The Foundations of Wellness, John W. Travis, MD
I've spent nearly 30 years exploring wellness, and I think I did it backwards.
First I began a wellness center and spent twelve years working with adults who wanted to improve their level of wellbeing.
Simultaneously I was becoming more uncomfortable with the increasing levels of addiction, depression, violence, chronic illness, and eco-cide going on around and within me. I felt as though our wellness tools were woefully inadequate to ever change what I had come to recognize as artifacts of Western culture.
My first big step backwards occurred in the mid 1980s, when my wife and colleague, Meryn Callander, introduced me to the concept of estrangement - the enculturated belief that we are separate from each other, the earth, and divinity. I saw that it was the subsequent dominating/submitting behaviors that lead to the self-, other-, and planet-destructing behaviors that we were attempting to change. Meryn and I spent the following seven years facilitating seminars with helping professionals who were committed to shifting, in their personal and professional lives, from domination to cooperation and partnership. I would often refer to myself as having obtained a Masters in Domination degree while attending a professional Rescuer's school. Being a tall white male of a privileged class, I was an expert on the authoritarian/dominator model. We even wrote a book on the subject, Wellness for Helping Professionals: Creating Compassionate Cultures.
The next step backwards came with The Continuum Concept. Reading this, I saw that a primary source of the estrangement we were struggling with lay in contemporary infant care practices wherein we unwittingly destroy the bond between mother and infant on which all future connections - with others, the earth, our own deep self, and divinity - are predicated. This primal bond severed, these infants never develop the sense of basic trust, and of feeling welcome and worthy, that is foundational to wellbeing.
It became apparent that working with adults to learn about wellness was like locking the barn door too late.
Treating a pre-born child like an unconscious lump, "delivering" her in a sterile, highly stressful environment, separating her from her mother at birth, feeding her artificial baby milk, making her sleep alone, leaving her untouched and unattended for many hours in the day, and, in the case of most boys, amputating 80% of the newborn's most sensitive nerve endings without anesthesia, is cruelty and abuse in the extreme. And - cruelty and abuse breed cruelty and abuse. Contrary to popular opinion, children don't simply bounce back. These children are left feeling abandoned, abused, and fearful - emotions which are the precursors to our society's rampant addictions, violence, and depression.
The abuse continues when parents leave their young in the care of strangers, allow assaults on their immune system with vaccines that may pose a higher risk to health than the conditions they purportedly prevent, expose them to sexist and violent TV programs and video games, and send them to schools too often filled with needy, violent children and burnt out teachers. These children learn to compete rather than to cooperate, to solve problems with violence rather than love. Using consumerism to try to fill the emptiness inside, they speed the earth's destruction.
While my first wife and I avoided many of these popular practices when my first daughter was born in 1972, we were unaware of an infant's need for constant movement and contact. Instead of carrying her in-arms or in a baby sling, we used a pram and plastic carrier, and left her to sleep alone in another room, sometimes crying herself to sleep. Had she been a boy, I likely would have circumcised her. The despair I felt after recognizing the damage I had unwittingly passed on to my daughter is the very pain that now motivates me to serve as an advocate for infants and children.
Meanwhile, Meryn and I were encouraged by the wealth of information we were discovering it clearly showed that the child whose every need - for physical contact, for the breast, etc. - was met became a secure, cooperative, non-aggressive adult. This led to our embarking on a great experiment by conceiving Siena, who was born in 1993, at home, underwater, with a midwife assisting.
Siena was carried in a sling or in-arms most all of the day and slept with us at night. She breastfed on demand. We trusted her ability to communicate her needs, and responded promptly to her cues with consistency and care. She was noticeably more serene than most babies. Living in an intentional community in central Virginia, she has had minimal media exposure, a healthy diet, and is homeschooling.
I am astounded that it took me so long to fully appreciate the impact of what I now understand to be the abuse our society inflicts on its young in the name of standard child care, and to recognize that how a baby first experiences the world is foundational to her future wellbeing. Her early experiences have a profound impact on her barely formed nervous system, and its newly forming patterns/circuits indelibly color her whole life. It is in these first days of the infant's life that the foundations of wellness - basic trust, intimacy, and affection or mistrust, fear, and anger - are laid.
Why do we continue to discount the infant's well-documented mammalian needs? Is it ignorance, inertia, or the illusion of convenience that our interventions create for parents? Why does the US government discourage mothers from staying at home with children when the costs to the taxpayer of this separation - escalating rates of illness, mental illness, criminality, and spiraling welfare costs - are many times higher than if mothers were paid to stay at home with their children.
Hence, the focus of Meryn's and my work in wellness shifted to dispelling the popular myths pertaining to pregnancy, birthing, and the early years. It is this work-in-process that you will discover here in the Wellspring Online.