Dialing Up the Vis, Part 1

 In Gastrointestinal, Toxicology

The Vital Conversation

James Sensenig, ND

This is the first of a new series of articles in NDNR based on transcripts of The Vital Conversation. The conversations occurred on Wednesdays for several years and were hosted by Jim Sensenig, ND, and other senior vitalists. This opening column is a lightly edited (by Emily Kane, ND) transcript of a discussion about the vital force in action. Working with the vital force is what differentiates and defines naturopathic physicians. This is the first of a 3-part opening series from The Vital Conversation that took place on June 22, 2016.

Our Professional Identity

It’s clear to me from conversations with colleagues around the country, and from the Continuing Education events that I participate in all over the United States and Canada, that naturopathic doctors do not all speak the same language. In order for us to distinguish our profession from the way other doctors practice, you would think that we would have a language that’s consistent. But we don’t.

A point of confusion within our profession and beyond is that we vitalistic naturopathic doctors do not define ourselves by the modalities we use. We are not homeopaths. We are not herbalists. We are not chiropractors. We are not counselors. We are not clinical nutritionists. And we are not acupuncturists. We are physicians.

We define ourselves not by the tools we use, but by the art of medical practice. Our art form is the creation of healthy people. We begin with our philosophy, and then we use individualized tools to meet our goals. The tools we use in vitalism are tools that help us move a person in the direction of balance or homeostasis, otherwise known as health.

We can quote some of our forebears here. Hahnemann tells us in the first paragraph of the Organon of Medicine that the physician’s high and only mission is to restore the sick to health.1 But you have to dig deeper to understand what he means by “restoration of health.”

When you look at Spitler, he talks about a dynamic equilibrium, or balance point, which he refers to in his 1948 book, Basic Naturopathy.2 He refers to that point as a state of euphoria. The goal of the physician is to move the patient into the state of euphoria; meaning that place where there are no physical symptoms, no mental or emotional symptoms, and no spiritual symptoms. The goal is not to treat disease; the goal is to restore health. And in doing so, the disease is eliminated.

A Vitalistic Worldview

Let’s not get caught up in the modalities. Let’s focus instead on how to restore health. This idea is beautifully presented in Standardized Naturopathy by Paul Wendel, published in 1951.3 In the second chapter, which is about naturopathic philosophy, Wendel starts off by stating that naturopathy is a philosophy of disease and healing that has been built up over many years of observing nature at work. He writes about the goal, which is to cure people, and then introduces modalities later in the book as tools that can effect cure.

In our paradigm, or worldview, the development of a treatment plan starts from our philosophy. This represents an entirely different way of understanding health and healing and has little in common with the conventional approach to medicine. Our worldview is vitalistic, which is in stark contrast with the mechanistic worldview. Lindlahr lays that out in the beginning of his masterpiece, Nature Cure, in the chapter called “What Is Life?”4

To quote Lindlahr: “In our study of the cause and the character of disease, we must endeavor to begin at the beginning. And that is life itself.”4

Life itself is what we’re talking about. It’s the core of our philosophy. In vitalism, we’re talking about this mysterious phenomenon which people during all eras, at all ages, and of all cultures have struggled to understand: life itself.

What is life? How do we define it? What relevance does it have? According to Lindlahr, “…the processes of health and disease and cure are manifestations of that which we call life. While endeavoring to fathom the mystery of life, we soon realize that we are dealing with a perpetual question which no human mind is capable of solving or explaining. We can study and understand life only in its manifestations; not in its origin or its real essence … There are two prevalent but widely differing conceptions of the nature of life or vital force – the material and the vital.”4

The Material vs the Vital

We are all familiar with the material because this is the world that we were introduced to in the scientific materialism of our time, also because it is entrenched as the dominant paradigm today.

Lindlahr continues, “The former (material) looks upon life or vital force with all its physical and mental and psychical phenomenon as the manifestations of the electric, magnetic, and physiochemical activities of the physical and material elements which compose the human organism. From this viewpoint, life is a sort of spontaneous combustion, or as one scientist puts it, ‘a succession of fermentations and chemical changes.’”4

Remember that electricity had just been discovered at the early part of the 20th century. Electricity might have been to the early 20th century what quantum physics is to the 21st century.

Lindlahr is describing the scientific material world, which insists that life is these chemical reactions. This is the primordial soup argument. This is the one where somehow a couple of atoms got together and formed molecules. Then those molecules ended up sticking to their friends, and, I don’t know, got struck by lightning, or got involved in a hurricane, or whatever, and then the primordial soup becomes the origin of life at a physical level. And we move into more and more complicated, evolving, life forms, until we get people who can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fly airplanes. And we think that those things are all the consequence of the physical and chemical reactions.

But, “The vitalistic conception of life, on the other hand,” Lindlahr asserts, “regards vital force as the primary force of all forces, coming from the great central source of all life. This force, which permeates, heats, and animates the entire created universe, is an expression of divine intelligence … This is the divine energy which sets in motion the worlds in the ether, in the electric corpuscles, that make up the atoms and the elements of matter.”4

This, of course, is written in the language of the early 20th century. Lindlahr’s book was published in 1913. But it’s easy enough to extrapolate. He’s heavy on the electricity thing because it had just been discovered.

Nonetheless, listen to his elegant explanation: “These electrons are positive and negative forms of electricity. And electricity is a form of energy. This is intelligent energy; otherwise, it could not act with the same wonderful precision in the electrons of the atoms, as in the suns and the planets of this sidereal universe. This intelligent energy can have but one source: the will and intelligence of the Creator — as Swedenborg expresses it, of ‘the great Central Sun of the Universe.’ ”4

Lindlahr wrote, “If this Supreme Intelligence should withdraw its creative energy, the electrical charges, and the atoms, and the elements of the entire material universe would disappear in the flash of a moment.

 “From this, it appears that crude matter … could not be the source of all life. On the face of it, that assumption is absurd. Because … life is a complicated mental and spiritual force. Life itself is a manifestation of the great creative intelligence which some call God, others call Nature, or the over-soul, Brahma, prana, the Great Spirit, etc., each according to his best understanding.

“It is this supreme intelligence and power acting in and through every atom, molecule and cell in the human body, which is the true healer… [T]his is the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, which always endeavors to repair, to heal, and to restore the perfect form.

“All that the physician can do is remove the obstructions and establish the normal conditions within and around the patient, so that the ‘healer within’ can … work to the best advantage.”4

And here is exactly what Hahnemann wrote in the Organon, 50 years before Lindlahr wrote the passage just quoted: “The material organism, without the vital force, is capable of no sensation, no function, no self-preservation. It derives all sensation, and performs all functions of life solely by means of this immaterial principle, which animates the material organism in both health and disease.”1

Orderly & Purposeful

The vitalistic view of life is diametrically opposed to the view in which phenomena exist in a merely physical universe as mechanistic and materialistic. The qualities required to invoke vitalism include the concept that the universe is orderly, purposeful, and benign. That’s completely different from a world view which sees random malignance and life without purpose.

What we are seeing today is the reductionistic, materialistic science advanced to its endpoint. And what do we find? That there is no evolution when we’re just talking about “stuff.” This is the metaphorical lesson of quantum physics: The great forces of the universe are beyond the physical; it’s all energy. And it’s not just random energy – it’s unmanifest energy, which means that it is full of potential and possibilities.

This column, based on the Vital Conversations of the Naturopathic Medicine Institute, will continue in next month’s issue.

Dr James (Jim) Sensenig devoted his life to the naturopathic profession. He was the founder of the AANP, and the driving force behind CNME, NPLEX, and so much more. His final institutional creation was the Naturopathic Medicine Institute (NMI), where, out of concern for the drift towards allopathy, he engaged and invited the profession and our students to join with the Institute and help fulfill its mission to preserve, protect, present, and promote the vitalistic core of Naturopathy for the benefit of humanity. Jim Sensenig played a pivotal role in the lives of so many of us. He “died with his boots on, “as he might have described his passing, and modeled courage and devotion to principle for us all. His vision, keen intelligence, and coherent voice saved us in many a critical legislative hearing. Too soon he has left us, but he has left us a powerful legacy. We mourn this incredible loss, and re-commit ourselves through NMI to advancing this cause. 

                      (Naturopathic Medicine Institute; December 2019)


  1. Hahnemann S. Organon of Medicine. Blaine, WA: Cooper Publishing; 1993.
  2. Spitler HR. Basic Naturopathy. American Naturopathic Association; 1993.
  3. Wendel P. Standardized Naturopathy: The Science and Art of Natural Healing. Self-published; 1951.
  4. Lindlahr H. Nature Cure: Philosophy & Practice Based on the Unity of Disease & Cure. The Nature Cure Publishing Company; 1913.

James Sensenig, ND, was a 1978 graduate of NCNM in Portland, OR. For over 40 years he maintained an eclectic practice in Hamden, CT. Over the years, Dr Sensenig held prominent positions in the various naturopathic colleges and the AANP. A champion of classical naturopathic medicine, Dr Sensenig received an Honorary Doctor of Naturopathic Philosophy degree from CCNM, and received numerous awards for his dedication to teaching the principles of naturopathic medicine. We invite you to participate in the Naturopathic Medical Institute (NMI) Vital Conversations, our annual Vital Gathering conferences, and many other resources found at our website: www.naturopathicmedicineinstitute.org.   

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