Tending the Flame: Childhood Fever
By: Philip Incao, M.D.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
is also great
And would suffice.
— Robert Frost
Illness has a bipolar nature: on the hot side are acute contagious inflammatory illnesses and on the cold side chronic degenerative illnesses. These are the twin dangers we must navigate on our life's journey, as between Scilla and Charybdis, between Fire and Ice.
Throughout recorded history the fiery acute inflammatory illnesses have predominated as the chief causes of death because the human constitution always tended to the warm side, thus making us susceptible to inflammations. But in the brief course of the past 100 years the illness pattern of all previous recorded history has suddenly reversed itself Now in all developed nations, the cold illnesses prevail: cancer, heart disease and stroke in adults; and asthma, allergies, and neurological and emotional dysfunction in our children.
What is the deeper meaning of this sudden and profound reversal? From 1900 to the 1950's the health and survival of children improved because the cooling and densifying effect of modern industrial and intellectual civilization made them less susceptible to dying from the acute contagious inflammations which had claimed their lives throughout history. After a brief period of healthy balance during the 1950's, children's health has worsened since 1960 due to the further intensification of the same cooling and densifying forces which improved their health from 1900 to 1950! We were on the right track, but now we've overshot the mark. We are out of balance!
Children are the canaries in the coal mine. Their distress is crying to us to wake up to the health-weakening and spirit-deadening aspects of modern life so that we will understand how to protect and nurture the delicate growth and unfolding of their individual spirit. This spiritual unfolding is nothing less than a child's entire developmental process! What we call brain development, neurological maturation and the like are the all-important physical effects resulting from a healthy and balanced spiritual development.
Like water for fishes, warmth for humans is the indispensable medium which supports and nourishes our humanity at every level of its existence.
Through warmth we connect. We connect to our family, our friends, our teachers, our co-workers, to all humanity, to animals, to plants, to the universe!
A growing child must find its inner ground, its center of warmth, and from this solid ground it seeks to connect to other sources of warmth, in an ever-widening circle around itself, from immediate family all the way to God. But today's child has difficulty finding its connection to the world when that world is portrayed by modern science and education as an arrangement of atoms and molecules, devoid of any higher meaning or purpose, and devoid of any human warmth.
Physicians can learn marvelous truths from patients, if they have the ears to hear. Recently a mother told me what her weary, uncomfortable eight year old child said around 2 a.m. of his third night of fever (it having just occurred to him), "Mom, you know what I need? I need some new ground to stand on."
One of the most effective ways to reverse the increasing cooling and densifying trend of our children's souls and bodies, and of our own, is to realize the healing, enlightening, spirit-permeating power of feverish inflammatory illness. Seen truly, inflammation is never the real illness; it is always the attempt of our immune system to permeate our inner opaqueness and coldness with the spirit's healing warmth and light. When this attempt is overzealous and threatens our life or functional capacity, then we can be very grateful that modern medicine has empowered us with the tools and techniques to suppress and control inflammation. But we must use that power with discretion! To suppress all inflammation indiscriminately with antibiotics, vaccinations and anti-inflammatory drugs contributes enormously to a condition of spirit-rejecting density of body and soul. Health is balance after all; thus we must learn to avoid overshooting that balance with our overzealous efforts to "conquer" illness.
The surging consumer interest in Waldorf education and in alternative medicine in our country is a sign that our paradigm in medicine and in education is shifting.
What is most urgently needed is a widespread awareness of the critical difference between healing illness and suppressing it. Healing empowers our spirit; suppression cools down the spirit's activity in the body. Repeated suppression may hinder the capacity of our human spirit to express itself in us, or may transform our acute illnesses into chronic ones. The spirit renews as well as destroys, and now that we have the power in our technology to modify even the spirit's power, we must acquire the discernment to use that power wisely, or else cause our children and ourselves great suffering.
The task of healing ourselves, our children and the Earth is one and the same. To accomplish this will require a revolution in all aspects of modern science, and especially in agriculture, medicine, psychology, education and parenting. It will require enormous enthusiasm and good will. It will require of us nothing less than a practical, down-to-earth embodying of the spirit's fiery, renewing power.
Philip Incao, M.D. is a well recognized author and lecturer with a medical practice in Denver and Boulder, CO
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