We’re All in This Together – Pandemic and Ecology

We’re All in This Together – Pandemic and Ecology

26 March 2020 | Matthias Girke & Georg Soldner

Illnesses are images, and when an illness affects all of humanity, like COVID-19 does, it is an image of contemporary life. What facilitates this illness is related to what is unhealthy in our performance-oriented society. COVID-19 shows us clearly how precious the gift of life is. It is now a matter of overcoming this crisis together and waking up to the common ecological responsibility of humanity, which knows no national borders.


Besides general symptoms like fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, as organ of the central, rhythmic human being. It can also lead to circulatory disorders, especially in patients with high blood pressure who are taking medications to lower their blood pressure.

Stress and anxiety also decrease immune performance and lead to more severe cases after infection. High tension, sleep deficit and lack of exercise increase the risk of infection, and the fear of losing one’s economic livelihood that many are currently feeling is an additional factor.

Susceptibility to Covid-19 is related to its nature. Stress and anxiety, which are a part of the signature of our materially-oriented meritocracy, have an immune-depressant effect and thus increase susceptibility, as does our typical readiness today to ignore symptoms of illness or suppress them with medication. Rudolf Steiner also pointed out that the "lies of humanity"(1) can have epidemiological significance. They separate us from the spiritual world of truth and hinder the healing powers that flow from the truth. This is not about the individual patient, but rather about how truth is dealt with in public discourse. However, conspiracy theories about the origin of this pandemic are also problematic. The will to examine the truth and not to allow oneself to be infected by false claims forms part of our immunity, for which we ourselves are responsible. The fact that the corona pandemic only affects people shows that it is related to the I-being and that prevention and healing should include this spiritual dimension.

Hygiogenesis, salutogenesis and autogenesis

We can distinguish between three levels of healing. “Hygiogenesis” (Gunther Hildebrandt) describes the physical level. Salutogenesis (Aaron Antonovsky) is related to the psychological or soul level of healing, in the confidence that trust and a feeling of meaning are important. And finally, we can grow inwardly in and through illness in the sense of self-development or “autogenesis.”

The containment of infectious diseases leads to external isolation, because events are cancelled, borders are closed and going out is forbidden. This separates us from each other and from nature. So it is all the more important to connect inwardly, through interest in other people and loving attention to external and internal light. Our relationship to warmth is essential. Movement, in particular, strengthens the cardiovascular system. We recommend hygienic Eurythmy Therapy exercises, as given by Rudolf Steiner in the fifth lecture of the Eurythmy Therapy course in 1921 - especially the triad 'reverence A', 'love E' and 'hope U', supplemented by the rhythmic 'R'.

It is worth remembering that in the intestinal tract, not only bacteria but also viruses are important for health – we cannot damn them all. Our psychological wellbeing is also connected with our microbiome.

Why are viruses from the animal world now becoming dangerous for humans? The way we keep animals today, and use and kill them for experiments, creates enormous suffering in the animal world. Trade in living animals causes them tremendous stress and fear.

Can this suffering lead to consequences that change viruses that occur naturally in animal organisms and allow them to be transferred to humans? Rudolf Steiner’s indications connect animal suffering with epidemic diseases.(2) It is likely that viral epidemics often originate with animals living in close contact with humans.(3)

The corona pandemic shows the extent to which we now form ‘one’ humanity, responsible for the health of our fellow human beings, our descendants and the earth. These days and weeks show us the extent to which seemingly incontrovertible principles in economics, education and transport prove to be relative in the face of a threat to life. Instead of eliminating infectious pathogens—the previous credo of medical science—the corona epidemic, along with antibiotics resistance, teaches us that the questions of living together, acquiring immunity and dissociating ourselves from the animal, plant, bacterial, fungal and viral world requires an ecological development perspective instead of demonized images of an enemy.

Calmness, prudence and courage

The Sars-CoV-2 virus cannot simply be eradicated, and new mutations may follow. Protection against infection and the gradual development of communal immunity require well-considered measures, in a balance of renunciation and relating. Movement in the open air and compassion and interest in other people are healthy and particularly important now.(4) Strengthening resilience has a physical, psychological and spiritual dimension. Physically, in addition to warmth, sun exposure and life rhythms, a healthy diet with few toxins (tobacco, alcohol) is important. Bitter vegetables strengthen the immune system; higher sugar consumption weakens it. Prevention and constitutional strengthening can be supported by suitable anthroposophic medicines and Eurythmy Therapy.

Psychologically, what is important are calmness, prudence, courage and perspective. Fear, anxiety and psychological tension likely lead to the spread of illness just as much as careless behavior. Conversely, a positive psychological mood leads to a smaller risk of infection. Therefore, we should inwardly confront anxiety and fear. Clear thinking and equanimity reduce our predisposition to illness.(5)

On a spiritual level, important questions arise: What are pandemic diseases asking of humanity? A pandemic drastically slows down the life of society and becomes an economic and societal threat. At the same time, it makes us pause, which allows us to reorient toward society, redefine values and goals, and take hold of our relationship with Nature—and especially animals—in a new way. In addition to climate collapse, the illness of the earth, there is an acute global human illness, which takes its place alongside the great chronic historical illnesses and is giving us the opportunity to wake up, including in the field of medicine. We cannot only wage war against diseases and pathogens forever, as valuable as these skills are: We must work equally hard to strengthen ourselves as humans and to achieve balance between humanity and nature in the light of our common cosmic origins.


This contribution first appeared in the weekly journal, “Das Goetheanum”, on March 27th, 2020, edition 13/2020. It is a shortened version of the Medical Section’s newsletter, “Corona Pandemic – Facets and Perspectives.”

Translated by Tascha H. Babitch

Notes

1. Steiner, R: Die Theosophie des Rosenkreuzers, GA 99, Dornach 1985, lecture on May 30th, 1907.

2. Steiner, R.: Die Offenbarungen des Karma, GA 120, Dornach 1992, lecture on May 17, 1910. Steiner, R.: Erfahrungen des Übersinnlichen. Die drei Wege der Seele zu Christus. GA 143. Dornach 1994, lecture on April 17, 1912.

3. Shah, S.: The microbes, the animals and us. Le Monde Diplomatique. March 18, 2020.

4. Ulset VS1, Czajkowski NO2, Kraft B1, Kraft P1, Wikenius E3, Kleppestø TH1, Bekkhus M: Are unpopular children more likely to get sick? Longitudinal links between popularity and infectious diseases in early childhood. PLoS One. 2019 Sep 10;14(9):e0222222. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222222. eCollection 2019

5. Cohen S1 Alper CM Doyle WJ Treanor JJ Turner RB: Positive emotional style predicts resistance to illness after experimental exposure to rhinovirus or influenza a virus. Psychosom Med. 2006 Nov-Dec;68(6):809-15. Epub 2006 Nov 13.