Homeostasis, Balance and Equilibrium are used interchangeably throughout the article.
Over the last century, science has been held captive to the legacy of Rene Descartes — the French philosopher most responsible for tearing asunder the Western world’s understanding of the irreducible unity of mind and body, energy and matter. (And for leaving modern science with the dogmatic conviction that the world is essentially a “heap” of mechanical parts rather than a living, interconnected whole.)
The worldview that Descartes brought into being can be especially problematic for the field of medicine. By its reasoning, the proper way to study and understand a living organism is to cut it up into the smallest pieces possible, and put these pieces under a microscope. This reductive methodology has played a significant role in undermining the understanding of the principle of homeostasis — something not observed not in inanimate, mechanistic, disconnected parts, but in whole, adaptive, living organisms.
Dynamic Equilibrium…Paradise Lost
The subtleties and true complexity of homeostasis, or what we can also understand as dynamic equilibrium, has been largely lost to the Cartesian worldview. To better understand why, it can be helpful to appeal to a thoroughly modern metaphor. (While this metaphor is itself mechanistic and reductive, it can also prove illuminating.)
The cellular and subtle energy needed for regulating and maintaining a human’s or animal’s dynamic equilibrium can be likened to the electricity and computer software required for running a computer.
Against the very Enlightenment Reason it swears allegiance to, the Cartesian worldview has focused almost exclusively on the “hardware” of human and animal bodies, effectively denying or ignoring the existence of the “electricity” and “ software” (cellular and subtle energy) upon which its operation depends.
This is because the Cartesian worldview and research paradigm tends not only to regard mind and body as separate, but to regard only one of them as real — the side that can be easily weighed, measured, and quantified. (Easily, being the key word here.)
Fluctuations of homeostasis are manifest directly by cellular changes which are seen in internal and external symptoms.
While it’s easy to disassemble a computer and examine its hardware (which is effectively how modern science has studied the human body), the actual electricity and computer software (the body’s cellular vitality and consciousness) is invisible to reductive methodologies. This has led much of modern science to downplay the importance of cellular energy, and in many cases, to deny the existence of subtle energy altogether.
From a purely rational perspective this is a mistake for multiple reasons that has been handily dealt with by some of the most notable, celebrated, and pioneering figures in science. (Including such legendary names as physicists Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Karl Popper.)
It’s not that cellular or subtle energy isn’t important or doesn’t exist, it’s that it requires a post-Cartesian research paradigm for studying fully.
When employing what amounts to “flat earth” approaches to interpreting life processes, the outcome is often a medical red herring: “mystery” dis-eases, syndromes, and “MUS” (medically unexplained symptoms) of the sort described in a report from the Department of Defense after U.S. diplomats in Cuba and China began suffering from unexplained and debilitating symptoms. (The U.S. military later determined these illnesses were the result of a bio-weapon designed to disrupt the body’s subtle energy flux.)
Fluctuations of homeostasis are manifest directly by cellular changes which are seen in internal and external symptoms. These symptoms constitute the early warning signs of disruption and imbalance and are the basis for initial treatment assessment.
Dynamic Equilibrium…Paradise Found
But the legacy of Rene Descartes is coming to an end. From the wreckage of wholeness, the principle of dynamic equilibrium is being rediscovered and gaining prominence in veterinary medicine.
This rediscovery is being made possible by the post-Cartesian worldview and research paradigm that represents a return to wholeness and a quantum leap in scientific understanding that promises to revolutionize our approach to health and healing. How? By shifting from an over-emphasis on eradicating pathogens to a focus on restoring and optimizing the balance of the inner terrain. Through this approach, we are rediscovering and reintegrating the key role of cellular and subtle energy in maintaining a living organism’s dynamic equilibrium. (Or what we like to refer to as Vitality & Balance, or simply, V&B.)
P4 as a Next-Gen Medical Model
Post-Cartesian research paradigms drawn from the sciences of complex systems like those which comprise every pet. Systems medicine is ushering in a new era of medicine that again recognizes the central importance of the principle of dynamic equilibrium (balance).
Once more, mind and body and energy and matter are being recognized as equally real, equally important, and inescapably intertwined in maintaining a living organism’s dynamic equilibrium.
For example, the One Health model recognizes that pets, people and the planet are unified by natural laws of physics, chemistry and biology. This recognition is undergirded by a clear understanding of the difference between the “whole” (whole-istic) and pieces and the difference between partial holism and deep holism. (The latter recognizes the central importance of cellular energy).
This vision underlies P4, which is the kind of medicine holistic doctors think our patients deserve. It is clinically effective in animals, reproducible and teachable, and provides a framework for both human and veterinary medicine that is personalized, predictive, proactive, and participatory.
Let’s take a look at each P and its role in supporting, restoring, optimizing, and maintaining V&B.
In conventional medicine, human and animal patients are essentially regarded as disease entities that can be understood with reference to diagnostic categories and effectively treated with standardized protocols. In contrast, the first element of P4 honors the molecular individuality and unique life experience of each human or animal and the imperative for personalized treatment. Among other approaches, this requires taking an extensive inventory of symptoms starting with BEAM (behavior, energy, appetite, and mood) and quality of life. Monitoring symptoms over time helps to assess the efficacy of any treatment intervention.
P4 is predictive because it combines individuality with universality. In other words, while each human or animal is unique, there are ecological (larger lifeworld) conditions that are known to significantly impact V&B. These factors play a substantial role in susceptibility to stressors and diseases. For example, the research underlying the exposome (molecular effects of all environmental exposures) and the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale enables us to reliably predict how not only physical stressors (poor nutrition, exposure to toxins, lack of exercise, etc.) but also adverse interpersonal and social experiences (neglect, abandonment, etc.) all can have harmful impacts on the individual depending on genetic and exposomic susceptibility.
By understanding in advance how stressors and adverse experiences can reliably predict the risk for dis-ease, we can reverse engineer these insights to take a proactive approach to health and healing. By shifting the focus from treating symptoms to providing personalized enrichment interventions that can increase cellular energy — nutritional, social, recreational, and so on — we end the adversarial model of “battling” dis-ease. (Dis-ease is not our enemy, and the absence of dis-ease should not be equated with health.) Instead, we work to create the conditions for cellular vitality and systemic balance that is the hallmark of robust, vibrant health.
While conventional medicine puts patients in a position to be little more than passive consumers of various pharmaceutical wares, the fourth element of the P4 model of medicine empowers them to be active, engaged participants in the lifelong cultivation of V&B. The participatory element also means that healers and patients work in partnership, each playing distinct yet equally important roles in the healing process.
The principle of participation extends beyond the clinical healer-patient relationship and into the ways that individuals (human and animal) participate in or engage with their larger lifeworld. For example, research into flow states, positive psychology, longevity (Blue Zones), and spontaneous healing (Radical Remission) all powerfully demonstrates that the experience of joy, wonder, awe, gratitude, community connection, and a strong sense of purpose all lend themselves to dynamic equilibrium.
Translating P4 for Veterinary Care
The pet Happiness Protocol works clinically to improve quality of life and can help normalize physiological functions.
At Holistic Actions!, we translate the principles of P4 for veterinary care to support, increase, optimize, and maintain our pet patients’ V&B. Just as with humans, companion animals must be understood and approached as unique individuals. Like humans, their history of stressors and adverse experiences needs to be carefully assessed and taken into account when creating a customized treatment plan. Working backward from this assessment, we can predict our pet patients’ risk of dis-ease and can take a proactive approach to healing — not simply focusing on prevention of dis-ease, but instead on the promotion of cellular vitality and systemic balance.
Although the participatory element of P4 means something a little different for pets than for people, the principles are the same. To maintain the balance of their dynamic equilibrium, animals, like people, need to have daily experiences of physical, physiological, mental, emotional, and relational connection, comfort, safety, encouragement, enrichment, and exposure to novelty. This is why the pet Happiness Protocol, which is where the rubber meets the road, works clinically to improve quality of life and can help normalize physiological functions.
The Return to Wholeness
Medicine can in good conscience no longer presume to understand living organisms and systems by effectively killing them and cutting them up into smaller and smaller pieces. It can no longer pretend that by analyzing the ink in which a text is written that it has the slightest understanding of the text’s meaning. (Or to conclude that it holds no meaning.) And it can no longer mistake its reductive maps for the living territory of whole beings — beings that are dynamically adaptive expressions of the ecological niches — biological, social, cultural, and so forth — to which they belong and on which they depend for maintaining their dynamic equilibrium.
As human and veterinary medicine continues to shed its Cartesian shackles, it must continue to rediscover the inherent unification of mind and body and reintegrate the central principle of dynamic equilibrium.