Episode 1: Dr. Andrew Weil on Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well Being
Dr. Andrew Weil on Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well Being
Dr. Andrew Weil: I think that dialogues with Duncan Campbell are much more than ordinary interviews. They are genuine conversations that have real substance and depth and very interesting explorations of ideas.
Duncan Campbell: Throughout history, from indigenous councils, to the work of Western visionaries, such as Plato, Galileo and quantum physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness. Evoking a flow of meaning, a ‘dialogos’ beyond what any one individual can bring through alone. So join us now as together we engage in ‘Living Dialogue’.
Welcome to Living Dialogues. I’m your host Duncan Campbell. With me for this particular dialogue, I’m truly delighted to have my friend and author Andrew Weil, M.D. as my guest.
Andrew Weil is known to you as the author of 10 previous books including “Spontaneous Healing”, “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health”, “Eating Well for Optimum Health” and with Rosie Daley, “The Healthy Kitchen”. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he is clinical professor of medicine and Director of the program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.
He writes “Self Healing”, a monthly newsletter and maintains the website drweil.com. More of his work on aging can be found at www.healthyaging.com.
He lives in southern Arizona and is the author most recently of “Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to your Physical and Spiritual Well-being”.
So Andy, what a pleasure to have you back on Living Dialogues.
Dr. Andrew Weil: It’s been a while.
Duncan Campbell: It’s been, boy, 10 years since you first came on the scene as it were with your book “Spontaneous Healing”. At that point we were doing Living Dialogues on television and I remember it well.
Here we are, both about a year apart. You’re 62, I’m 61 as we record this. I wanted to begin this particular dialogue on the topic of your most recent book, with what has happened to you in that decade between being in your early 50s when “Spontaneous Healing” first came out and now in your early 60s, on the threshold as you put it of becoming an elder.
Tell us a story from that decade that is transformative in some way and led to this book.
Dr. Andrew Weil: First of all, I thought that turning 50 was going to be the big milestone.
Duncan Campbell: Ah ha?
Dr. Andrew Weil: It wasn’t in retrospect. I think things were pretty much as usual although it’s been a very busy, active decade for me. But I think when I turned 60 it was impossible to ignore the fact that I had entered a different phase of life.
I had a lot of friends and colleagues who were asking me to put down on paper as quickly as I could my thoughts about healthy aging. And I have been very bothered in this past period by the rise of anti-aging medicine and by the dominance of anti-aging messages in our culture. I think we are just bombarded from all directions by voices telling us that the goal is to turn back the clock, to stop the clock, to grow younger.
Duncan Campbell: It’s very interesting you say that because in the intervening decade since we first did our program I have spoken out many, many times about a vision that came to me that planetary consciousness is evolving now into the threshold of real maturity. If we look back on the evolution of the species one way of seeing it is similar to that of the evolution of a person that we begin in the matrix of the womb. We began in the ocean. We came across the tide pools. Ultimately we became Homo sapiens and then Homo sapiens sapiens.
So in a way I see the indigenous cultures of the planet that go back, you know to the very beginnings of human time as representing a kind of matrix childhood phase of the species where they were embedded in Mother Nature. They were on good terms with nature. They understood nature to be an alive, living universe. They made it an ally wherever they could. And yet, at a certain point, the need of the human to empower itself over and against nature, like an adolescent leaving home and leaving childhood, began to set in.
Some people date it to the first cave paintings, other people to agriculture and domestication of animals, most recently, the modern mind for the last 500 years inventing things in opposition to nature. We have Francis Bacon in the 16th century saying, “We will put nature on the rack and torture her secrets from her for the benefit of man’s estate”.
Eventually that attitude leading to the Industrial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, the Internet, nuclear weapons, international air travel and all the rest that is now making us one planet. Like Bucky Fuller said, “Spaceship Earth”.
But the people at the controls are still in an adolescent mindset. And our culture is still preoccupied with immortality and self-realization of power, a kind of hubris that is really endangering all of us.
So a voice like yours now, speaking out to say, “Let’s look for the wise elder, let’s look for the wisdom that’s in ourselves and not give into this anti-aging movement”, I think is just one of the great signs of our times of moving forward into a deeply mature consciousness that can really enable the species itself you might say to survive.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Setting a goal of anti-aging is taking a position completely contrary to nature. Aging is a natural universal process. Everything in the universe ages.
Being a botanist first and a physician second have given me a unique perspective on medicine and health. One of the major themes of my work has been to try to reconnect medicine with nature and to point out to people the wisdom of living in harmony with nature.
Part of that would mean accepting the aging process. You talked about maturity. Certainly that is one of the positive aspects of aging. Aging brings maturity or ripening of a human life. But living, as we do, in a youth obsessed culture, we view aging, or most people in our culture view aging as a catastrophe. We look only at its negatives.
I think that’s what leaves us so vulnerable to the anti-aging messages that are coming at us from so many directions.
Duncan Campbell: In a sense it really is part of the adolescent phase I think of consciousness. We’re clinging on to it in a certain way. It does share with adolescent sometimes that sense of timeless immortality.
You say in your book, I think quite wonderfully, that the aging process and facing death actually is a key to opening up new understandings, new world views, a new sense of wisdom. I’ve heard Rabbi Zalman Schachter for instance, founder of the Spiritual Eldering Institute say, quite wisely, getting older doesn’t mean getting wiser. It’s only if you face your own mortality and he likes to use the computer image of downloading all the inessentials from your drive and cleaning it up so that you actually have something of real value to impart to the world and share.
Dr. Andrew Weil: The first chapter of my book is called ‘Immortality’. It looks at that concept. I looked at it from various points of view and tried to point out the problems with it.
At the cellular level immortality equates with cancerous growth. When cells turn malignant they become immortal. This, by the way, should be cautionary about tinkering with the genetic controls of aging because by doing so we may expose ourselves to a much greater risk of cancer.
I think many writers and philosophers have agreed that immortality would be unbearable, and that it is death and awareness of immortality that gives life meaning. For that reason I also worry about the amount of energy that’s invested in our culture in procedures, cosmetic surgery, Botox, designed to mask the outward appearance of aging, because I think that this makes it harder to come to terms with the fact that aging is occurring, to look at its significance and to face mortality.
Duncan Campbell: Well you talk beautifully at the end of that first chapter about the Greek myth of immortality and you quote Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem to that effect that contains the memorable line, “After many a summer dies the swan”.
We’ve all heard that but we haven’t necessarily all of us heard the rest of it.
Dr. Andrew Weil: Yeah.
Duncan Campbell: And it says and I’ll quote and I’ll ask you to comment, “The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, the vapours weep their burden to the ground. Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath. And after many a summer dies the swan. Me only cruel immortality consumes. I wither slowly in thine arms.”
And that ‘me’ is?
Dr. Andrew Weil: Tithonus, a minor character in a Greek myth, whose lover Eos, the goddess of dawn, got Zeus to grant immortality for Tithonus but forgot to ask that he stay young as well and healthy. And so he aged relentlessly becoming a withered suffering creature. She eventually shut him away.
So this is, you know I talk about the Tithonian disaster, which is something that we’re already capable of in modern medicine. That is preserving life without preserving health. I think it cautions us about being careful what we wish for. How much extended life would you like to have if the quality of life is not good?
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell