Our physical health is intimately tied to environmental health, as well as to our emotional and spiritual ecology. Visionary physician Dr. Gabor Maté explores the deepest psychological, emotional and social forces leading to our society’s poor health and unhappiness. He says we have the capacity to heal both ourselves and the planet by reconnecting with our true nature as empathic, nurturing, social beings.
Click here to download Bioneers Radio Series XIII Brochure
Series Theme Music: "Soiridh Leis" from the CD Journey Between by Baka Beyond. Used with permission from Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label; www.rykodisc.com
“Field Trip” and “Duet” by Jordan Tice Trio from the album THE SECRET HISTORY; Patuxent Music CD-230; 2011; Contact: www.jordantice.com, www.pxrec.com
Bioneers Series XIII - Program 13-13
Inner Resilience: Back to Our True Nature
Cum Time Cut Time
00:22 Welcome (00:05)
00:27 Mate Teaser plen (00:21)
From cut 12
Contrary to the myth in our culture, that we're separated and individual, aggressive, competitive creatures, we're actually wired for empathy, wired for connection, wired for love, wired for compassion. So, really, to move forward, all we have to do [APPLAUSE] All we have to do… is to get back to our true nature.
00:48 Macy (00:09)
It’s all alive, it’s all connected, it’s all intelligent, it’s all relatives…
00:57 Bioneers Teaser (00:28)
We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
It's a revolution from the heart of nature - and the human heart.
In this series - The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature - we celebrate social and scientific innovators with breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet - creating a future environment of hope.
01:25 Theme music fade out (00:08)
00:00 Opening underwriting narration (00:10)
Support for The Bioneers: Revolution from the Heart of Nature is provided in part by Organic Valley Family of Farms and Mary’s Gone Crackers.
01:33 NARRATION 1 (1:14)
“In nature,” said the iconic naturalist John Muir, “everything is hitched to everything else.” Yet we have organized our societies – and our thinking – in compartments as though they were not connected in the real world – or inside ourselves.
These kinds of connections are especially apparent in issues of human health. How could we think that our human health is not connected to the health of our environment?
But how do we define “the environment?”
The field of Mind-Body Medicine has repeatedly demonstrated how our emotional and psychological states can have profound influences on our physical health – both negative and positive.
And, as intensely social creatures, we are also deeply affected by our social environments.
In this program, the visionary physician Dr. Gabor Maté explores the deepest psychological, emotional and social forces at work that are leading to our society's poor health and unhappiness. And he says we have the capacity to heal both ourselves and our planet.
This is Inner Resilience: Back to Our True Nature.
My name is Neil Harvey. I'll be your host.
Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.
02:47 Music fade (00:12)
02:59 Maté New Cut 1 plen (00:5
The Buddha said 2500 years ago, he talked about the interconnection of everything, the—what do you call the—interconnective co-arising, interdependent co-arising phenomenon. So he said look at a raindrop; it doesn't just contain itself; you can't just understand it as an isolated entity. In fact, it contains the sky. Look at a leaf, it contains the sky in terms of the irrigation; it contains the earth in terms of the materials that go into it; and the sun, in terms of the life that's needed to make it grow. And he said that the birth and death of any phenomenon are connected to the birth and death of all other phenomenon. The one contains the many and the many contains the one. Without the one, there cannot be the many; without the many, there cannot be the one.
03:49 NARRATION 2 (00:33)
Doctor Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born, Canadian physician. His holistic approach seeks to understand the broader social, cultural, and spiritual contexts in which human disease and disorders arise.
His internationally best-selling books include In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, and Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder.
Dr. Maté points to the sorry state of public health as a blaring distress signal that something is terribly wrong.
04:22 Maté Cut 1 plen (00:28)
When we look around this society, and from the perspective of health, what do we see? We see that 50% of adults in this society, which considers itself the most successful society in the history of the world, actually suffers of[?] some chronic illness—heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, whatever, autoimmune disease, whatever it happens to be. Fifty percent of adolescents today are now said to meet the diagnostic criteria for one or another mental health condition.
04:50 NARRATION 3 (00:30)
Dr. Maté reports that “there are three and a half million children in the US who are receiving stimulant medications for ADHD. Half a million children are on antipsychotic medications, not because they have psychosis but because they are upset and their behaviors are problematic.” He sees this as a massive, dangerous experiment.
Clearly we are in a public health crisis.
Dr Maté believes that the root problem is that society’s values are upside down.
05:20 Maté New Cut 2 plen (03:20)
So when I talk about the toxic culture that a materialistic society offers its members, what am I referring to? Well, materialism is really a system of belief or behavior which considers material things, and particularly the control and possession of the material things as more important than human values such as connection, love or spiritual values such as recognizing the unity of everything. And that's the kind of culture we live in.
And that means that the culture itself, quite apart from the physical toxins that we spew into the environment and the way in which we're altering the very air that we breathe and the very sun that beats down on us, that shines on us, gradually are affected also by the toxicity of human relationships or the lack of human relationships that this kind of a society that emphasizes material values teaches us to pursue.
And from that perspective, you have to understand that medicine is not simply a science. It's much more than that. It's also an ideology. It's also an ideology. It's a way of looking at human beings. So when we look at human beings as individuals without understanding the importance of the social relationships, the emotional, psychological interactions with others, that's actually a manifestation of the individualistic perspective of the entrepreneur who says that only I matter, and what I gain or what I control matters, and we're all in competition with one another. So, you see that economical ideological perspective also showing up in its own particular way in the practice of medicine.
Well, reality is totally different. Reality tells us that we can't be separated, and this begins already in pregnancy. So a study out of Johns Hopkins University in 2004, for example, showed that the reactivity to stress of the fetus is affected by the stress, depression and anxiety of the mother. So when you look at the heartbeat and the movement of infants in the womb whose mothers are stressed, depressed or they're anxious, you see different patterns of activity, and that will have lifetime effects. These studies reflect, this paper says, growing evidence that stress and depression can have early and lasting effects on the child life, including increased behavioral problems, including learning problems.
And that we also know that if you stress pregnant animals in the laboratory, their children will be more likely to use drugs as a way to soothe themselves once they've grown up. So this mind/body unity, and this interaction of environment and the individual begins already in the womb and, therefore, how we treat pregnant women, how we provide an environment that's either supportive or possibly stressful has a huge impact on the long-term development of their yet unborn offspring.
And this, of course, happens in—during infancy as well because that's a crucial period of brain development.
08:40 NARRATION 4 (00:37)
As examples of the complex brew of physical, social and emotional environments that lead to illness, Dr. Gabor Maté points to two key examples.
First, children whose parents are stressed have more asthma.
Second, a study found that, if a woman was both emotionally isolated AND stressed, the risk of cancer was NINE TIMES higher than if she were only stressed, or only isolated.
Needless to say, economic hardship and poverty are extreme stressors – as well as sources of environmental injustice such as severe toxic hot spots.
09:17 Maté New Cut 3 plen (00:50)
A study a little while ago showed that when women who are pregnant breathe in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, their children are more likely[?] to have behavior problems by school age. So we think this is simply an environmental problem. No it isn't. It's also a socioeconomic one since it's poor women who tend to live in more polluted areas and, therefore, the medical scientist who did the study at [INAUDIBLE] University School of Medicine, [sounds like: Munson] [INAUDIBLE] School of Medicine in New York said this is really a paper about social justice. Poor people have more exposure to these things on all accounts, whether bad air or psychosocial stress and other things. That's a societal problem, and the changes are not to be on the individual level, they're going to be on a societal level. You can't separate individuals from their environment.
10:07 Maté New Cut 4 plen (01:31)
A report out of Harvard earlier this year talked about the impact of toxic stress on children, and these children who experienced toxic stress on the part—because the environment was stressed, because their parents were highly stressed or dysfunctional or abusive, later on in life, there's a significantly increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and a whole list of other medical conditions.
Not only that, how does an infant and a young child adjust to stress? Well, by certain coping mechanisms. If you're very[?] stressed but you're helpless in the face of the[?] stress, then you can't escape it or to change it, one of the ways you'll respond is by tuning it out, by dissociating, by throwing your mind somewhere else so you don't have to suffer the discomfort and distress of the pressures that the environment is placing upon you. But if you're doing that when you're one or two years old and your brain is developing, then tuning out becomes wired into your brain, and guess what, eight years later, they're gonna diagnose you with ADHD and give you medications. And if you're looking at the preponderance of all these [INAUDIBLE] conditions that are just burgeoning our society—autism, Asperger's, ADHD, all positional[?] define[?] disorder, a whole range of childhood disorders—what are we seeing? Not genetic problems, not individual problems, but the effects of a high-stressed environment on parents which are then passed onto their children despite the parents' love and despite the parents' best efforts.
11:38 Maté New Cut 5 plen (00:41)
Well, where does that leave us? It leaves us first of all looking at the economic issues, and what we know is that growing up in a low socioeconomic background can actually impair the working memory and the size of different parts of the brain of the adult. So, poverty in this country is far from simply an economic question, it's also a question of human development and what kind of consequences that will have on people's behavior, capacity to respond to stress, and, therefore, to get ahead in a society in which just getting ahead is the highest value, and if you don't get ahead, you're left behind.
12:19 NARRATION 5 (00:12)
Dr. Maté observes that, as a society, we’re inflicting deep lifelong wounds on generations of children - wounds that bring great costs both in human suffering and money.
12:31 Maté New Cut 6 plen (01:48)
Similarly, children who are stressed early will have problems with impulse regulation later on. Impulse regulation means that their capacity to anticipate consequences and to respond calmly to the environment is impaired, and that means they're also gonna be at a greater risk of addiction. And if you look at addictions, what are we looking at? We're actually looking at two factors. We're looking at, number one, the desperation to escape from the pain and distress that the child has experienced early on in life, which then become programmed into his personality and his heart and his brain. And how do you escape? Well, one way to escape is through addictive behaviors, whether that be drugs or the Internet or sex or food or shopping or whatever else. And number two, since, as I've already mentioned, brain development early in life—early in life is affected by the environment, people who are traumatized early in life, especially those that are traumatized, their brain development is impaired, and that—their brain circuits and neurotransmitters and the chemicals in their brain are actually at a disadvantage. So when they do the drugs, they feel complete and whole and feel good for the first time in their lives. Their addiction is not a matter of choice, it's a matter of a coping mechanism that is a response to early stress.
Now if you look at those stresses, it's not just a psychological event. I've already alluded to it, it's a physical event. It sets off a cascade of hormones, particularly cortisol and adrenaline in your body, which in the short term, again, will help you escape or to fight back, but in the long term will damage your heart, your nervous system, your intestines, and suppress your immune system, which then makes you more prone for all kinds of diseases naturally.
14:19 NARRATION 6 (00:08)
The clear through-line in all these tragedies is stress.
So what do we know about stress?
14:27 Maté New Cut 7 plen (01:14)
If you look at what actually triggers stress, the significant factors that trigger stress are uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control. If you look at rats and you hook two pairs of rats together, two rats together, yoke them together and you attach an electrode to their tails and you shock them with electricity, they will have physiological stress. But if one rat has a paw open that can shut off the lever that delivers that stress, that electrical shock, even though both rats get the same electrical jolt for the same period of time, the rat with the paw free will have less stress hormones in their body because they have some control.
Now what happens in a culture where the economy is going down the tube, where the decisions are made far away by people who don't even know you and we don't know who they are, and your life is very much affected by these large forces over which you have increasingly the sense that you have no control or even influence over, well, that means a lot of people are gonna be stressed, a lot of uncertainty. A lot of people are gonna be stressed. And that stress, then, will lead to addictive behaviors. That stress, then, will lead to parents passing that stress onto their children.
15:41 Narration 7 - Lead to Mid Break (00:17)
Childhood stress is something Dr. Gabor Maté knows about intimately.
His personal story when we return.
This is Inner Resilience: Back to Our True Nature.
I'm Neil Harvey. You are listening to The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.
15:58 MID BREAK
(Running time from here on does not include music break.)
After Mid Break Music:
16:08 NARRATION 7 (00:18)
To explore all available Bioneers radio shows and video programming, please visit media.bioneers.org
Dr. Gabor Maté was born in Nazi-occupied Hungary in 1944. He recently returned there on a book tour.
16:26 Maté Cut 3 int (02:00)
The apartment where I was staying at was two blocks away from a house in Budapest a few blocks away from the Danube River. On the banks of the Danube there's a memorial to Jews that were shot into the river by the Hungarian fascists in 1944. It's a group of empty shoes, bronzed shoes that are just glued to the bank of the river. It's a very eloquent, completely signless memorial that speaks very loudly for the experience that it commemorates.
A few blocks away from there is a house which used to be a glass factory in the 1930s. So it's called the glass house where my mother and lived under very precarious Sviss—Swiss protection with—along with a thousand other Jews in 1944, and it was precarious because even there the Nazis or the fascists would come and kill people. And there was starvation, mass disease, and all the conditions you can imagine in a city under siege in a ghetto under Nazi occupation.
And I visited that house, and there's actually a little museum in there with my name in there as being one of the survivors of that house. So I know what my trauma was. It was that horrendous first year of my life under conditions when my mother could barely ensure my survival. In fact, the only way she did was to give me to a stranger, a Christian woman in the street one day, and said please take this baby away. So I didn't see her for weeks.
And prior to that, she was a stressed, depressed, grief stricken, anxious, terrorized mother. She could not have met my needs, obviously, under those circumstances, barely being able to ensure her survival. So that's what I trace most of my issues back to is that very difficult first year of my life, which, of course, then had a huge impact on my own development.
18:26 NARRATION 8 (00:09)
Is it possible to overcome these kinds of childhood traumas? Dr. Maté says emphatically yes.
18:35 Maté Cut 7 int (01:57)
We live in a system that generates all these pressures, all these stresses, and in a system like this, we can intervene. There's still a lot we could do, but we need to be fully aware. So, if we're fully aware of the impact of every experience on brain development, personality development, and later function or dysfunction, and if we understood the actual physical costs of that, the psychological costs, the health costs, and the financial costs, then as a society we could put money into proper prenatal care for everybody. Proper prenatal care and not just physical care.
I mean, in this country in some areas it's got…[LAUGHS] prenatal out—or perinatal outcomes that would not be unusual by third world standards. And we're talking about a country that considers itself the richest country in the world, and which uses up a lot of the world's resources. But we can't—we can't ensure that children have a proper environment to be born into. I mean, what does that say?
So, if you understood the implications of all that, but provide good prenatal support, good perinatal care, support for mothers and fathers to be with their children—there are some countries that provide paternity leave; the United States doesn't even provide maternity leave, six weeks I understood is the average in this country; the child needs the mother to be around for at least a year and a half, two years, and I go beyond that. When I say the mother, a mothering parent, a nurturing, mothering adult in a child's life. So, if we understood the implications of all this, there's much we could do, even in this system, to intervene upstream to prevent all these problems downstream.
20:32 NARRATION 9 (00:09)
Dr. Gabor Maté suggests that our stress comes from several forms of alienation – starting with our disconnection from Nature.
20:41 Maté Cut 11 int (00:57)
And we can see what happens to kids when you put them back in touch with nature, how they blossom, how they actually come alive, how vital they become. You know, and once they've given up their cell phones for a while and all that, you know.
When you actually think about human evolution, it took place in nature. Civilization, which is to say the movement of people into cities,
This is a very recent phenomenon in human evolution. I mean, if you think of millions of years of evolution that brought us to this point. We think about the evolution of the human species itself, a few tens of thousands of years. For almost all that time until really the blink of an eyelash, a couple of thousand years of history, we were completely connected with nature, and that connection is what allowed us to survive. So, it goes contrary to our nature to be disconnected from nature. And you can't violate your own true nature without being hurt by that violation.
21:38 NARRATION 10 (00:19)
Next comes our alienation from other people. Today we have less intimacy, less trust and less direct human relationship altogether – exacerbated by digital technology and virtual friendships.
Dr. Maté also sees widespread estrangement from our daily work.
21:57 Maté New Cut 8 plen (01:02)
A lot of people no longer do work that has any meaning to them. And that means that that since human beings are productive creatures, we really are created in an image of God, we're meant to create. When we do work that's not creative, that doesn't affect who we are, that imposes depression, anxiety, a sense of meaninglessness. And when we have a sense of meaninglessness, we'll want to substitute that sense of meaninglessness or that sense of meaning that we've lost by all kinds of other activities. And then we get all hung up on how we look or how people feel about us, what we can obtain, what we can possess, what successes we can achieve, in other words, all the false substitutes which cannot possibly compensate us for the lack of genuine meaning. And, of course, what this society does, it sells us a lot of products that substitute for that loss of meaning. In fact, much of the economy is based on a loss of meaning in our culture.
22:59 Maté New Cut 9 plen (00:37)
And then we become alienated from ourselves, we shut down our gut feelings, and our gut feelings are not luxuries, you know. They tell us what is right and what is wrong. They tell us what is dangerous and what is friendly. They tell us what is safe and what is dangerous. And they tell us what is true and what is false.
So when we're alienated from our gut feelings, we have no longer have a sense of reality, no longer a sense of truth. Well, the good news is—The good news is that human beings can regain their sense of connection to themselves, just as we can regain our sense of connection to our nature.
23:36 NARRATION 11 (00:12)
As one way to regain connection to ourselves, Dr. Maté recommends – and uses – mindfulness practices such as meditation.
23:48 Maté New Cut 9 int (01:09)
It really is a matter of consciousness, of how where we are, of how connected we are to ourselves, and, again, for me, when I can stay connected to myself, when I have the practice, which in my case mostly includes some mindful awareness practice. And when I don't do that for a while, everything starts going downhill. And when I maintain it, I can stay much more resilient. So, it takes practice. It takes a daily effort. It takes attention. And as long as we give that to ourselves, because, again, it goes back to what we said in the beginning, what children need is attuned attention, that's what adults also need. In this case, we can give it to ourselves, and when we don't, we're like a lost child. And I can certainly get that way.
Others may find mindfulness practice through connecting with nature. Some people might find it through yoga, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, I don't know. Whatever it takes, but some—something that keeps you connected to yourself. In other words, you can't just keep doing the daily grind and having all the focus on the outside and not expect to get burned out.
24:57 Maté Cut 12 plen (01:05)
Well, the good news is that we can regain the connection to ourselves. And empathy, which is a genuine human quality is in us. We're actually wired for empathy.
That's our nature as human beings.
So, contrary to the myth in our culture, that we're separated and individual, aggressive, competitive creatures, we're actually wired for empathy, wired for connection, wired for love, wired for compassion. So, really, to move forward, all we have to do [APPLAUSE] All we have to do, not an easy task, but it's certainly available to us, is to get back to our true nature. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
26:02 NARRATION 12 (00:08)
Doctor Gabor Maté. Inner Resilience: Back to Our True Nature
26:10 Music fade (00:08)
26:18 Bioneers BXIII - Program Close/Credits (1:40)
You can explore more Bioneers radio shows and video programming online at media.bioneers.org. For information on attending the National Bioneers Conference and Bioneers events in your area, please visit bioneers.org or call 1-877-BIONEER.
The Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature is a production of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute.
Executive Producer: Kenny Ausubel
Written by Catherine Stifter and Kenny Ausubel
Senior Producer: Neil Harvey
Managing Producer: Stephanie Welch
Production Management and Station Relations: Kate Hunter
Distribution is by WFMT Radio Network
Our theme music is taken from the album "Journey Between" by
Baka Beyond and used by permission of
Hannibal Records, a Rykodisc label.
Additional music was made available by Jami Sieber
For more music information, please visit media.Bioneers.org
The opinions expressed in The Bioneers Revolution from the Heart of Nature radio series are those of the presenters and are not necessarily those of Bioneers and Collective Heritage Institute, the underwriters, or this radio station.
My name is Neil Harvey.
Thank you for listening.
I invite you to join the Bioneers in inspiring a shift to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.
This is program number 13-13
Closing underwriting narration (00:38)
This program was made possible in part by :
Organic Valley Family of Farms. Organic and family-owned since 1988. Visit organicvalley.coop.
Mary’s Gone Crackers, healing the planet through conscious eating. Gluten Free and vegan products sine 1999. Learn more at marysgonecrackers.com.
John Master’s Organics. Visit johnmasters.com
Funding also provided by a grant from The Park Foundation - dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.
And by - the generous support of listeners like you.