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  The Medical Seminar at Arlesheim

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By: N.C.Lee, M.D.
pgs. 77-79A.doc

(Reprinted from the Anthroposophical Quarterly of Southern Africa, Christmas, 1994)

What is an anthroposophical doctor? And how do you become one? Well, first of all you have to become an "ordinary" doctor which entails a great deal of study and practice under supervision before you are regarded as safe to be let loose on an unsuspecting populace. Unsuspecting, because no matter how good the training maybe, no doctor ever commences clinical practice without a feeling of complete inadequacy for the task ahead. Modern medicine has of course achieved a great deal, particularly in the fields of diagnosis and treatment with powerful, synthetic chemicals designed to modify the body's chemical mechanisms. And yet, and yet... there is always this feeling of a dimension that is missing; something that people used to know, but which they have forgotten. I had been on the fringe of anthroposophical medicine for years, but its central content had always eluded me, largely perhaps because I had been trying to put it together myself like a complex jigsaw puzzle. However, this year, having heard about the Medical Seminar at Arlesheim, Switzerland, I resolved to attend it. In the event, it turned out to be one of the most significant and fulfilling episodes of my life.

The seminar is run at the Lukas Klinik at Arlesheim in Switzerland, or more accurately in the Haus Widar to which it is attached. There is an annual seminar in German which lasts for three months, and a course in the English language, which I attend- ed, lasting for five weeks. So it was that on Sunday 9 October, twenty assorted doctors from all over the world arrived in Arlesheim to commence their studies. Although the language of the course was English, only five of the twenty had English as their first language. Others came from Russia, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and Israel. Some spoke English very well. Others struggled, but improved as the course progressed. Even though it must have been extremely difficult for some of them, a combination of dogged persistence and mutual self- help kept them going.

It was the sheer variety of the course participants that added a richness to the experience. For me, a particular joy was in being able to meet colleagues from countries which used to be east of the "Iron Curtain," and with whom one could talk freely and with whom one could make friends. Up to a very few years ago, because of the political situation between East and West, such a thing would have been impossible, and open dialogue with, for instance, Russian colleagues virtually unthinkable.

The course itself was quite con- centrated, as indeed are all activities in Germany and Switzerland, where they start planning on the assumption that most people sleep for about eight hours out of the 24, and then proceed to try and completely fill the remaining 16 hours so that not a minute is wasted in idle activity. The day started at 0745 with a reading of the appropriate excerpt from Rudolf Steiner's "Calendar of the Soul" which was read not only in English and German, but also in Russian and Hebrew. Then followed attempts to get to grips with Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman's deceptively simple booklet "Fundamentals of Therapy." I say deceptively because under that apparently simple appearance lurks great profundity, and it soon turned out that things were not nearly as straightforward as they appeared.

I will not attempt to give a full account of all the lectures which we had. Such a thing would be impossible in a short article. However, on one occasion while up to my elbows in modeling clay, I found myself idly speculating on the possible reaction of the Dean of Medicine at UCT or Wits if I suggested that clay modeling or eurythmy should be put on the medical school syllabus...

One of the major discoveries (which in retrospect now seems of course like a blinding glimpse of the self-evident) was that the study of anthroposophical medicine does not simply consist of mastering lists of diagnostic criteria and remedies which can then be applied like a recipe. Not only do the underlying principles have to be mastered, but the individual also has to undergo an inner training and development as well, and this can well be the hardest part. During the course of the seminar, we again worked through the exercises for thinking, feeling and willing, and one of the most amusing aspects of the course was when Christa van Tellingen asked us brightly each morning, "Well, how are we getting on with the willing exercise?" which was immediately followed by a guilty rumbling with wrist watches, rings, bracelets, etc. by most of the class as the exercise was performed on the spot having been completely forgotten earlier.

Another major insight which I received was to understand the enormity of the step which was taken in the late 1950's when Botany was removed from the premedical syllabus. This meant that at one stroke, doctors were deprived of the knowledge of the plant world from which most of their remedies were derived either directly, or indirectly through synthetic chemistry. To be introduced to the rich world of medicinal plants by those with an intimate, indeed almost mystical, knowledge of them was little short of magical, and would by itself have made the seminar worthwhile attending; and although the practical work which we undertook in the Weleda labora- tories under the inspired guidance of Albert Schmidli did not manage to turn us into instant alchemists, it gave us a rare insight into the processes by which plant extracts are turned into powerful and effective remedies.

Needless to say, it is not possible to learn everything there is to know about anthroposophical medicine in five weeks. However, a wise man once said that the beginnings of wisdom come when it first starts to dawn upon you how little you know, so in that regard, a certain amount of wisdom has started to manifest itself within me. For one, I will be eternally grateful to Dr. Rosseike Zech-Wertheim Aymes and all her lecturers; they managed to restore to me the sense of enthusiasm and wonder (which I thought that I had irretrievably lost many years ago) concerning the complex and intricate beauty of the natural world and the central object of all our medical endeavours - man.

Oh yes, and an anthroposophical doctor? Well, simple really. One who takes as the starting point and central point of departure for his or her med- ical practice Rudolf Steiner's Anthro- posophy.

Nick Lee, M.D. South Africa

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