Rethinking The Past and Rewriting Our Present

By Nick Polizzi

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

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34 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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”!

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

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

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