How easily we choose the path of fear when confronted by the unknown – drawing the blanket over our head like a small child, rather than turning on the light to discover there is nothing of which to be afraid.
Here in America people have become afraid of pretty well everything. Perhaps the most ominous fear is that of bacteria: if a child falls over, mother is at hand with an anti-bacterial wipe to remove any contact with the earth; go to a grocery store and there are wipes to remove all trace of the previous shopper from the shopping cart; in the gym, wipes will be on hand to clean up the equipment.
The effect of all this is to cut our bodies off from their environment – an environment within which they have evolved over millions of years. Our bodies are literally a community of interconnected, mutually supportive cells. Cells which, over time, have voluntarily come together in co-habitation, frequently sacrificing independence for a higher purpose. Together they have formed organs and systems which are vital to our higher functions.
Our bodies are essentially a standing wave of cells in the physical environment. They give us the illusion of separateness from the world and each other, in the same way that a wave may be visible in the middle of a river, as the water pours over some unseen obstacle. Gross material like food flows into us, is broken down and stays for a while, and then is broken down again and flows away. More subtly we are constantly exchanging atoms and molecules with each other – what was part of your body a moment ago is now part of mine.
This is healthy. As our world has evolved and changed, so this natural harmony between nature as our body, and nature as our environment, has also evolved, adapting intelligently to change. We have not developed alone.
Our immune system is designed to learn through it’s interactions with the world. Such learning provides immunity and a healthy body. A body at ease. It is natural for our cells to interact with their surroundings so that they successfully deal with threats – become immune to those threats.
If we lose the connections, we lose the immunity – no longer at ease, we become dis-eased.
Humanity appears to be set on a path of isolation and extinction. As we fearfully seek to protect ourselves from bacteria, we forget that 95% of the cells that make up our body are themselves bacteria! In our ignorance we have started an indiscriminate war against them (and ourselves).
In the same way that the cells in our body can develop immunity to threats, so do the cells ‘in the wild’. Bacterial microbes in nature are also working hard to survive. The big difference is that they are not becoming cut off from their wider environment. As a result, they are becoming immune to our antibiotics. Their adaptation to threat seems to be more successful than ours. We hear of ‘superbugs’ but not ‘super-people’.
The professor leading the research in the above article talks about ‘staggering levels of genetic mutation in microbes’ found in English rivers, and uses the word ‘Armageddon’ to describe our prospects.
The strategy of cutting ourselves off from each other and our environment is clearly a disaster at the physical level – how much more so at our emotional and cognitive levels? It seems so much easier to attack what we are afraid of, than to make the enormous effort to understand and communicate.
But the bitter taste of the consequence of such decisions will linger much longer than the short sweet taste that came from momentarily ‘dealing with’ the problem.
If I grazed my knee or fell over in the dirt as a young boy, my grandmother would say ‘don’t worry, we will all eat a peck of dirt before we die’. Perhaps it is not too late to re-engage with our world and each other.