Loving Connection Is Healing

June 1, 2019

by Anna O’Malley, MD, Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine Director

Loving connection is healing.

This core belief is the underpinning of Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine’s mission.

Natura has been at home in the Commonweal Garden since July of 2018, when Regenerative Design Institute moved northward to Whidbey Island. Grounded in ecological principles of interrelatedness, Natura weaves this ethic into transformative healing programs, community integrative medicine circles, herbal medicine and nature connection programs, retreats for physicians, and permaculture programs.

As a practicing physician, I am acutely aware of the poignant limitations to guiding people to health in today’s healthcare system. In this era of distracted overconsumption, rates of chronic illness and ecological collapse are escalating. At a time when healing is needed on so many levels, our current system focuses on downstream fixes to symptoms caused by upstream (behavioral, societal, ecological) forces. Depth of inquiry is sacrificed in favor of rushed “productivity.” Rates of burnout and suicide among physicians continue to rise. Healing is not served.

As a Bravewell Fellow in Integrative Medicine, I am inspired to create change within medicine and to animate the Medicine that is needed at this planetary moment. How can we engage in loving reciprocity with the natural world? How can we weave closer connections within our human family? How do we relate to our plant allies? How can physicians be supported, nourished, and inspired to create healing ecologies within their practice, and infuse ecological consciousness into their art?

The Commonweal Garden is a graciously supportive space in which to engage in healing inquiry. Medicinal foods and herbs, wild and cultivated, abound. Lovingly tended land generously holds people in meditation, in deep reflective conversation, or in exuberant exploration. I find that listening to the land and opening myself to what arises allows me—and those with whom I work—to find our own sentience, to consider how we may become lights in our lives, in our communities, and in this world.

Natura offers many opportunities to experience the medicine cultivated in these gardens.

The Art of Vitality program, which I teach with James Stark, is a rich synthesis of integrative medicine and spiritual psychology, nourishing food and supportive connections, deep nature connection and beauty, movement and stillness.

Community Medicine Circles, a collaborative effort with the Coastal Health Alliance, are an innovative response to the constraints of the health care system. This monthly series teaches people how to care for their bodies, emphasizes ecological and integrative medicine perspectives throughout, and leverages social connection toward behavior change. The circles are followed by potluck lunches and cooking demonstrations sourced from the Garden, relevant to the topic of the month.

The Four Seasons Permaculture Design Course and concurrent Permaculture for Kids program grounds participants in design principles, from landscapes to human systems, which yield a positive, regenerative effect.

Our Afterschool Nature Program, in collaboration with our local Bolinas-Stinson Beach School District, fosters a connection with the natural world and guides children in the ethics of land tending and stewarding.

Other collaborative projects are evolving: With Abriendo Caminos, we are holding a series of healing retreats for Latina women. In collaboration with Black Mountain Circle, Full Moon Fire Circles are held each full moon. We are developing nourishing retreats for caregivers, so that they can explore what it is to be a healer at this time on our planet.

It is my prayer that all beings, from humans to rhizobia, are honored and seen here in the Garden, and that we may all be agents of healing in our lives and in the world.

For more information on these programs and others, or to come to a volunteer tending day or a Garden Tour, visit our website.

We extend deep gratitude to our generous supporters, without whom this work would not be possible.