's really no sequence to the resources examined. But it's a diverse and useful collection, nonetheless. In addition to dirt, Dossey investigates optimism, forgetting, novelty, tears, music, risk, plants, bugs, unhappiness, nothing, voices, mystery, and miracles. Ordinary though they may be, all, in some way, are involved in healing and helping humans stay healthy. The first lines of the book's introduction speak to the surprise of finding value in the everyday: "There is an old saying: If you want to hide the treasure, put it in plain sight. Then no one will see it." How true!
In typical Dossey fashion, the definition of healing and health remain broad. Over a long medical and writing career, he has found that 'healing' and 'curing' are not necessarily the same thing, that one can be healed without regaining health. Dossey is willing to consider the value of something that adds to "life's fulfillment" (music, mystery, novelty) as much as something that may act to rid the body of an infection (bugs, plants).
As a medical doctor and the former chief of staff at the Medical City Dallas Hospital, Dossey knows the science. He's also been willing to address the human element of health and listen to what his patients tell him about who they are, what helps (or doesn't help) them heal, and what "healing" means to each of them. He has continually supported a deeper look into what's now called the "mind/body connection" and "alternative therapies," serving as co-chair of the Panel on Mind/Body Interventions in the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. Stories his patients shared with him led Dossey to investigate the power of prayer (Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine) and to champion new research areas related to nonlocal healing and intentionality, among others.
Mindful of the value of all the resources at our disposal, Dossey asks us to put things into perspective:
"While we should be grateful for the high-tech, life-saving developments of modern medicine, there is a dark side to these approaches, which we ignore at our peril. Some scholars say that modern hospital care has become the third leading cause of death in America, after heart disease and cancer, because of deaths due to medical errors, mistakes, and the side effects of drugs. Moreover, surveys suggest that three-fourths of those who go to doctors' offices have nothing wrong with them physically, meaning that they are largely beyond the reach of what complex, modern medicine has to offer. These facts should give us pause to ask whether there are not simpler and less lethal ways of approaching healing. I believe these ways are all around us — treasures hidden in plain sight."
Whatever condition of health you and your loved ones may currently experience, Dossey's review of the medical research that validates these fourteen simple remedies demonstrates that by "aligning ourselves with the wisdom of nature," we can "allow true healing to take place."