Awash in Harm, Do No More Harm: The First Law of All Health, Healing, Wellness and Well Being
"Ahimsa is the attribute of the soul, and therefore, to be practiced by everybody in all the affairs of life. If it cannot be practiced in all departments, it has no practical value."
The first law of all health and healing is not creating love, joy and ecstasy in people's lives. It is not even alleviating pain, misery and suffering, all worthy contributions indeed. Nor is it offering money, advice or direction. It isn't even giving acceptance, agreement or approval. Even kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, empathy and compassion isn't the first law of all health and healing.
It actually may be surprising to discover what you already suspect and know. The first law in all true health care is, above and beyond everything in all work that promotes wellness and well-being, even if you cannot do miracles, offer panaceas, produce cures and elicit enlightenment and illumination, at least do no more harm! It is staggering to consider how much of the world today operates inside the consciousness of doing harm.
Author David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. uses the technology of behavioral or applied kinesiology (muscle testing) to determine various calibration levels of humankind. He made the estimate in 2001 that seventy-eight percent of the human population operate inside a consciousness of doing harm, which he revised in 2008 to eighty-five percent. 1 In other words, Dr. Hawkins estimates that the percentage of the human population that behaves in a harmless fashion has dropped from 22% to a mere 15% from 2001 to 2008!
In beginning any journey of repair, redemption and return to living a functional, healthy, loving, contributing and fulfilling life, one commits in clear intention and action, and engages in good faith, good will and good actions. Two cardinal principles stand out:
- Awaken in every moment to fully see and straightforwardly acknowledge the depth, breath and numerous levels of harm occurring in our lives and world;
- Keep "emptying your cup," releasing and surrendering all harm in thought, attitude, word and deed, while you make what repair, restitution and correction is necessary and essential for the closure and completion of the harmful action.
Beyond any doubt, the tsunami of information and knowledge flooding our modern lives has amply documented the clear conclusion that there is more harm occurring right under our noses than we can even begin to fathom, most of which we are almost entirely unaware of. Further it is apparent with some reflection that when any one of us perpetrates harm in any form, more harm actually occurs on many levels of living and remains for far longer than we are conscious of. Equally true, when good, help and genuine support is honestly given, more good occurs on more levels of living and remains for far longer than we are cognizant of as well.
The shinning visionary light of the principle of 'do no more harm' has its roots in the West with the Hippocratic Oath and in the East in the idea of ahimsa or the daily practice, attitude and living embodiment of non-violence and non-harming. Beginning with ahimsa, this principle is at the heart of yoga practice stretching back millennia.
Ahimsa is at the heart of first Mahatma Gandhi's and later Martin Luther King, Jr.'s core guiding principle of non-violent civil disobedience to effect social change. Ahimsa is doing your best to live the vision of doing as little, or preferably, no violence and damage, harm and hurt, as humanly possible.
While these words and ideas sound lovely, it is the living practice of non-harming and non-violence that is challenging for most human beings. The opportunity every moment affords is to be conscious of being harmful or harmless, and to tell the truth no matter which you see. Here is an opening or clearing to take stock of yourself, a kind of self-inventory of your life. Not letting any fear (an acronym for Forgetting Everything's All Right) run your life means waking up to take responsibility and own your own actions, whether you see help or harm, constructive contribution or destructive damage. Taking this self-inventory periodically is a wake-up call to remember and live ahimsa.
Do you maliciously gossip about other people? Ahimsa. Do you hate yourself, think you are deserving of punishment and beat yourself up in one form or another? Ahimsa. Do you not set appropriate limits? Ahimsa. Do you perpetuate grief and pain upon other people? Ahimsa. When you feel frightened or threatened, do you project you fears and attack the ones you are around? Ahimsa. Do you harmfully act out dramas that tend to drag others into them and create problems? Ahimsa. Do you tell half-truths, omit key information, and outright lie? Ahimsa. Do you negatively act out using passive-aggressive behavior? Ahimsa. Do you harm the environment? Ahimsa. 2 Without a daily, lived embodiment of ahimsa, the ego-mind's attachments or greed, ignorance, and closed-mindedness reign producing untold harm, pain, misery and suffering.
One place to return to is a provocative document or creed that has well served as the reasonable guiding vision for the professional ethics, morality and attitude of medical physicians for better than two millennia to the present time. Of course, this statement or creed is the Hippocratic Oath. It's composition dates from somewhere between the 6th and the 1st century B.C. Much of this oath demonstrates the powerful influence of Pythagorean ethics.
According to J.B. De C. M. Saunders, M.D. of the University of California, San Francisco, the first part of the Hippocratic Oath is a serious agreement concerning the relationship and obligations of the physician to his or her apprentice doctor-to-be. The second part recounts the ethical code, with doing no harm, living an exemplary and holy life along with keeping professional practices confidential being the hallmarks.
It is really quite unfortunate that publically taking the Hippocratic Oath is no longer required of most doctors for graduation from medical schools or for their license to practice medicine. A regular pledging of the Hippocratic Oath would be a welcome return for not only medical or allopathic doctors, but also for all alternative health care practitioners and informed health consumers committed to health, healing and well-being.
Honoring the Hippocratic Oath is particularly fitting right now given that the present state of the health care system in America can frequently cause greater harm than good. Five researchers lead by Gary Null, Ph.D. provide documented evidence gathered in 2001 of just shy of a million lives (exactly 999,936) being lost yearly in the United States through medical injuries, side-effect of medications, hospital errors, accidents and mistakes, far more than any other cause of death, including deaths attributed to heart disease (699,697) and cancer (553,251). It further mentions that the United States is ranked 12th of 13 industrialized countries when evaluated using 15 health status indicators. 3 Preventable medical errors that are attributed to doctor-produced illness and death are respectively called iatrogenic illness and iatrogenesis.
"Life is short, and the Art long; the occasion fleeting; experience fallacious, and judgment difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate."
A modern rewriting of the Hippocratic Oath, an earlier version, and possibly the earliest version with the original wording were found. Here is each, beginning with the most modern that is called The Declaration of Geneva. It was drawn up by the World Medical Association in 1948 and was amended in 1968.
The Declaration of Geneva
At the time of being admitted a member of the medical profession:
I do solemnly pledge myself to consecrate my life to the service of humanity;
I will give my teachers the respect and gratitude which is their due;
I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity;
The health of my patient will be my first consideration;
I will respect the secrets which are confided in me, even after the patient dies;
I will maintain by all the means in my power, the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession;
I will not permit considerations of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient;
I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.
I will make these promises solemnly, freely and upon my honour.
The most commonly cited version of the Hippocratic Oath follows:
The Hippocratic Oath 4
I swear by Apollo the physician and Aesculapius and health and all-heal and all the gods and goddesses that according to my ability and judgment I will keep this oath and this stipulation-to reckon him who taught me this art equally dear to me as my parent, to share my substance with him and relieve his necessities if required, to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers and to teach them this art if they shall wish to learn it without fee or stipulation and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction I will impart a knowledge of the art to my own sons and those of my teachers and to disciples found by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked nor suggest any such counsel, and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption, and further, from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. Whatever, in connection with my professional practice, or not in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. While I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times, but should I trespass and violate this oath, may the reverse be my lot.
Perhaps the oldest version of the Hippocratic Oak with the original wording is:
The Hippocratic Oath 5
I swear by Apollo the Physician, by Aesculapious and Hygieia and Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, calling them as witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my judgment and ability, the Oath and indenture.
I will honour him who has taught me this art as I would my parents and will make him a partner in my livelihood, and if he should fall into debt I will assist him. I will hold his sons as my brothers, and shall teach them this art if they should wish to learn it, and I shall do so without fees or indentures. I shall allow my sons and the sons of my teacher to take part in my written and oral instructions and in all other instruction, as well as those pupils indentured to me who have taken the Oath, but to no one else.
I shall use treatment for the healing of the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never to their injury or harm.
Neither will I administer to anyone any medicine which is poisonous, even when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.
Also, I will not give to any woman a means of abortion.
I will not cut those who are suffering from the stone, but I will leave them to men who practice such operations.
Into whatsoever house I enter, I shall go to heal the sick, avoiding all intentional wrong-doing and especially every sexual act against persons of women or men, whether free or slaves.
Whatever I see or hear in the practice of my profession, as well as those things which I may learn in my intercourse with men, if they should be such as should not be imparted to other men, concerning those I shall remain silent, in the conviction that such things should be kept close secrets. Now if I carry out this Oath and break it or not, then may I gain for ever reputation among all men for my life and for my art; and if I break it and forswear myself, may the opposite be my lot.
It would appear to be quite uncommon for the health care system in the United States to be particularly oriented to prevention, especially primary prevention. Three levels of prevention are available in regard to health care. Tertiary prevention is when people receive hospice care or something similar like home-based skilled nursing after exhausting all standard medical treatment modalities and often several alternative health care approaches. In tertiary prevention the person is given a supportive environment to be as comfortable as possible, including being surrounded by skilled caregivers, close family along with the use of pain and other medications as well as pleasurable activities that the person can bear, before dying.
The largest and most well known type of prevention is secondary prevention, which includes most of what we consider medical treatment and procedures. In secondary prevention the patient has clear symptoms and usually a diagnosable disorder, disease or syndrome and is utilizing medical and alternative health care to address it. Typically the medical intervention takes the form of using medical testing, medication and medical procedures such as surgery to address health problems, reduce symptoms, increase health, functionality and longevity as well as to effect a cure if possible.
It would appear that the least known and practiced form of prevention is primary prevention, which encompasses all that can be done to stay healthy before any symptoms or disease pattern emerge. Primary prevention includes a broad array of lifestyle behaviors, such as all of the following: engaging in outstanding nutrition, regular exercise (stretching/range of motion, cardiovascular and strengthening exercise/conditioning), using ergonomic furniture and designing low-stress work and home environments, regularly engaging in a network of social support, sunlight, fresh air, clean water and nature exposure, limited exposure to power lines, cell phones, toxic chemicals and substances, elevated noise levels, high density and high stress environments, processed foods (e.g., additives, preservatives, corn syrup), and developing excellent stress-handling abilities. All can boost resilience and adaptability. Effectively working with one's thoughts, feelings/emotions, attitude and ego-mind can be considered central to effective primary prevention. Good genetics doesn't hurt either. Unfortunately, allopathic medicine does not address primary prevention very well. This does not have to stop you.
The principle of non-harming and non-violence, that is at the heart of both the Eastern idea of ahimsa and the Western creed of The Hippocratic Oath, is still the cutting edge of psychological health. In fact,it can be considered a spiritually evolved guiding light for how we all can peacefully live together on this planet moment-by-moment. Keeping this awareness alive and well in the forefront of your seeing here-and-now can make no small difference and contribution to the quality of your life, relationships and community. Further this awareness and practice can leave a wonderful legacy of progress in our continued unfolding human evolution.
1. David R. Hawkins, The Eye of the I. W. Sedona, Arizona: Vertas Publishing, 2001, page 45; Reality, Spirituality, And Modern Man. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Axial Publishing Company, 2008, page 35.
2. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994, pages 217-219.
3. Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD, "Death by Medicine," Life Extension Magazine, August 2006, www.lef.org/magazine/mag2006/aug2006_report_death_01.htm
4. Oath and Law of Hippocrates. From Harvard Classics, Volume 38, copyright 1910 by P. F. Collier and Son. This text is placed in the Public Domain, June 1993.
5. The Hippocratic Oath. Original wording from John Camp, The Healer's Art. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1977.