Lilipoh Interview with Paul Scharff, MD—August 2007
by Walter Alexander for Lilipoh
Lilipoh interviewed Paul Scharff, MD, at the Fellowship Community (established 1966), in Chestnut Ridge, New York. He is principal founder of this “work-based” community centered on the care of the elderly. The Fellowship lands are a 120-acre island of woods, farm and orchards embedded in the suburbia sprawled 30 miles northwest of New York City. They are home to about 150 elderly, children and adult coworkers described at the Fellowship website as “Working and learning together in service to others and in caring for the earth.” Paul Scharff has been a physician for more than 50 years. The interview was conducted at his home at the community where he was recovering after treatment for recurrent cancer.
Lilipoh: Biodynamically grown wines and foods are becoming better and better known and Waldorf education is certainly out in the world. When is anthroposophic medicine going to break out into wider public awareness?
Paul S.: That’s not going to happen because I don’t think our anthroposophic medicine has evolved far enough. It’s in its beginning stages. And—it hasn’t hit the road yet because it’s very subtle and because it involves the individual and his or her destiny. That’s what’s most new about anthroposophic medicine—that it works out of the complexity of the human being’s makeup.
So often people interested in alternative medicine become focused entirely on the body. In anthroposophical medicine you have body, soul and spirit on the one hand, but then also you have an expanded perspective on the body. You see the red blood circulating and understand that it is a reflection of the human ego and spirit alive in it. The nervous system–such a perfect image of the soul –and it’s filled with stars—but they’re called astrocytes [large, star-shaped structural cells of the nervous system]. I had a neurology professor who, when he talked about the brain, it was like looking at the stars. But for him, he held it only as a wonderful sentiment. We need people to start working towards a different, larger paradigm that can support a more complex approach to health.
Lilipoh: Paradigms die hard.
Paul S.: But that’s what you have to do. It’s very difficult for people in academia and for physicians to change their view of the inner organs. For example, when you look at the lung spiritually it’s like going out and looking at the whole horizon and the earth and sky. And then, so often anthroposophists go to the other extreme and only want to escape and talk about soul and spirit. I’m saying the first step is that you go to the human organism. The heartache of Rudolf Steiner was that anthroposophists don’t know their own physical make-up. If they did know it, he said, “then I could give a deep anthroposophy.” That’s what he told Ehrenfried Pfeiffer*.
In 1952 Pfeiffer said to me, “You should go out lecturing now about the human makeup and the physical body so that they can know that that is the true basis for the deepest spirituality we have.” And, if you go into the organology you find how much of the soul life is really very much organic. Then you begin to see, “Aha! It’s not me—and you search yourself out.”
My task has been to talk about the physical body—which is the temple, the greatest creation. You don’t have the human being on earth if you don’t have a physical body. It is absolutely amazing what’s taking place there, and people don’t pay attention to it. Or they just keep the mechanical model of the human being.
Lilipoh: So what understandings or perspectives might open a way towards this paradigm?
Paul S.: One of the most important findings of cellular biology is the natural killer cells. So that means there’s death in the body. Where a cell dies, it gives up its life.
Lilipoh: That doesn’t necessarily point to anything else, though.
Paul S.: You have to see where death is necessary so that there can be life. The best example would be that of bone—which is quite dead—but has the highest of life, the blood cell-producing marrow, which grows right out of the death in the bone. There is birth and there is death—and immediately out of that death comes life. One of the most important things in anthroposophical medicine is to reckon with the total potentiality of life—and how the life that has been used in the physical can be liberated when the physical dies.
In the bone marrow the red blood cell comes out of a stem cell—a totally potential substance—and it develops into a normocyte [ie-a red blood cell] and then iron is included. When you include iron, the respiratory activity of that cell disappears by 90%. And that which has died away by 90% is the basis of life in our body. There is a liberation of forces.
Lilipoh: Can you give other examples of death in the body producing life?
Paul S.: There’s involution and death in the nervous system. It’s known now that the eye breathes, and that the hair has circadian rhythms. The retina and cornea have to lose their metabolic/respiratory activity in order that one can see. It’s a death process that makes the organ usable.
Lilipoh: What happens if the death doesn’t occur?
Paul S.: You can’t use that organ.
Lilipoh: So blindness is a failure to die in the eye?
Paul S.: Yes. Too much life. Particularly with opacities of the cornea. That can be a bridge to go beyond the idea of something just dying and shriveling. You need to see metamorphosis in human organology. A liberation of ether forces. You need to see the gradual dying off of organs, of brain, heart, liver. The lung dies incredibly, from the pink of the newborn child to the darkest stuff you can imagine.
Lilipoh: Maybe we can come back to this, but I’d like to ask you a bit about cancer. In conventional cancer medicine, genomics and the targeting of individual receptors and mutations is all the rage.
Paul S.: It’s a totally mechanical model that they are working from.
Lilipoh: What does spiritual science contribute to the understanding and treatment of cancer?
Paul S.: When I walk into Target or Office Max or any other of the main mall stores and look at everything on all the shelves—I see cancer. Enormous overproduction of physical things impacting on human senses. People go to the mall—that becomes their life and they are hit by a cancer sitting right in front of them. It is the outer world entering in and making the outer world the inner world. Overproduction. Multiplying death. When a plant dies and produces seeds, these seeds die and fructify the earth, producing new plants, some of which supply nutrition. That’s a dying into life, just like the death in the bone, in the red cell. You have what appears to be a dead entity, but it permits the human individuality to be active in the body as an ego. Something dies to take on your life.
These are crucial concepts. You can’t work from just the mechanical aspects. The key thing for the modern individual is to get the role of metamorphosis in human organology. One task of the anthroposophical physician is to see that there is a physical body that can become too physical in one form of cancer and in the other–and this is controversial–it becomes too life-filled. In the leukemias and lymphomas there’s too much life, proliferation of life in lymph, tumefaction. And when you keep in mind that illness arises in the highest of spiritual worlds, then we may take them on as a path.
Lilipoh: I hope to follow-up on that – but first, I can’t help noticing how contrary this is to conventional medical attitudes that look at death only as the enemy.
Paul S.: In my 20 years of going through various specialties during my training, I did services in public institutions where I oversaw medical and psychiatric problems. There you see what death is, where you no longer have contact with a person. There’s no evidence of soulness. The individual is absent—it could be anybody. When you handle them it is like handling a foreign body—and they are handled like a foreign body. You see the darkening, the grimacing—you see what death really is.
Here [at the Fellowship Community] it is not like that. People live long. We work with anthroposophical and conventional medicines. One patient with Alzheimer’s had hypertension and strokes—I cared for him two and a half years. He died totally contracted and couldn’t move, but there were moments when he looked me right in the eye just as clear as day and would say something like – “you are beautiful.” Others may be horribly contracted and skeleton-like, but you still see the beauty there, and some individuals are drawn to their care. It is totally different from when one sees a person dying without some soulness. Then you gradually come to see what real death is.
Lilipoh: Can you relate this to treatment?
Paul S.: Let’s bring in nutrition to start with. We look at cancer on the mall shelf—but we do the same thing when we eat the wrong foods or take in poison. The first thing that’s crucial is taste. Food raised organically and especially biodynamically has taste to the degree that the individual engages himself with the food and it then can be used. Otherwise it isn’t used thoroughly. Taste is more in the oils and refined aspect of the plant, and then the mineral part is essential, Rudolf Steiner pointed out, for thinking. So the taste and the mineral are needed for the human being to be able to fully destroy and recreate substance. Conventionally grown potatoes, for example, lack mineral content and are more and more watery with less taste. The result is that one can’t fully destroy what’s taken in and one then takes up more and more of the substance. That becomes part of the double—and that’s why we die. It becomes ballast, ballast that makes us more influenced by what’s physical in the environment.
Lilipoh: Can you say something basic about the double?
Paul S.: When you see someone dying without soulness, you are seeing the double. The double is the weight in us, the soul without a living body. I see also that there’s more than one double. There’s the etheric double. With illnesses, one loses ether forces that are not working in the body to the usual degree. They become free for the activity of the soul. That’s like the dewdrop on the leaf that is separate from the leaf, but it can reflect the whole world. And there’s therapeutic double—that by giving the proper homeopathic remedies that speak to this “dewdrop” that can form in our etheric make-up, you allow a process where in sleep the human being can see (consciously or not) what he then needs to work on in his conscious life. That is enabled because the remedy has been given. This is what is worked with in the Wellness Movement, in aroma therapies or massage or diet and some of the more homeopathic-like allopathic remedies—all are trying to get to this healing double. In anthroposophic medicine, too. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about his healing double.
Lilipoh: You’re taking things way beyond conventional paradigms.
Paul S.: But there has already been a tremendous alteration in the general population’s world views. Many are giving up the purely mechanical, materialistic, evolutionary view and moving toward the individualization of things and seeing that there might something as life—the etheric. You can use this word now—as I have with colleagues—and they don’t pooh-pooh me. Remember, I nearly got thrown out of medical school for saying that the heart is not essentially a pump. And 50 years ago there were people who wanted to kick me out of the medical society. Today, I can’t begin to handle the referrals coming towards me, partly because of my illness. People are questioning the mechanical, material paradigm and are more seeking, more individual, contrary to the horror story in the mass media.
Today people are not so sure that they know everything about the human being—so these are quite new times.
Lilipoh: Could you elaborate on the idea of freed etheric forces?
Paul S.: The subject is too complex to be addressed here in its entirety, but with respect to healing, I can say that the freed ether forces are of embryological origin. They become freed at birth and disperse to the ether cosmos that supports our whole planetary-solar-stellar world.
When a person becomes ill and in need of healing, freed ether forces from the cosmos can be organized by giving proper remedies (mineral and plant-herbal substances) into a “healing double” that supports the usual healing of the body. The healing process lies in the organ system activities of the astral and etheric bodies that guide immunological activities. As a physician, one tries to find remedies that address these processes so that the ego can work.
The great import for ill persons with this type of healing is that their individuality can be involved. The individuality becomes engaged in the process not only of being ill, but of getting well, and can feel that something new has entered her or his life. It is all quite delicate and subtle.
Lilipoh: So this calls for something extra from both the patient and the physician.
Paul S.: Yes. The healer needs experience, patience and sensitivity, while the ill person needs the capacity to self-reflect in a very objective fashion.
This is complex. You can’t sell this. It will be a mountain climb, but anthroposophy and its medicine will ever unfold. It will be as deep as one can penetrate the absolute miracle and marvel of the physical body–as deep as one sees that it can become a mirror of an unfolding development of the human soul and spirit. And illness is here to help that—and one has remedies for it, and one has all the arts, as well. If you do it in the right way, you see the human I-ness working through into the processes, into the temperament, the physical. And then the I-ness begins to be experienced by the individual. And then one can get into a discussion—although, that’s generally missing, but you can say it to more people than before.
How many people are interested in anything after 40? But there is the growing younger of the etheric as the physical ages. In one place you see the old person walking around without life, and then you see someone who’s had some spiritual ideas and has used other medicines and they go on livingly until 90 or 100, gradually growing weaker with the shrinking of the physical body, but more transparent. Few people see it because the changes are subtle.
Lilipoh: And your own treatment?
Paul S.: I used a special mistletoe for seven years, but now I’ve had a recurrence. If I didn’t use some conventional medicines to feed my double, I couldn’t walk. And I had radiotherapy. I needed that so that my double is cared for–so that I can work on earth as a spiritual being.
People have the double to tend to and may need allopathic remedies for that. You may have to feed the doubles with conventional, materialistic medicine in order to get well. We need these double forces.
Lilipoh: A final thought?
Paul S.: The mechanical is crucial, but going from the mechanical to the life – that’s the step.
* Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961) worked with Rudolf Steiner, and was a pioneer of biodynamic agriculture in America.