Rethinking The Past and Rewriting Our Present

January 23, 2015 122 Comments

Along our paths toward greater consciousness, there are subtle pitfalls that can stop us in our tracks. One of these is what I call “romanticizing our roots.”  And it all starts with a little story.

Our minds crave them – stories, that is.   We have a human need to create our own tales that encapsulate the realities we come in contact with and give them personal meaning.  The eerie part is that we do it unknowingly.  Most of us start the scriptwriting with ourselves and branch out from there, making sure to include cameo appearances by next door neighbors, a splash backdrop of world history to set the stage, and at least one or two heroes and villains to make the plot interesting. Our parents, siblings, and spouses are the usual suspects.

These self-perpetuating myths are especially tempting when we’re investigating the practices of our ancestors.  Poring over mind-blowing ancient texts and listening to inspiring talks from surviving lineage holders, we are often overcome with a sense of yearning for a return to the ways of old.  We conjure beautiful images of what it must have been like and how pure life could be, but if we’re not careful, this nostalgia can lead to disconnection from – and maybe even dissatisfaction with – the world in which we currently live.

The story entitled Everything Was Roses In The Good Old Days has been around forever and remains popular today. I trip over various iterations of it all the time in conversations with others, as well as in my own head. Whether it’s a talk about herbalism, permaculture, shamanism, or paleo nutrition, the topic frequently gravitates toward how we have gone downhill on our evolutionary trajectory, creating a world that doesn’t serve our fundamental needs as human beings.

My question is this: is there benefit in loathing the present and favoring the past?  Does it help us or hinder us? Are stories like these pointing us to valuable insights that can be turned into action plans to improve our lives?

From one perspective, our current culture of convenience has diminished us by making our day-to-day existence easier without providing any guidelines on how to become better stewards of the planet and our communities, with our newly found free time. However, it would be naïve to ignore the incredible gifts that our technological advancements have given us over the past 200 years.

We debate and research the topic of ancestral wisdom vs. modern innovation in rooms that are safe and adequately heated, using impossibly fast methods of long distance communication that were made available to us via the very scientific advances we’re scrutinizing.  It’s all part of the cosmic giggle.  Our world, whether we like it or not, is a winding hybrid of the old and the new, and will quite possibly always be.

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Let’s put all our stories aside and give science a little love for a second.

In an interview a number of years ago, Dr. Norm Sheely, one of the early pioneers in holistic medicine, told us, “You can’t treat a broken arm with herb tea”.   Yes, ancient bone setters did great work in their time, but Norm’s point is that we have come a long way since the days when their services were in high demand.

As a matter of fact, when it comes to acute injury of any type you are going to be hard pressed to find any ancestral technique that measures up to modern medicine.  If humpty dumpty fell off the wall a few hundred years ago, he wasn’t going to be put back together again.  But in today’s world, we hear accounts all the time of folks breaking half the bones in their body and not only living to tell the tale, but thriving!

Life-saving antibiotics like penicillin, precision surgical instruments, and advances in sterilization are just a few of the unassailable breakthroughs that hard working doctors – who, by the way, care a ton about the wellbeing of others just as native healers do – have given humanity over the past two centuries.

Listen, I’m no stranger to this grass-is-greener mindset around the past.  For years I fell into a pattern of weighing the negatives of the modern world against the perceived positives of the ancient one.  Heck, I would refuse to walk through a chain department store with my wife Michelle because it offended my all-natural, barefoot sensibilities.  But a life-changing event gave me a huge course correct that helped me see through the illusion for a moment.

A shaman once told me that children are the most potent medicine on the planet.   When Michelle and I learned we were going to have a child, we were bent on doing everything “on the natch” with his or her rearing. But the universe has a way of sending along medicinal plot twists to shake us loose of our expectations.  We tried everything we could to give our son River a natural birth. But there were complications and he came into this world via c-section.  This initially shattered me, until I pulled the plug on my story and learned to see the good aspects of modern medicine.

We’ve got to be careful not to put all our eggs in one basket. No one tradition has gotten it 100% right, and none ever will.  We, as a species, are a work in progress and every generation has played a substantial role in getting us to where we are today.  As author Martha Beck says, “bless this mess”.

I operate on the belief that we are our own best doctors and therefore must become master researchers. This means digesting as much of the written, spoken, and directly transmitted material as we can, and making wise interpretations as we attempt to personalize what we have learned.  The world of alternative health and wellness is a magnificent one, but beware of hyperbole, opportunism, and flimsy factual evidence.  To do right by ourselves and the movement itself, we need our approach to be a patient and disciplined one.

The elders tell us the universe is perfect and all things have meaning.  Our evolution may have its crests and troughs, but on the whole I like to believe that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi
Director, The Sacred Science

Filed Under: Shamanism

About Nick Polizzi

Nick Polizzi has spent his career directing and producing feature length documentaries about natural alternatives to conventional medicine. Nick's current role as executive producer of the docuseries "Proven: Healing Breakthroughs Backed By Science" and "Remedy: Ancient Medicine for Modern Illness" stems from a calling to honor, preserve, and protect the natural healing knowledge and earth-based medicines that our ancestors passed down to us.

View all posts by Nick Polizzi

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  1. Mare says:

    Your view is spot on for me! Thank you.

  2. Margie Deutsch Lash says:

    Love, love, love this post! We are definitely on the same page. As a WHOLEistic Life Guide, I share these concepts for finding balance in our lives. Using technology for good is an important part of integrating our holistic approaches with the modern technologies available to us.

  3. Alyse says:

    Your article was beautifully put. I believe there is so much from the past that is sacred and could and/or should be returned today. Yet, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. We have wonders today that we often take for granted. A blending of the two . . . that’s what we are offered. Thank you for speaking to that.

  4. Tom Risch says:

    Beautifully done Nick, have I got a story for you 🙂 type your comment here…

    • Jan says:

      so Tom, how do I get to your story? Very enlightening observation, Nick. It brings balance and peace to the moment we are in.

  5. Beth Wilson says:

    Thank you… Yes ..we should not put all our eggs in one basket and give science a break now and again … Balance .. Thanks again , I hope your family is well .. Love & Light , Beth Wilson

  6. Granny says:

    The Universe is a good teacher

  7. Maureen says:

    Modern western medicine is being held hostage by the pharmaceuticals. An herbalist has cured a back problem that has been plaguing me for years. I’ve rece become certified in reiki 1 and 2. Therefore I will self treat first, then plan a visit or two to my herbalist and then and only then will I schedule my annual physical. My reasoning you might ask? Lessons learned after my first major surgery about two years ago. And I live in Boston too. M

  8. Karl Hermansen says:

    Well said. It’s always good to hear from someone who can see out of both eyes.

  9. Michiko Kissinger says:

    Thank you, Nick, for that little more view of the 360 degree life we live in (plus the other dimensions). We can take what serves us and is good for us, and leave the rest gently. You never know when we might come back to them. There’s enough for everyone. The challenge is to take in everyone’s experiences, including your own, and see them as a whole and resist seeing them as right or wrong or good or bad. Like the plants and herbs, a deadly plant can be medicine if used in a certain way.

  10. Glena says:

    all is well and all is as it should be

  11. Gail Benton says:

    Thank you for that thought provoking article Nick which did resonate with me. It is a balance, in our enthusiasm for new technology we can have thrown out the wisdom of the past or ignored potential consequences when undertaking changes. The most compelling and cautionary film I have seen recently is this one:-
    I encourage everyone who has a body to watch it….

  12. Janet says:

    Thank you Nick! Our primary work as a species today is to reconnect and recalibrate our biology with our earth mother so we may return to a state of homeostasis and awakened wholeness!

  13. Leloup says:

    Very well said! Let’s honor and be thankful for both science and natural healing. I pray for all of us to find our way in this world, our gifts, and for them to be exposed into tjis world for the benefits of all, limiting harm at all cost. May we all find inner peace first and then go about the world sharing our gifts. Thanks for a true, mindful look at science and its benefits to our world. We are in need of more of this kind of thinking. Keep your wonderful work into this world. ” Bless this mess”!

  14. Joe Barry says:

    Yes I concur that we are precisely where we
    ought to be. Great commentary Nick.

  15. Marilyn Bos says:


  16. FAZIA says:

    Yes,,,,we need repeated reminders: to become master researchers while “blessing the mess.”

  17. Shannon says:

    Nick – LOVE this article!! Thank you for sharing!

  18. Amy Morton Brain says:

    Love the balance of this.
    Yet, we need many Sacred ways to heal
    chronic diseases and to make Whole broken

  19. Dr Judith Edwards says:

    Good call Nick- has a forum for meditation for cansurvivors- Being Here Now not looking back like Lot’s wife- will post this now and hope it does not diappear for the 4th time!!!!

  20. Nathalie says:

    Thank you for your thoughts…very refreshing!
    As an osteopath, even in my field there is a lot of ‘confusion’ on the old way and new way when it comes to osteopathy…it is as diverse per country and therapist…lost in interpertation. 🙂

  21. Dorcia says:

    Well said.

  22. Ali says:

    I like it! I really hope one day integrative medicine will be the “norm” rather than the “alternative” !

  23. Claudia says:

    Sweet balance – thanks Nick

  24. pauline crespin says:

    Thank you Nick ……
    Awesome and very informative article.

  25. Donna says:

    Inspiration for my morning !! thanks Nick…

  26. Paul Burt says:

    I wanted to share this video ( with you. I think “giftivism” holds great promise and could fit extremely well with your work.

  27. Ada says:

    Thank you.

  28. Patricia says:

    Yes we are. Hee Hee So funny. Love it!

  29. Mary says:

    I love your willingness to be so honest. THANK YOU! I not only like your writing, I trust it….you.

  30. Tricia says:

    Thanks for this balanced perspective. As a historical fiction writer, this is a good reminder for my soul. We are timeless infinite beings here for a brief moment. This is reminder to simply be here now! Tricia

  31. Jini Patel Thompson says:

    Here’s my perspective as someone who:

    – came from a family of medical doctors and pharmacists
    – had to leave the med system entirely to heal widespread Crohn’s Disease using 100% natural methods
    – now work together with many doctors around the world bridging the gap in chronic illness/auto-immune conditions

    Here’s how I hold space in this paradigm: When my 8-yr-old son (I have 3 kids) split his head open recently, I gave him the choice. I told him what medical treatment would involve and I told him what natural healing would involve. And I was very clear that the natural treatment would require much greater care and responsibility on his part to make sure the wound was not split open again before it healed (as there would be no stitches holding it together).

    He chose the natural treatment – which kind of surprised me as he is SUCH a rough and tumble kid. After I treated it herbally, his 11 yr-old sister came in before his bedtime and did a healing for him. I then led him through the steps (meditation) of giving himself a healing. When he woke in the morning the wound was almost healed. In 3 days time he no longer had to be careful in any way, as it was totally, completely healed.

    So he got to experience the healing power of our own bodies/mind/spirit. And he got a nice contrast to the last time he split his head open – he was with Dad and they went straight to the medi clinic for stitches. I think that wound took about 3 weeks to reach the same healing – but no attention or effort was required of him.

    Of course, he could have still done energy/spiritual healing for himself on the stitched wound and shortened the time span – but I guess the need was not there.

    Anyway, my point is: The person will always know in their gut what the best treatment for them is at that time. And if we take away judgements, or paradigms, and we just look at the FACTS – risks, collateral damage, effort, discipline, benefits, long-term picture, etc. Then we can make the best choice for ourselves AT THAT TIME.

    Healing is a Journey. As you well know!

  32. dan says:

    thanks… so true.

  33. katerina says:

    The separation of science-religion-medicine is a false one. It does not really exist

  34. Genene says:

    I enjoyed this post! Sometimes I feel like I’m turning into my grandmother, but I really like the comfort and conveniences we have today. I now consider my journey one of blending the best (for me) of the past and our current technology to evolve into the future.

  35. Tina Frisco says:

    I agree with the elders ~ and you, Nick. Thanks for another wonderful post 🙂

  36. Ellie Taesali says:


  37. Heather says:

    I love this balanced approach to integrating both modern science/western medicine and ancient healing methods. I do believe we are our own best doctors/healers and that research plays an important role. I also think that strengthening our own intuition and common sense can be vital in making choices for our own health. There is a tremendous amount of information about health out there on the internet, in books, articles, scientific journals, etc. We have become a society obsessed with facts and figures and although those are incredibly helpful, its also equally important to turn inward and listen to our own inner voices when making decisions for our own bodies.

  38. Claude says:

    Thanks Nick, I believe also that knowledge and wisdom… and greener grass has nothing to do with a specific time and that we should not judge the whole of modern ways with the whole of more traditional ones, but in some ways yes, the grass was greener in some areas, however there is not only grass that is growing in this world. Pollution and destruction of the environment are big stain on the green of yore. We cannot swim let alone drink from some rivers because our modern ways has polluted them to the point of being dangerous. It is said that every hour there are 3 species of plant or animal that become extinct, and at the present rate, an estimated 50% of all our bio-diversity will be gone forever in 100 years, some that will never have been discovered, certainly some that would have given us some precious unparalleled medecine or super-food. If we look at our planet as one living organism, it was very healthy 200 years ago, now it is very sick, it has a life threatening disease (called humans). I think we should keep the good of our modern society as long as this good does not destroy the good of ancestral ways. In our modern world there are many very practical innovations that really make our life better and easier, I think they should not be discarded in the name of a more natural world. The ingredients to make a better world should be found both in the past and in the present time, if a traditional use of plant is more efficient than its modern chemical conterparts, the decision about which one to use and which one to discard should be obvious, but befuddlement and chaos is brought in in the name of power and monetary profit by corporations, businesses and lobbyists, this is another story, or is it?

  39. David says:

    well stated as far as you go…. the real capability is to move, intentionally, into and out-of storylines (frameworks). I find it strange that you fail to mention “the miraculous”. When BELIEF is transferable, apparently anything can happen. This is technology from another level…

  40. nicola bastian says:

    Thank you for expressing expertly a thought i cherish and spread. Namesakes think alike?

  41. Penney says:

    I think it is a natural tendency to glorify the past, only remembering the good parts. I agree with you. My 94-year-old Mother grew up on a farm, and though she has many joyous memories, there was also much drudgery. The mentally ill were treated horribly. Handicapped children were hidden away and a source of shame for many parents. Many women died in childbirth. I agree, we should focus on the positive aspects of today and not long for a past that never was.

  42. Matinna says:

    I find all this very interesting !

  43. Terry-Anya Hayes says:

    Dream on, Nick. Our technology us the Trojan horse we’ve gifted ourselves with: so fascinating — and so full of dire consequences. for ourselves, our neighbors, our planet. Have you notipiced how fast microbes are outpacing antibiotics? From overpopulation to Roundup in wvery drop of rainwater, our skill at saving lives (which goes mostly to the well-to-do anyway) won’t help us if the earth becomes uninhabitable. To find a solution we must first find — and face — the facts. And by the way, whether set by bonesetter or orthopedist,, a few Comfrey leaves then wrapped around the broken arm induce faster healing.

  44. Elizabeth says:

    Thoughtful &thought-provoking article
    Yes , I do notice & try to check my own tendency to mythologies/confabulate my personal history.
    If I repeat stories often enough to myself or others it does tend to become an established “truth”.

    As for women’ s independence and equality,I feel it is as much the result of effective contraception as the cultural effect of Feminist politics. Tho probably, sweeping out the Flintstone’s cave took a lot less time than cleaning up a suburban home!

  45. annie! says:

    In my search for help, I use find lots of people who want to sell me the miracle cure. It’s nice to come to your blog, time after time and get thoughtful encouragement. Thanks.

  46. JodieLee Australia says:

    Excellent. Beautiful work. Love what you do Thank you Nick. x

  47. linda woytowich says:

    Perspective is so necessary. Thanks, Nick.

  48. JO says:

    Hi,thank you ,this is so true,we do need to know when and what can be helped the best way.
    We are far more in a better position to choose .Keep on writing please,it is great!

  49. CJ says:

    immensely enjoyed this info and brilliantly stated.

  50. Gwen Morgan says:

    Hi Nick
    Enjoyed reading this immensely. I guess there is merit in every aspect, whether it be past, present or future noting that we can only live in the present oment. I work as a remedial massage therapist and look forward to your emails. Thanks for sharing.

  51. Joanne Hahn says:

    Thankyou Nick for this beautiful post. I too have learned the lesson that we need both natural healing and herbal modalities and modern medicine. I think they complement each other. Look forward to your next post xxx

  52. Annie Evans says:

    Thank you for this. It is illuminating, reflective and awakening.

  53. Gary Sinclair says:

    I will have a new book out very soon that will allow anyone to heal negative charges in their bodies in approx. 20 seconds and do that with memoires, etc. for the rest of their life. I have a PBS Special after that. If you would like to Skype for an hour, write to me.

  54. Sharon says:

    Fantastic article…in my opinion, your past is a part of your present, it is why you are the way you are now. You can’t change the past, but it does affect ones future journey so live it well in the now so the journey will be easier

  55. Mimi says:

    I had to chuckle at the “you can’t fix a broken arm with herb tea”. Be cause I am living proof as I walk around every day with a broken arm (ulna is in two pieces) but my arm is healed and it works great. I can carry heavy buckets of water with that arm and I am a massage therapist, so I use it a lot. God can heal anything.

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    Tradycyjny ślub w Japonii
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    Ślub w hinduizmie
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    Suknie ślubne z początku XX wieku (1935), Hiszpania

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