What is the meaning of natural?

Natural Mirage

What is the "meaning of natural" seems an easy question to answer. But when you look more closely, it's like trying to reach illusory water in the desert – it just moves away again. A common response is that "natural" is anything that occurs in nature without human intervention. And in modern industrialised cultures there is an idea that the meaning of "natural" is as something inherently good and wholesome.

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We tend to think that the meaning of "natural" is a positive, good earth condition linked with health and well being.

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We all want to be natural, to eat natural products, live natural lifestyles and have a natural menopause. And this website is called Natural Menopause Journey - precisely to promote the idea that menopause is a natural, normal life transition and not a medical condition or a disease.

Natural berries

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But what exactly is the meaning of "natural"?

At one level perhaps we think that the meaning of natural menopause is like natural childbirth – the way nature intended. Or like natural ingredients – not interfered with by humans and their artifices.

But is this kind of "natural" actually what we want? And does "as nature intended" really exclude any intervention by human beings?

After all, aren't we humans also part of nature – part of the natural world?


In fact what exactly is "unnatural"?

For instance we think of giving birth as being natural, but to inject an anaesthetic into the spine to make birth pain free is unnatural. It is also unnatural to relieve difficult labour with forceps and definitely unnatural to stop life-threatening haemorrhage with emergency surgery or control sepsis and fever with antibiotics.

It is natural to be pregnant, but unnatural to use hormones to prevent pregnancy, so is it more natural to use a calendar so that intercourse can be restricted to "safe" days?

It is natural to want to protect our children from infections and fevers, but where in the jungle is the soap to wash their grimy hands and the vaccines to protect them from those infections that decimated childhood in the past?

Natural Mud Puddle

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Is human activity natural or unnatural?

Surely it is one or the other – it cannot be both? Or are some of our activities more natural than others? And how do we tell the difference?

We know that in our natural state we succumb to infections, to attack by wild animals, the harshness of the elements. What is more natural than tuberculosis, diptheria and the bubonic plague?

When our eyes fail us there are no spectacles growing on trees, we need an optician with all her fancy equipment to make some perfectly adjusted, polished lenses so that we can see again. And where would we be without modern dentistry?

Toothless and hungry because we can't eat the nutrients our bodies require.


Dreamy but dangerous

Much of the imagery and symbolism of "natural" that we use in popular culture today is not only mistaken but is positively dangerous.

The idea of the meaning of natural as being untouched by humans and therefore desirable, paints a picture of Mother Nature as a kind, infinitely gentle force.

It is as if we are naughty children who have run away from the care of our kindly nanny just because we have developed technology. But what kind of kindly nanny exposes us to virulent diseases, wild animals and sends bitter winds to howl around our campfires?

The history of human civilisation has been about trying to move away from our "natural" condition.

Throughout our development we have constantly sought ways to tame nature and control our environments, to be less at the mercy of the random injustices that Mother Nature doles out with cruel unpredictability.

Indeed humanity's constant struggle to control our environment is arguably what makes us human.

Our adaptability based on our reason is a characteristic human feature that distinguishes us from other animals.

We humans desperately want to bring some tiny speck of predictability to our otherwise frightening and chaotic existences. It is part of our nature to seek these solutions. An entirely natural course of action for us as rational, thinking beings, acting – just as nature intends us to act.

I believe that we should develop a more insightful and intelligent understanding of the meaning of natural.

We need a meaning of natural that recognises that humans' interference with nature is as natural as a cow eating grass.

Non-interference with nature is not necessarily a given "Good". Quite the reverse. If we don't interfere with nature we frequently end up dead, disabled or mutilated.


But – where do we draw the line?


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At what point does our interference with nature become more dangerous to our survival and health than non-interference?

This is the big question that is urgently confronting humanity today. We've learnt to interfere for our own benefit but we have not learnt where to stop.

We know what we can do, but we do not have the wisdom to know what we should not do.


Big story, small story

We do not know either when or how to limit our interference in natural processes. This is a big, big, story with implications for climate change, global security and the control of world poverty. In fact it is the biggest challenge we are facing today.

But it is also a small, mundane story, that is perfectly relevant to each of us middle aged women, as we go through our midlife change.

Because we women have to decide where we stand with respect to the meaning of "natural" and "non-interference" when we decide how we are going to approach this crucial transition period of our lives.

Here on Natural-Menopause-Journey.com my understanding of the word "natural" is simple:

The meaning of "natural" in the context of menopause is healthy and balanced.

You may not accept this definition, but I find it a workable idea, because it can give us a framework to structure our individual decision-making and attitude to our life paths.

Natural means healthy – which also means safe. But then we are faced with a new question: what exactly is "healthy?"

Menopause is a natural life transition – our periods stop without interference and it is perfectly healthy and safe for them to do so. We have evolved to stop menstruating. We have evolved to live many healthy years – perhaps nearly a half of our adult lives – after the menopause.


Alleviating menopausal discomforts

Should we seek to alleviate the discomforts that come associated with this life transition?

Of course we should – nothing is more natural!

But what we are seeking is better health, better safety, better well being and above all better balance, alignment and harmony.

The meaning of natural menopause is one that brings a physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual harmony between our inner selves and the natural and social worlds outside.

If we must "interfere" to provide relief from discomfort, then that interference should be as minimal and as harm limiting as possible.

Natural treatment for menopause is treatment that is least likely to upset the delicate and complex balance of our body - within its environment.


Natural Feathery Blossom

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Above all, in the face of complexity - when we don't know or are not sure about how things work - then the stakes are higher.

If we can't make a good prediction of the effects of our intervention, if the risks are higher than the benefits, then application of the ancient medical principle: "First, do no harm" makes the best sense.

For me this is the crucial value that must drive research efforts for natural menopause remedies. When we decide how to relieve our midlife discomforts we must not forget that our bodies are extremely complex systems whose delicate balance can all too easily be disturbed.

It is important to protect this balance, especially when we are perfectly healthy women and biomedicine doesn’t fully understand how the system works – which is the case with menopause.

When she traverses her perimenopausal terrain, the question each woman must ask herself is whether an option is a healthy, safe choice that will increase her well being. Whether it will bring her own internal ecosystem more in tune with her external world.

And if this information is not available to her, she should make every effort to seek it out, so that it is she who is in control of navigation on her natural menopause journey.


Published November 12th 2010.

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