Is It The Bug or the Terrain?

Is It The Bug or the Terrain?

Aug 2, 2011

You may have heard about the argument at the time of Louis Pasteur surrounding the question as to how to deal with bodily infestations.  Pasteur had, of course, been a powerful advocate for the theory of germ-elimination as a basis for medical treatment. He was opposed in this view by Claude Bernard and Antoine Beauchamp, who insisted that “the germ is nothing; the terrain is everything.”  While that argument may have been a little extreme, nevertheless it is reported that Pasteur conceded at the very end of his life that “Bernard was right.  The terrain is everything; the germ is nothing.”

Even for all his celebrity as the one to discover the potential of eliminating bacteria through ‘pasteurization,’ Louis Pasteur apparently came to see that the greater leverage for healing lay in the body’s microbial and energetic environment. The bulk of the medical community, however, maintains the conviction, stemming ironically from Pasteur’s work, that the terrain is nothing, and of course bugs, germs, are problematic. Therefore we battle bugs to this day.

Nowadays we know that trillions of microbes co-exist with our cellular and inter-cellular structures – actually about ten times more microbes than cells!  The vast majority of these microbes are vital parts of our ecology, facilitating chemical processes and interacting with each other and our cells in ways we’re just beginning to comprehend.  In other words, we’re just beginning to understand the nature and complexity of the living terrain and what a gigantic part it plays in virtually every aspect of health.

Given all that, our medical approach still tends to be stuck in the mode of “seek and destroy,” with bacteria and viruses seen as the most common targets.  Over-use and over-prescription of antibiotics is a major problem, both for the havoc it tends to create in the digestive system and beyond and also in terms of the development of virulent antibiotic-resistant strains of infection. A recent article in the Townsend letter even questions the validity of attacking microbes as the primary way of addressing Lyme disease, seemingly an obvious ‘bug-related’ problem.  Meanwhile, various ‘probiotics’ are being recognized as agents of healing and balance for a plethora of acute and chronic conditions.

What analogy could serve to illustrate this point? Well, there are many, but one stands out to me because of a pervasive item in the news lately. The story involving phone and voice mail hacking by a famous British tabloid owned by a global corporate magnate has been spreading to include other news organizations, local and national police forces and politicians at the highest levels.  Here in the US, investigations have begun, and there seems no end in sight to what there might be to investigate!

What are the ‘bugs’ in this story?  Incidents of electronic hacking, payoffs, collusion of corporate, government and law enforcement agencies in covert endeavors…the list goes on, and on!  But what about the terrain?  In this case the surrounding and permeating ethos involves a culture of sensationalism that rewards prying into other people’s business and ferreting out anything that will make headlines, true or not.  We have hundreds of millions of people who have become addicted to this sensationalist onslaught just as surely as if they had been fed narcotic drugs.  Competition is fierce, not to report news of import, but to out-titillate the competition, to out-shock other ‘news’ sources, to ‘get the scoop’ at all cost.

My point is this: in an atmosphere and a context of this nature, where whole populations of people have become part of a certain type of culture – in this case a culture that is constantly stimulated in the most powerful ways – there are going to be bugs!  Those bugs may be heinous, but they are exactly what has been cultured by the culture!  We can have trials, we can root out the evils and the evildoers, maybe even at high levels as we may think, but in the presence of such a culture, where the basic elements of that culture remain unquestioned, eliminating bugs will only breed other bugs, and perhaps more ‘prosecution-resistant’ strains!  As Pasteur said, apparently on his deathbed, “Le terraine c’est tout” – the terrain is everything!

For those of us privileged to work in the natural healing arts, we have such a tremendous opportunity. We can help with the terrain at all levels.  We live in a culture of disease, but we can encourage a different culture, one that values healthy lifestyle, prevention and minimal intervention.  We can look beyond the surface concerns our patients bring us to the underlying ‘culturing’ elements that have produced the imbalance.  And even if we are forced to deal with a few ‘bugs’ on a short-term basis to begin establishing balance, we do so with an eye to the longer-term process of establishing a new culture of health, both in and around the patient.

When one is a part of a certain culture, it can be hard to see that culture as an outsider might.  That, too, is part of being an effective practitioner.  We should be able to see that which is not obvious to our patients, and to guide them gently but firmly into the experience of a different culture. Whether that is done through ongoing education or periodic guidance, the results will tell us whether or not we have been able to achieve the greater goals of healing from the inside out.

Grant Clarke, Energetix

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