When you dream, what are your desires? Do you ever look at the world and the systems we have created to support our ‘modern dream’ and wonder…is this really what we want? Or do we need to change the modern dream? This blog is my journey to discover my desires and my dreams, recognizing that I am not simply human, but rather, a holobiont, thriving only because of my symbiosis with, and dependency on the trillions of microflora that live inside my body.
90% of the cells in our body are foreign….they are microbes…they are not “us”…they outnumber us 10 to 1!!
The bacteria, viruses, etc, are communicators! They can turn our genes on and off. For every message the brain sends to the gut, the ‘gut’ (bacteria) sends 9-10 messages back to the brain. Even our mitochondria contain ancient bacteria-like structures!
“The relatively recent discovery of the microbiome is not only completely redefining what it means to be human, to have a body, to live on this earth, but is overturning belief systems and institutions that have enjoyed global penetrance for centuries.
A paradigm shift has occurred, so immense in implication, that the entire frame of reference for our species’ self-definition, as well as how we relate fundamentally to concepts like “germs,” have been transformed beyond recognition. This shift is underway and yet, despite popular interest in our gut ecology, the true implications remain unacknowledged.
It started with the discovery of the microbiome, a deceptively diminutive term, referring to an unfathomably complex array of microscopic microorganisms together weighing only 3-4 lbs. in the average human, represents a Copernican revolution when it comes to forming the new center, genetically and epigenetically, of what it means in biological terms to be human.
Considering the sheer density of genetic information contained within these commensals, as well as their immense contribution towards sustaining basic functions like digestion, immunity, and brain function, the “microbiome” could just as well be relabeled the “macrobiome”; that is, if we are focusing on the size of its importance rather than physical dimensionality.
For instance, if you take away the trillions of viruses, bacteria and fungi that coexist with our human cells (the so-called holobiont), only 1% of the genetic material that keeps us ticking, and has for hundreds of millions of years, remains. One percent isn’t that much for the ego to work with, especially considering it now has to thank what were formerly believed to be mostly “infectious agents” for the fact that it exists. Even more perplexing, the remaining 1% of our contributed DNA to the collective gene pool of the holobiont is at least 8% retroviral (yes, the same category as HIV) in origin!” – Sayer Ji
To demonstrate one aspect of modern living in which we ignore our microbes and holobiont status: we eat food every day that messes up our gut bacteria, like GMOs, conventionally-grown non-GMO crops drenched in glyphosate, etc, and these toxins kill, preferentially, the beneficial bacteria, and let the ‘pathogenic’ organisms overgrow (the diversity and populations of organamisms become unbalanced).
“we have not adapted fully to the lifestyles we have felt entitled to over the past 100 years. We live from our egos with total disregard for nature, each other, and our own bodily vessels. And we are sicker than we have ever been, from cradle to grave. It seems that we are not “meant” to adapt to this way of living and we are reminded of this through the signals of illness. We are called back to the Continuum through our anxiety, depression, and illness. We are reminded that we haven’t figured it out, that science is not and cannot be used merely as a tool for control, and that consciousness as an emergent property of our physiologic web, is a gift.” – Dr. Kelly Brogan
The denial of the interconnectedness of life has resulted in the destruction and pollution of our world, which is causing disease and suffering, and this denial is exacerbated by the false belief that our health or disease is pre-determined by our ‘family genes.’
I share the way I navigate….journeying toward a new dream, whatever that may be…. I hope this journey includes physical healing, nurturing a family, and dedicating my life to “perfecting the expression of life itself…and evolve by assisting life forms in fully expressing themselves” – as my hero, Geoff Lawton says so well.
I am never merry when I hear sweet music.
The reason is, your spirits are attentive…for the touches of sweet harmony that stir your passions also bring them to the tranquility of order.”
“It was only when science convinced us the Earth was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.”
– James Hillman.
The greatest act of disobedience to the mechanistic model is to reclaim our empathy with the living planet, our ability to feel.
Hasn’t a reductionist, mechanistic approach led to many scientific advances?
Buhner: Perhaps, but it has also led to tremendous ecological damage, and its limitations are revealed almost daily. Researchers continue to find evidence of spontaneous self-organization in matter, such as occurs in living creatures. If molecules, for instance, are packed tightly into a closed container, they will synchronize and begin to act as a unified whole. Mathematician Steven Strogatz writes in his book Sync that “these feats of synchrony occur spontaneously, almost as if nature has an eerie yearning for order.” I find his term “eerie” interesting; it suggests an underlying fear of this aspect of the natural world.
A biological organism is something more than the sum of its parts. Consider the people you know. If you analyze them according to height, weight, age, where they went to school, and so on, you are engaging in a form of reductionism that will never capture their essence. We intuitively understand this to be true with human beings, but we have been trained not to apply it to every other substance and life-form on the planet.
When spontaneous self-organization occurs in a biological organism, the organism immediately begins working to keep its new self-organized state intact. It analyzes incoming data and generates responses. In other words, intelligence arises in the system. It does not matter if this is a bacterium or a plant or a person or an ecosystem. The organism becomes extremely sensitive to all incoming data, because anything that touches it might destabilize it. Tiny inputs can create huge changes in self-organized systems. For example, infinitesimal amounts of estrogenic chemicals from drugs, preservatives, plastics, detergents, and other sources have been found to cause sex alterations in males of nearly every species studied.
To get an idea of how sensitive self-organized systems are, imagine a toy top spinning. If you touch it even slightly with your fingertip, you will alter its movement considerably.
Reductionists view the world as a static stage upon which humans are the only actors capable of intelligent movement — though they might allow that some animals possess rudimentary thought processes. The reductionists believe they can take organisms apart to understand them, but that is not how life works.
All of us have experiences in which we encounter something that feels extraordinary: a great tree we come upon in a forest; a person we encounter by chance; a book we find lying on a park bench. Most of us discount such experiences and go on with our lives. I, instead, followed those feelings, and as a consequence my life has been one adventure after another. You might say that this decision enabled me to experience the metaphysical background of the world. I encountered what is really out there, not the static picture we are taught is out there.
The fact that other life-forms possess languages as complex as our own, that they have self-awareness, that they engage in the search for meaning — all of this is hidden from us because of the mental programming we use to process our experiences of the world. But sometimes, despite our habituated not-knowing, we feel the touch of other intelligences in unexpected places, such as a tree or rock formation. The reality police are quick to denigrate such experiences and accuse us of anthropomorphizing. I say they are “mechanomorphizing.” We have much more in common with a tree than we do with a machine like a car.”
- Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
- Lynn Twist, of https://www.pachamama.org/lynne-twist
- Core Awareness, Liz Koch, page XXIV
- Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra, (physics)
- Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, Candace Pert (neurobiology)
- The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, (cell biology)
- EarthDance: Living Systems in Evolution, Elizabet Sahtouri, (evolution biology)
This is why I love Stephen Buhner and what he teaches us about symbiosis with the Earth and our universe:
What was your first experience with herbal medicine?
Buhner: When I was thirty-four, I became quite ill with severe abdominal cramping. The doctors didn’t know what it was. I met a local herbalist, and she mentioned that a certain plant growing in the forest around my house was good for my condition. The doctors wanted to do exploratory surgery, but instead I ate some of the plant. The pain was about half as severe the next time it happened, and the next time about half again, until finally it just went away. After that, I began to take control over my own health.
Ahuja: What was the plant?
Buhner: It was a perennial herb called osha. I just dug up the root and began eating it. It’s got a spicy, celery-like taste. Not only did I feel my body getting better, but I could feel, inside, some living entity that cared about me. It’s difficult to explain, because it’s not something we generally talk about in the West. When you use a living medicine and get well, you feel that the world is alive and aware and wants to help you. People often talk about saving the Earth, but how many times have you experienced the Earth saving you?
Ahuja: How do you go about treating patients as an herbalist?
Buhner: It’s a relationship, not a technique. My clients often feel lost and alone in their suffering. They need human companionship and also a sense of companionship with the living world. If I can, I’ll take them into the woods and introduce them to the plant that will be helping them.
Ahuja: You once said that an ecosystem that lacks poisonous plants cannot be healthy.
Buhner: The concept of “poison” is not ecological; it is cultural. To the Earth there is no such thing. Buddhist ecologist Joan Halifax writes in The Fruitful Darkness that when we remove mountain lions and rattlesnakes and poison ivy from a habitat, the system immediately begins to degrade, because the people who enter that habitat no longer need to be careful when moving through it.
I find it interesting that toxic plants often move into damaged landscapes. Some specimens are harmful to cattle or sheep who graze the land. Others interfere with industrial agriculture or threaten people. They all have the same purpose: stopping the source of the damage so that the landscape can regenerate itself.
Ahuja: How do wild and domesticated plants feel different to you?
Buhner: Look into a wolf’s eyes, and then look into a domesticated dog’s eyes. That is the difference between wild and domesticated plants. Wild plants do not have water and fertilizer delivered to them on schedule. They do not have pesticides applied if they get infested. They must be strong to survive in the wild. Their chemistry tends to be a great deal more intense than that of domesticated plants. This is, in part, why wild versions of domesticated plants have a stronger flavor that many people don’t like.
Ahuja: It’s clear that you believe communication can take place between us and other life-forms.
Buhner: We have the capacity to receive and interpret the messages of nonhuman creatures, but we tend to think that human language is the only one out there. When we do sense nonhuman communication, we have been trained to believe we are nuts. My life has been filled with such experiences, and a large part of my work has been to share them, so that other people don’t have to go around thinking they are crazy all the time.
This isn’t such a radical idea. People who have dogs know that their animals communicate with them. There is a constant exchange of meaning there between two sentient organisms. This same process occurs with plants, which possess a variety of languages, including sounds outside the range of our hearing. They also “speak” by releasing chemicals. There is little difference between a plant releasing an aromatic chemical through its stomata and a person releasing a word through his or her mouth. Both do so as a process of exchanging meaning with the exterior world.
If the exterior world touches a plant in a way that invites a response, the plant will often craft a specific chemical directly related to the event. Here’s a crude example: If spider mites are feeding on a bean plant beyond the point that’s healthy for the plant, the bean plant will analyze the saliva of the mite, determine what kind of mite it is, and create a pheromone that will attract the exact predator wasp for that mite. At the same time, the bean plant will release other chemicals to tell the plants around it that this particular spider mite is feeding on it, and it will include the information about the pheromone.
Ahuja: In your most recent book, Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, you share a story about a maple tree you encountered that made you feel as if “the underpinnings of my worldview were crumbling.” Could you describe that experience?
Buhner: The poet William Stafford once said that it was not through extraordinary experiences that he created his poetry but through everyday experiences that he paid attention to. Amazing things are happening around us all the time; we just don’t pause to notice them.
I had a tree outside a house where I lived for several years in Vermont — a huge old maple. One day I observed that the tree was shivering, almost undulating. Great vibrations traveled up and down its trunk. This went on for several days until finally a large limb came crashing down from the overstory. After that, the shivering ceased. I realized then that the tree had been in the process of self-pruning.
Every time some new evidence of plant-based intelligence intrudes on my awareness, it confronts perspectives about the world that I inherited from my culture or my family or my schooling, and some portion of that received worldview crumbles, and something new takes its place. The world is a great deal different than we have been led to believe. In fact, we know very little about what goes on here.
The ancient Athenians had a word for that moment when some intangible part of ourselves leaves our bodies and touches a living intelligence in the world: aisthēsis. There is an exchange of soul essence accompanied by a gasp of recognition, a deep breath, an inspiration. In the modern West we are trained to discount such experiences, to forget them. But, perhaps out of stubbornness, I have always remembered those moments. For example, one time I lay with my great-grandfather by the banks of a pond in rural Indiana. We did not talk. We just lay side by side, and in that silence something of him came into me, and something of me went into him. The poet Robert Bly has said that something necessary to our humanity is passed on in moments of silence between the man and the boy, the woman and the girl. I also remember a time when I hesitated by my grandfather’s open study door while he was working. For some reason the light in the room had a particular radiance that day. It seemed as if I were seeing a deeper light within the everyday light. That room took on a living radiance, almost a velvety fragrance that I could feel. And the silence there was itself a kind of sound. My grandfather and I exchanged a glance and were held suspended in time while the metaphysical background of the world intruded on our waking experience.
The moment passed, as these moments always do, but we were left changed in its wake. All of us have moments like that, but sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and cherish them — though it seems that poets and small children always do. These experiences are the source of much beauty in our lives. We are poorer for ignoring them.
Ahuja: How have your spiritual beliefs evolved alongside your view of the world as alive and filled with intelligence?
Buhner: The experience of a world filled with soul and intelligence naturally engenders a deep spirituality. As we feel more deeply into the world, we become aware of what Stafford called the “golden threads” that run through the world and connect everything. We become aware of the intelligence and soulfulness in all things. This kind of spirituality is the oldest our species has known. It has little to do with religion, which is the formal structuring of spiritual belief into a hierarchy run by people. Organized religion is the place where you experience what inventor and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller called a “secondhand god.” As I have removed more and more of the defective cultural programming I inherited, my personal connection with the aliveness and intelligence of the world has deepened. I live in a constant state of communication with beings similar but not identical to myself who have stories and adventures of their own. In this place I am never alone.
Ahuja: Why does our culture perceive plants as basically passive and without intelligence? Even our term for a person who loses brain function is “vegetable.”
Buhner: Plants respond on much longer time frames than we do. Older cultures actually did view plants as intelligent, as kin. In fact, most of us just don’t look. If we think something isn’t there, we won’t find it. When former generations of white men believed that women and blacks were intellectually inferior, the idea wasn’t often challenged. Today the intellectual inferiority of plants usually goes unchallenged. Plant neurobiologists are doing some good work these days, revealing flaws in research that says plants have no intelligence. They are mounting an assault on what they call “brain chauvinism.” Plants, it turns out, often possess brains containing far more neurons than our own. A plant’s neural network is embedded within its root system, rather than a “brain” organ. Because this network is not constrained by a skull, it can grow to any size the soil can support. Some aspen root systems cover hundreds of acres and are more than a hundred thousand years old.
Buhner: I have written two books a year for the past three years and am pretty worn out, so I’m taking a three-year break from writing. I need to rest and transition from late middle age into early old age in such a way that I do not become a caricature of myself. Who I will be in old age is not the same as who I was in middle age. It is important to grieve the passing of my younger self: to cherish it, let it go, finalize what needs to be finalized from that stage of my life, and move into the next.
Ahuja: Did you commemorate other life transitions this way?
Buhner: We all know the cliché that men in midlife suddenly get a toupee or a sports car or a new wife, but few of us understand that at every major stage of life — puberty, adulthood, midlife, old age, and death — we move into different territories of the self. The movement into puberty, for example, involves extreme changes in our identity. We leave childhood behind, and it takes time for us to come to terms with this, which is partly why there can be so much rage in adolescence. The extreme emotions we repressed in childhood, when we were too dependent to express them, have to be addressed. We work to resolve the problems we could not resolve then. We experiment with various moral structures to find out who we will be in this new stage of life.
The same dynamic occurs at midlife. We have to look back over our youth, grieve its passing, become who we are now, and learn to fulfill the functions that belong to midlife. The moment a man enters midlife is the moment when he looks into a younger woman’s eyes, indicates through body language and eye contact that he finds her attractive, and gets back the message You’re old enough to be my father. (I’m sure there’s an analogous experience for a woman.) At that moment the new life stage can’t be denied — though many people try.
As we approach death, the process occurs again. Some part of us is passing away, and it is crucial to grieve its passing; to spend time honoring that part of us, how hard it worked for us; to recognize its mistakes; to grapple with the things we left undone, with regrets, with our own limitations, with missed opportunities.
At each stage we have the chance to correct the past to some extent, to do the things we avoided doing. Most of all, we have to understand that our younger self is never coming back. And we always fear that passing, that movement toward the end of life. If we do not come to terms with these passages, we risk becoming less genuine, becoming the enemy of our souls and our memories. We risk lying on our deathbed, looking back, and saying, “I could have.” That is a deep betrayal of the self, one that I am determined to avoid if at all possible. I wish to greet my death knowing that I have left nothing undone.”