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Know Yourself: A Message from Hildegard Von Bingen

  • August 18, 2012

At the risk of sounding, well, crazy, I want to let you know that I'm being followed by a 12th century mystic. Not literarlly followed, I haven't had a vision or visitation, I'm not hearing voices or anything like that, but Hildegard Von Bingen has appeared so frequently in my life lately that I've decided it's time to give her some air time.

For those for whom Hildegard means nothing (probably most of you), Hildegard was a mystic, artist, playwright, physician, musician, herbalist, who happened to create her own language and build a monastery for women in a time where most women lived as virtual slaves of their husbands. Hildegard's medical approach was holistic and simplistic. With observation, listening, taking a pulse and examining urine, she'd give a herbal medical prescription. However, with each prescription came an assigned regimen. More or less exercise, what foods to eat, level of sexual activity all were gauged to obtain a balance. Hildegard viewed each person individually and in the perspective of his or her environment.

A master gardener of people, Hildegard understood that health was a process that required tweaking and constant refinement. She gauged her patients' viriditas, their greenness or vitality. Just as a gardener might look at the green hue of her plants to determine if they needed water or different soil, Hildegard simply observed her patients to determine what they needed.

With specialization and all the tests and measures in modern medicine, we've drifted so far from viriditas that I sometimes wonder if we'll ever find our way back. We want answers fast, from the most qualified person, but we often overlook the obvious in our rush to the solution. In my own experience in the mental health arena, specialization often creates territorialism, a defensiveness of method. An internist rolls his eyes at a psychiatrist's work, the psychiatrist scoffs at psychotherapists, the psychotherapists view the psychiatrists as evil pill pushers or mad-shocking scientists. The holistic community? Oftentimes, they want only their natural supplements, demonizing anything made by man.

We could all take a cue from Hildegard by understanding that people are a lot like plants. Some will thrive in certain environments, shrivel in others. Most of the time, health is obtained by a good-fit environment and the boring application of three things: enough sleep, good nutrition and exercise. Genetics make us more or less vulnerable to problems, so some of us need to be more careful than others. The trick is to know yourself and keep an open mind about the resources available to you. This takes time, time most of us won't spend until there is a major medical crisis.

We've got to change that mindset. Slow down. Become our own Hildegard and be more aware of the things that feed our viriditas. Doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists are only human, we can't expect them to tap our heads with a magic wand and guarantee our health. These experts are guides, often indispensible guides, but they require our active participation in our own health.

So why am I being followed? This blog is already too long. It's Saturday night and my viriditas is requiring a hot bath and a good book. If you are really curious, leave a comment and I will relay my Hildegard stories.



"Hersh's page-turner story is very informative about the state of mind of people experiencing very high suicide risk; to take two examples, perceived burdensomeness and social isolation.  I'm relieved for her and for all of us that she survived.  Struck by Living shows a life beyond suicidality, filled with possibility."

Thomas Joiner
Thomas Joiner, The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Florida State University, Author of Why People Die by Suicide and Myths About Suicide
About Struck By Living

In Struck by Living, Julie Hersh picks apart the irony of her life with humor and brutal honesty. Despite a loving husband, healthy children, financial security, Julie attempted suicide three times. With the help of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), Julie broke the deadly course of her disorder. Now well, Julie promotes the importance of mental health with collaborations with other artists and organizations.

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