If any of us had been told six months ago that our lives would be collectively altered in the way that they recently have been, we would not have believed it. Our occupations, lifestyles, relationships with others, finances, health, futures and virtually every other aspect of life have been turned upside down in the last three months. It shows something of both the complexity and the fragility of human life and especially of the modern world and human civilizations.
In fact, these two tend to go hand in hand, that as human settlements and civilizations grew, they also brought problems due to their complexity. We have all became familiar with concepts like rates of infection and the mechanisms of transmission over the last three months, so its not surprising that as cities and civilizations developed, so did the likelihood of the occurrence of disease.
In many of these cases, the demographic of higher population densities often led to outbreaks of disease that spread rapidly through populations. Although cities with populations of upwards of 50,000 people began to develop in the middle East, 6.000-7,000 years ago, it was when communication between small groups of neighboring towns began to be established that human populations became large enough to sustain direct life cycle bacterial and viral infections.
It is in these first cities that the now common diseases of humans started to appear. Many of the first pathogens to infect humans evolved from diseases of domestic animals. Measles, for example, is closely related to two diseases of cattle, likewise small-pox probably evolved from cow-
pox. In ancient India where smallpox first appeared traditions and attempts to deal with it have long existed amongst the Brahmans. Rubella, typhoid, and dysentery and tuberculosis were clearly described in ancient Chinese writings. Hippocrates in the 5th century BC recorded diseases with enough precision for them to be identified today as malaria, mumps, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and influenza.
As a long term practitioner of Yoga I’ve been fascinated that a lot of what we can understand and recognise as contemporary yoga practices arose during the era of, and in the areas around Greater Madagha in India, around 2700 – 3000 years ago. As this great city civilization grew, so did the problem of disease through huge numbers of people living in close proximity, this era also saw a reaction to this and other social problems, as a movement began where people began to leave urban life to become Sramanas(which translates as strivers). These mainly younger people, left the cities, becoming forest dwellers and sought to live a better life in harmony with the natural world using psycho-physical methods to enter into a symbiotic connection with the natural flow of life. Their influence remains with us today.
Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India also notes means to deal with infectious diseases in its key text, the 2500 year old Charaka Samhita. As a system of medicine its key understanding is that the more that we live in harmony with nature, the less likely that the state of dis-ease may arise. Its focus is thus living in a way where we are following the cycles and patterns of nature, it is a preventative medicine, not a medical system based upon response to crisis, as a last minute intervention.
In more recent times, the poor sanitation and living conditions through the industrial Revolution, which in Victorian Britian and Ireland, caused outbreaks of cholera, typhus, smallpox, tuberculosis and innumerable other diseases, gave rise to an impetus to create change. Which led to breakthroughs in medicine, improved housing, sanitation and much other social change over time.
It was the recognition of dis- ease and disharmony on the individual, societal and environmental level, that led to the Pod project taking shape. This understanding which is widely understood today, that features of modern life have led to an erosion of our connection with ourselves, others and the rest of life leading to disharmony and a breakdown in the patterns and cycles of life that are integral to its healthy continuation. We have sought to learn from this disconnect from nature and explore potential ways of living that seek to work in tandem with the flow of life not against it. We’ve hoped that through creating the opportunity for conversation, sharing of knowledge and skills, that like Ayurveda, this can act as preventative medicine for ourselves and society. So that happiness and health could be an accessible and central feature of all our lives.
One teacher of mine frequently states “out of all limitations comes new potentialities” We can certainly apply this maxim to all human crises over time and that of the present era. People who face major health emergencies frequently state that this leads to a re-evaluation of their whole life and what is important to them, often leading to major lifestyle changes. Therefore the current world situation in 2020 gives us the potential to examine all aspects of human life, its influence and what is truly of value to us.
Like the aftermath of all major social upheavals, there is the possibility of renewed vision and enthusiasm. Perhaps, like the Shramanas of ancient India our insights, learning and collective response in this time will echo through time to future generations.