Individual Responsibility for Health

Each human being has a capacity to take responsibility for their own health due to the fact that we possess ‘I’ – the spiritual core of our individuality. The basic condition for this is that we don't blindly follow moral rules given by representatives of spiritual life or believe in all-pervading natural causality determining all aspects of our lives. Instead we strive to acquire a holistic understanding of our being and the nature of all kind of influences on our development. Only in this way – when we base our decisions on an understanding of the consequences of our choices – we can really be responsible for our own health.

The Origin of Illnesses in the Individualisation of Man

When we gain deeper insights into the mysteries of human existence we see that we live in a world consisting of many polarities. The most fundamental polarity is the polarity between the spiritual and physical worlds, each with their own laws of existence: on one side we have moral laws, on the other physical laws. Human beings stand at the crossroad of these two worlds – the world of morality, and the world of natural laws – and struggling to maintain a healthy balance between them. Thus we can designate as the universal cause of all illnesses an occurrence of an imbalance between various spheres of human existence. Such kinds of disharmony – if allowed to persist – will cause suffering, illness, and sometimes even death. If you have ever wondered why we are not spared of all this suffering then you need to understand the primordial cause behind all illnesses. Once upon a time we lived in a 'paradise' – in a primordial state of the harmony of spiritual and physical existence without suffering and illnesses. Then, at a certain stage of earthly development "an entirely new impetus entered humanity through the individualization of man. Man, as an independent being, detached himself from the all-embracing harmony of divine-spiritual health. In a certain respect he set himself up in his individualism against the whole of this divine-spiritual environment. Imagine that you have a being developing entirely under the influence of his environment. What he expresses will be the environment. Imagine, though, that he shuts himself off in his skin, then in addition to the characteristics of his environment he has his own characteristics as well. And indeed, with this new impetus men became individual and developed their own individual characteristics. And there was contradiction between the great divine-spiritual harmony with its health and the individualism of man. And through this individuality continuing to work, through it becoming a really effective factor, the possibility of becoming ill has entered into human evolution. This is the moment when the possibility of illness first occurred in human evolution, for it is bound up with the individualisation of man. When man was still firmly connected with the divine-spiritual world the possibility of illness did not exist. It came about at the same time as individualisation." [1] This separation from the harmony of the creative world and development of our own individuality was a necessity for the sake of the development of human freedom, but the price for this is that we are liable to make mistakes, to get out of healthy rhythms, and to do things which are harmful to our own being.

Before we look at the issue of human health we need to ask: "What does human freedom mean? Are our actions really free or not?" The fundamental prerequisite for freedom of our actions is that we understand the motives for them, for "it goes without saying that an action is not free if it is carried out without knowledge of the reason for doing it." [2] There are manifold instances of such unfree actions. For example, "man is unfree because he follows his strong sexual instinct, or because he is hemmed in by the fetters of conventional morality. But one should not maintain that such a man can rightly call his actions his own, for he is driven to them by external powers. But there are human beings who raise themselves above all these compelling rules, free spirits who find their own self in the jumble of habits, regulations, religious observances, etc. They are free insofar as they follow only themselves; unfree insofar as they submit themselves. Which of us can say that he is really free in all that he does? But in each of us exists a higher being in whom the free man comes to expression. Our life is composed of free and unfree deeds. But we cannot complete the concept of man without including the free spirit as the purest characteristic of human nature. After all, we are truly human only insofar as we are free." [3]

For that purpose we need to distinguish free actions based on understanding from the behaviour guided by "the moral authority we acknowledge – the head of the family, the state, social custom, the authority of the church, divine revelation, and so on. A particular instance of such moral principles is when the command announces itself to us, not through an external authority, but through our own inner being. In this case, we sense within ourselves the voice to which we have to submit. This voice finds expression in conscience. It means moral progress when man does not simply take the command of an outer or inner authority as motive for his action, but strives to recognize the reason why a particular principle of conduct should act as motive in him. This is the advance from morality based on authority, to conduct based on moral insight. At this level of morality the person will consider the needs of moral life and will let this knowledge determine his actions." [4] So we came back to the fundamental prerequisite of human freedom: an absolute need for an understanding of the motives behind our actions.

Papacy of Medicine versus Responsibility for Own Health

From the above description we can already see that each human being is – in so far as he wants to partake in the evolution of own individuality – ultimately responsible for his own state of being, including the state of own health. People in principle yearn for freedom, although they have different opinions as to what this involves and how much we can be free. But what about the issue of taking responsibility for our own health?

If we have used in the past this or that method of alternative or complementary medicine we might came across the idea of taking responsibility for own personal health. However, the prevalent attitude in the domain of health is that "people are not concerned about illness – or one or another type of illness at least – until they themselves fall sick with it, and even then their interest does not go much beyond the cure. That is, they are only concerned about their recovery. How this cure is accomplished is sometimes a matter of complete indifference, and the pleasantest thing is not to have any further responsibility for the 'how'. Most of people content themselves with the thought that the people who carry out the job have been appointed to do so by the authorities. In our time there exists in medical sphere a much more rabid belief in authority than has ever existed in the religious sphere. The papacy of medicine, irrespective of its various forms, still makes itself felt with great intensity and will do so to an even greater extent in the future. Laymen are in no way to blame for the fact that this can and will be like this. For they do not think about these matters or care in the least about them unless it affects them personally and they suffer from an acute case that requires treatment.

Thus a large section of the population calmly looks on whilst the papacy of medicine assumes greater and greater dimensions and insinuates itself into things in all manner of ways. People do not care about the deeper significance that is actually behind all this. They look on whilst one or another law is instituted. People do not want to have any insight into these matters. On the other hand there will always be people who are personally affected and cannot manage with ordinary materialistic medicine – the basis of which does not concern them, but only the fact of whether they can be cured or not – and then they will apply to the people who work out of occultism – and there again they only care about whether they can be cured or not. These things are not taken seriously enough except when people are personally affected. However it is just the task of a really spiritual movement to awaken a consciousness of the fact that there has to be more than an egoistic desire for recovery; in fact there has to be knowledge of the deeper foundations in these matters, and this knowledge has to be made known." [5]

In the present time there is plenty of evidence that the majority of people don't want to be responsible for own health. [6] This is one of the key causes of the escalating numbers of diseases in affluent societies where one would expect the opposite development due to the general wealth and the highly professional health services. [7] But such a situation is not surprising if we compare modern life with life in the past when people still belonged to the various ethnic groups with regulations on almost all aspects of life, including their moral codes of behaviour and their food cultures. But compare such, from our perspective, quite authoritarian traditional life-styles with the life-styles of people living in the modern city. Now people have many more choices than they had in the past, such as choice of vocation, partner, place of living, personal moral values, diet, etc. This makes us more free, but at the same time more exposed to mistakes, self-deceptions, and wrong-doings. Thus we can see why the level of our freedom ultimately depends on the level of understanding of the motives for our choices.

Nutrition belongs to those influences which are crucial in regard to the maintenance of human health. But the impacts of various foods cannot be grasped by a solely materialistic perspective; for this we need an all-encompassing holistic perspective. Now you might object: "How on earth one can understand the true nature of human being and all possible influences on human health from a holistic perspective? How can we ever hope to become free, when from the start we soon confront the immense complexity of world existence?" It might look a hopeless case, but there is a way out.

The solution is possible when we recognise that we don't need to know everything about education, or medicine, or nutrition, with the aim to choose the right educational method, or medical therapy, or diet for ourselves or for our family. However, if we want to make right decisions, we need to know what is essential! And what we need to know about health and the origin of illnesses is contained in the form of wide pictures presented by the spiritual science. Each of these pictures serves as a kind of navigation map inside which one can place specific details and in this way understand the consequences of specific type of treatments for our wellbeing and overall personal development. In this way we are capable of seeing something that those who have great knowledge inside specialised medical fields cannot see if they don't develop such wide holistic insights.

This approach does not exclude the role of doctors and other medical specialists or any type of complementary or alternative therapists. On the contrary, it enables us to appreciate any expert knowledge that is capable of helping when we get ill. But the person who must be in control of the process of healing is I, myself. For "what lives within us is truly a higher, divine human being. We feel ourselves pervaded by this being as by living presence of whom we can say: This is my inner guide in me. All that we can produce in the way of ideals and artistic creativity – as also the natural healing forces in our body, which continuously compensate for the injuries life inflicts – originate not in our ordinary, rational minds but in the deeper forces at work in us. People sometimes say of the damages and injuries we sustain in life that external forces will not be of any help and that our organism must develop its own inherent healing powers. What they are talking about is a wise, benevolent influence working upon us. From this same source also arise the best forces that enable us to perceive the spiritual world." [8] When I become aware that the question of health and choice of eventual therapies is simultaneously also part of my spiritual development, then I need to have a basic understanding of the consequences of my choices. This is my real responsibility. Otherwise I might choose the path I would never choose if I knew all long-term consequences of my choice.

This website came into existence with the aim to help those who want to be responsible for their own health. The website offers insights which form the basis for truly free decisions in the domain of health and spiritual development. The fundamental principles of nutrition enable an understanding of the essential archetypal relationships between man and nutrition in relation to a wide range of human activities – not just to the maintenance of healthy body. And this is what really enables us to make the right decisions in this very complex field of our existence.

   NOTES

  1. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 8.12.1908, The Being of Man & His Future Evolution, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981
  2. Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity – The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner Press, Bristol, 1992
  3. Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, www.rsarchive.org
  4. As above
  5. Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 10.11.1908; same source as in the note 1
  6. It is no chance that among the minority of the population who take responsibility for their own health are mainly people who take their own personal growth and spiritual development in their own hands, no longer relying on traditional forms of morality and religious authorities.
  7. It must be clear that the widespread belief in the power of medical science is the consequence of the transference of individual responsibility for health to doctors and other authorities in the field of medicine. The outcome of this transfer is twofold: on one hand we are given promises and hopes that the discovery of the right medicine for our disease might be just few years ahead; on the other the statistical evidence shows continual growth of the numbers of people with various illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, etc. The only question left is: When will the costs of medical care become such an economical burden for modern societies that they will be forced to tackle the underlying sources of such distressing statistics in the domain of human health?
  8. Rudolf Steiner, The Spiritual Guidance of the Individual and Humanity, Anthroposophic Press, 1992