Rudolph Ballentine is one of the great contemporary standard bearers for a healing tradition as old as humankind. True healing, he asserts, is profoundly transformative, involving not suppression of symptoms but reorganization of the deep inner patterns that provide the soil in which the symptoms grow. Consistent with the title of his new book, Radical Healing: Integrating the World's Great Therapeutic Traditions to Create a New Transformative Medicine (Harmony, 1999) Ballentine's approach is radical in two significant ways: he goes straight to the roots of the problem, and concerns himself little with political niceties and compromises. Reading Ballentine, one is reminded that the history of the natural healing arts is replete with men and women of such vision and courage, who speak the whole truth as they see it, never fearing to push the envelope. Ballentine gives his readers the benefit of the doubt; he assumes we have within us a passion for deep understanding and a willingness to follow a train of thought to its logical conclusion, even if that conclusion seems radical at first glance.
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Dr. Ballentine, who created and directs the Center for Holistic Medicine in New York City, defines his idea of transformative medicine, emphasizing the need for the healing arts to focus on ways to "bring us back into synchrony with the rest of nature." Natural healing methods including herbs, homeopathy, yoga, and meditation are central to his approach. Describing his visit to a hospital in China, Ballentine also addresses a growing worldwide crisis: the fact that demand for herbal medicines is outrunning supply, causing a severe depletion of therapeutic plant biodiversity. He proposes a radical solution: a shift to homeopathic herbal formulations, which require only a tiny fraction of the plant material used by traditional herbal methods. Also included in this interview are Ballentine's recommendations for people seeking to explore holistic health approaches for the first time.
Redwood: In Radical Healing, you speak of integrative or transformative medicine as involving far more than combining a group of different therapies under one roof. For you, what are the main qualities of transformative medicine?
Ballentine: That the combination of therapies used should result in the person going through a sort of reorganizational process, something that does indeed transform you, so that you come out on the other side of the healing a different person than the one who went into the process. That's the crux of it. This kind of healing is really a process of personal growth and transformation. The illness is used as an opportunity to make fundamental changes in how you are "being" in the world.
Redwood: What do you believe are the most important basic principles of natural medicine?
Ballentine: This is something we really have trouble wrapping our minds around, because it's bigger than our conceptual tools. Our way of seeing is more limited. But there is something about the use of natural medicinals like herbs, that have a tendency to bring us back into synchrony with the rest of nature, so that in a way we're healing the piece, but we're also healing that piece back into integration with the whole. To me, a principle even more fundamental than transformation is that healing is a process of reconnection. It's like bringing pieces back together that were split apart. That's inherent in the whole sense of the word "to heal." It's "to make whole," and that comes from the same root as the word "holy."