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An Interview With

Dr. Andrew Weil
November 1, 2005

 


Introduction:

The 9 th Annual John P. McGovern Award was awarded to Dr. Andrew Weil on November 1, 2005. The Award recognizes individuals in the behavioral sciences and other professions who have made outstanding contributions to further our understanding and commitment to the family in America. Prior recipients include pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., geriatric physician Robert Butler, M.D., Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, educator Johnnetta Cole, anthropologist Mary Catherine Batson, sociologist Amitai Etzioni, novelist Barbara Kingsolver, child psychiatrist James Comer, M.D., and educator and television producer Joan Ganz Cooney. Accompanied by my father, I have attended all Award presentations since 1997 when I was just six (except in 2004 when a school program kept me from attending). My father and mother believe it is important to understand the importance of "family." A family friend, Dr. Wilton Dillon, is Senior Scholar Emeritus at the Smithsonian. I need to thank him for making it possible for me to attend these Award presentations and lectures given by such outstanding individuals. It was in at the 2003 Awards where I first met Senator Clinton, who presented the Award to Dr. James Comer. Her concept of the family is well illustrated in her book, It Takes A Village.

Dr. Weil is probably the most well known authority on a type of health care known as integrative medicine. This concept combines the traditional form of medicine with the holistic idea, emphasizing the connection of mind, body, and spirit.

Dr. Weil was born in Philadelphia in 1942. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1968, he began research on the use of plants for medical purposes. He is the author of many books, from his first, The Natural Mind, to his most recent, Healthy Aging. Four of his books were No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

After receiving his Award, Dr. Weil was interviewed by Kathleen Matthews, co-anchor of ABC's Channel 7 News in Washington, DC. After the session, I was able to ask Dr. Weil a few questions.

" What's important....learning to accept the universality and inevitability of aging, understanding both its challenges and promises, and knowing how to keep the minds and bodies as healthy as possible as we move through life's successive stages."- Andrew Weil

 

Spencer:

In your first book, Natural Mind, you state that humans have innate being to alter their consciousness. You use an example of young children who spin in circles to change their experience.  Certainly, we all know about the teens who drink and do drugs to fulfill their need of change.  How do you teach young people to satisfy that need in better way?

 

Dr. Weil:

Well, I think the first thing is you acknowledge that need.  That this is something that’s normal, part of normal human behavior that’s a very strong impulse.  Drugs are attractive because they provide that experience without any work.  The disadvantage of drugs is that they give you no information about maintaining that experience, and if you try to do drugs frequently, the experience recedes and you expose yourself to the harmful potential of them.

So, there are many ways to obtain altered states of consciousness, from meditating to daydreaming.  I’m a great fan of daydreaming. One thing I observed in our schools is that if kids daydream, they are yelled at and told to pay attention.  They are paying attention.  They’re paying attention to internal reality not external reality.  There might be value in teaching people to daydream constructively, to make the images brighter and clearer.  This can be a great way of activating healing responses in the body.  So I think you have to start with the acknowledgement that this is a part of the human behavior, and then really give people instruction on how to attain experiences that they want in other ways. 

 

Spencer:

In your book, Health And Healing, you say, “We dress the wound and God heals it.” Can you briefly explain?

 

Dr. Weil:

Actually, I quoted that.  It was a motto of a social club called the Escalade Meeting Club that I belonged to at Harvard Medical School.  But to me, it’s a very good summary of my philosophy of illness, which is that it points out the difference between treatment and cure.  Treatment is all the things we can do from outside.  It’s outside interventions. But when treatments work, they work by impinging on the body’s intrinsic mechanisms of healing, that they allow healing to occur. 

An example that I’ll give you is, if you have a patient with an acute bacterial pneumonia, critically ill, and you put them in the hospital and give them intravenous antibiotics, thirty-six hours later they’re out of danger.  It’s very easy to think that you caused the cure with the antibiotic.  I would ask you to look at that more differently.  What happens in that instance is that the antibiotic knocks populations of germs down to a level where the immune system can take over and finish a job it couldn’t do because it was overwhelmed. 

To me, that’s a model for how treatments work.  I think that same idea is conveyed by the model that we dress the wound, but God heals it. However you want to phrase it, it is nature that is truly the source of healing.

 

Spencer:

Dr. Weil, you have said that taking care of the body means different things at different stages of life.  What advice do you have for young people who that think they are immortal?

 

Dr. Weil:

A very good question, and I am an educator, I have great belief and faith in education.  I think if information is put in terms that people can connect to, it can influence behavior.  So all we can do is act as good role models to give the information that we need to give.  Now, one of the main places that this comes up is around tobacco use.  Probably the single greatest public health measure that we could try to impose is to keep people from smoking in the first place.  Because it’s much easier never to smoke than to quit once you’re addicted, and this is the most addictive drug we know.  It’s right up there with crack cocaine.  So I think the message here is that this is so dangerous that we never even want to experiment with it. 

Another problem is that young bodies are very forgiving.  So you don’t see immediately the effects of unhealthy lifestyle choices.  I hear so many people tell me, as they get into their mid-forties, early fifties, that suddenly their bodies are breaking down.  Well, it’s not that the body is suddenly breaking down. This is finally the effect of all those unhealthy lifestyle choices.  It’d be great if you could see this earlier in life.   I’ve been doing events like this in the past couple of weeks and at many of them there is a significant portion of young people in the audiences.  These are people in their twenties and parents of younger kids.  I think that’s great.  This information is really for everyone, and it’s just a matter of  repeating it and repeating it and repeating it.