An Interview with Dr. Steven Johnson, DO and Dennis Klocek, PhD, author, teacher, gardener and herbalist
Dr. Steven Johnson: Hi Dennis. Thank you for having this conversation on the role of “nature” in health creation. There is a great deal interest in the effects of nature on health, especially mental health. I know you have taught many children about biodynamic gardening and your recent book, “Sacred Agriculture”, has inspired many people. Thank you for offering your insights during this Fall equinox and Michaelmas season. Maybe you can start us off with some thoughts on the importance of nature for health creation.
Dennis Klocek: Karl Jung said the most important thing for young people is “to work”. Karl Konig, the founder of Camphill Communities, said the “best vacation is changing your work.” Meaningful work that gives purpose is the biggest antidote to the stress of modern times. Meaningful work is a pathway into life which so many young people struggle with today. Increasingly, young people don’t want to devote themselves to senseless work that doesn’t make a difference. They want to experience meaning in work, yet they often struggle to find it.
S Johnson: Can you elaborate more on this?
D Klocek: Human beings are part nature and part spirit. Connecting to the “being” of nature is very different from experiencing an “immersion” in nature or working outdoors at an agricultural job.
Humans mostly have a focus on consuming nature. This means getting what you need no matter what. On production farms it is difficult to get a true experience of the “being” of nature. Even in biodynamic and sustainable farming, the “bottom line” often takes over. We can only learn how nature supports health if we have the right “intent”. This means interacting with nature and finding out about the rules and processes through which she reveals herself. This is the intent we need to get to know to nature as it really is, free from our manipulation.
When we get away from looking at nature as a commodity and, rather, appreciate how it gives us sustenance, we can begin to see nature differently. To develop that appreciation, it is very helpful to grow some of your own food. To see the “process” of a seed growing into a plant and then into food on a table is highly valuable. The knowledge needed to create sustenance out of food inspires a deeper appreciation for nature and has a stabilizing effect on our psyche. Learning to make vinegar and bread, preserving fruits for winter, and other such things creates very satisfying work. Working this way, we see how plants have different “personalities”. They relate to the seasons and weather conditions uniquely; thus, we can learn to see personal traits in plants. This is a door to making plant medicines. Maybe a certain plant is bitter and reminds us of an uncle, or another plant is gentle, soothing and sweet, and we see these traits in a dear friend. When we ourselves, as a personality, interact with a nature as a personality, we have an inner experience and form relationship. This experience reveals the “soul of nature to the soul of the human”. This is the beginning of how experience in nature becomes “health creating”. We become open to what each unique personality has to teach us.
S Johnson: Your comments remind me of the importance of imitation in early childhood. The child takes in the gestures, attitudes, movements and unique qualities of people and things around them. If we have reverence for nature and how our sustenance is connected to nature, then the child might grow up with a sense of respect for nature and the meaningfulness imparted by the parents or teachers who teach them about planting, processing or cooking food. If there are no such experiences in childhood, then it is hard to grow up with an appreciation for nature beyond things related to consumption and our more selfish needs.
I also think it is interesting to contemplate here, that Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, explained that observing the growing, living and dying processes in nature becomes the foundation for developing spiritual capacities. In the beginning, this is experienced as a warmth in the heart, which becomes a capacity to sense truthfullness in the world around us.
S Johnson: Could you relate our conversation to the Fall mood of Michaelmas?
D Klocek: Michaelmas is a time to contemplate the connection of the human being to nature in a deeper, more mysterious way. It is the time of reaping and storing the harvest of nature. We begin to move inwards as outer nature dies, and we contemplate the inner significance of our connection to nature. The gathering and storing of food, even in a small way, gives us courage to face the long winter and face the soul mood of darkness and cold that winter brings. This time of year can also connect us with fear if you don’t have a feeling there is something more to life, or the sustenance we need to make it until the next harvest. Texting or emailing friends helps us to avoid thinking about it, but it does not usually create the longstanding sustenance that a true experience of nature, a celebration in living community, can give us. In the past people would put some wheat seed on the table in a beautiful dish with some damp sand and over time the life would spring out of the dish even as the darkness of the yearly cycle approached. This kind of ritual keeps us connected with the cycle of nature, and the confidence that the future brings new life.
S Johnson: I think I know what you mean. I think about the experience of opening a can of homemade preserves and spreading it on some fresh bread with butter, or the sweetness of honey in a cup of warm tea on a cold winter day. It sustains you and helps you to appreciate the gifts of nature. For me, it is an experience that fosters devotion and joy and gives me courage to trust there is a higher meaning to the circle of life. Ever more so if I made the preserves or gathered the honey.
When we experience that “I” as a human being and its deep connection to nature, it lends confidence to the thought that there is meaning to our existence. This is so important for mental health and the overcoming of despair. I think there would be less teenage suicide if such experiences were more frequent and common in everyday life.
I have also had the experience that when I have had the courage to search beyond the common cure for a special remedy that is unique to an individual patient, a special healing can take place. This goes far beyond the original physical symptoms. It is as if it helps the patient to unlock the potential of their own inner nature and it touches their creative spirit. They can move forward in life in a renewed way. This is also an example of health creation, as opposed to treating an illness as only a pathology to be disposed.
S Johnson: Dennis, I know you make special salves and ointments as well as preparations to enhance the essential oils of plants. How do you think it impacts us to heal through nature when we can?
D Klocek: I have a friend who had a huge, painful cyst with an infected area six inches in diameter on her upper chest. She went to her HMO doctor who said it needed surgery due to its size. The surgeon wouldn’t see her for well over a month. She asked if I had any oil for that. I gave her a “lymph” oil mix I had made and told her to put it around, not on, the infected area. At first, she was concerned as it drained copious amounts of discharge. I told her to stop if she wished, but she said she felt better with the draining. A few weeks later she called me and said the whole wound had drained, the heat and pain were gone, and the skin was healing up. This is the way the old doctors worked. It is not that we want to always circumvent modern medicine, but this kind of experience teaches us about the incredible salutogenic and healing forces of the body and of the gifts of nature. It shows us what we are capable of overcoming with the help of nature.
S Johnson: That seems like a “Michaelmas” experience, where we can learn to have courage in the forces of nature in us and in the natural world. An exclusively technological approach to medicine promotes a fear of illness rather than seeing it as a potential transformative experience which, in some instances, it should be. I think there is research emerging in the public health sector demonstrating how these types of experiences deeply effect both our mental and physical health. However, because it is not clear scientifically why this is the case, the information does not get taught on a wider scale. But it is slowly getting out.
*Those interested in research may want to look at this paper by Harvard University on how lifelong health is connected to childhood.
There are many people who are starting to wake up to potential problems caused by our disconnection from nature. Everyone has to face the darkness, the voids and the worries about the future at some point in life, even if we successfully distract ourselves for long periods. To find the courage to face this darkness and void within us and conquer it is the Michaelmas mood and festival. It also represents our human capacity to appreciate the sacred “beingness” of all living things. I would like to end by sharing a verse by Rudolf Steiner many have found helpful when seeking for courage and strength through the wisdom of nature-
Steven Johnson, DO is a co-founder of Friends of PAAM. He has been an anthroposophic and integrative physician for 25 years. He has consulted for several Waldorf schools and Camphill communities and is currently serving as President of the Physicians’ Association for Anthroposophic Medicine (PAAM). Dr.
Johnson has been a lecturer and consultant to many health organizations and is very active in the study of medicinal plants, including formulating many medicines for Uriel Pharmacy. He also is the director of the mistletoe training program in North America.
Dennis Klocek, PhD, is a founder of the Coros Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to an ongoing dialogue between meditants in the arts, science and business. He has been the director of the Goethean Studies Program at the Rudolf Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, and is the author of several books, including “Sacred Agriculture.” Dennis has been a teacher in many school programs and has lectured on biodynamics, education and the environment in countries worldwide. He is also a consultant and mentor for educators and gardeners far and wide.