Destiny and Gastrointestinal Health
Sometimes I am grumpy for no reason. I crave things that aren’t good for me. I find it hard to live up to my own beliefs. Even when I feel like my conscious decisions are directing my life, I often change my mind. Who is in charge here?
Perhaps you disagree. Maybe you feel you are in control, proud and independent Captain of your bodily ship, doing what you set out to do with a sense of confidence and security. If that is the case, what gives you the strength to do this? Neither perspective is right or wrong. More importantly, such mutability should make us aware that we are not alone in our decision-making. Forces lending us the ability to choose whence to lend our time and energy should not be taken for granted.
Each ship has a Captain and a crew. The wellbeing of the journey depends on the relationships between these members.
I probably sound like a broken record, always coming back to relationships in every post. Relationships is really all there is. Nothing would exist without everything else, and everything is constantly changing. Every interaction (relationship) gives rise to something new reflecting the laws of cause and effect, the laws of karma. Health is no different. It is a multileveled relationship too. Like all relationships, understanding the relationships between the physical, conscious, and felt aspects of reality is practice for honoring the ultimate relationship being between the universal and the relative self.
But where is the Captain? Exactly at what location in the body, mind, or soul? The self is impossible to find. On the other hand, it is quite clear that billions of other living entities live inside every human gut, which comprises 90% of the cells in our bodies! While these tiny beings are foreign to us, they generate various levels of consciousness which influence our own. The relationships between these entities and the human genome mirror worldly social and sociological relationships perfectly.
Our state of mind is a delicate interplay between:
Actions, ideas, and feelings/
Body, mind, and soul/
Awareness, wisdom, and sentient beings/
The Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.
It is impossible to experience the body and the mind in isolation from one another, and as with every relationship, this meeting involves the potential for Love. Or do they proceed from Love?
The Other, God, and the Self.
So, what’s the connection between my grumpy mood, gastrointestinal health, and the existence of God? Let me continue with the metaphor of the ship. Sangha, the community, thrives when the Buddha, unconditioned awareness, is Captain. This state of affairs is not always apparent, however. Have you ever noticed conflict between your instincts, habits, and intentions? I know I have! That is because the Dhamma is not fixed. It is free and ever-changing.
Humans are still largely asleep to our freedom and responsibility to co-create a peaceful world. As in a dream, hosts to many levels of consciousness enter the cockpit, grab hold of the big steering wheel, and head this ailing planet broadside along giant crashing waves. If life depended only on survival of the fittest, the tiny bit we already know of this vast ocean and sky, we would all be dead. All knowledge is limited in the face of the unknown. And somehow this earthly vessel careens safely on through the endless crests at the mercy of mysterious winds and tides. The Captain calmly observes these hooligans trying to sail from the back corner of the chamber. All sleepers will only learn the Dhamma from experience.
One of my spiritual teachers said, “Sit in the seat of the host. Don’t let anyone else sit there.”
Mother Earth is the ship, and we steer by how we inhabit, or co-habitate with, our own bodies. This includes how we relate with Nature as a living being and what we take into our bodies through food and through our senses. Our bodies are miniature planets, which we ought not govern with an iron fist. The billions and billions of life forms dwelling inside each of us, manufacturing our very physicality, do not respond to brute force. They speak the language of the motherland, of plants, of minerals, of elements, of ideas, beauty, and sound. They perceive intention and respond to kindness. So, like I said, we are not alone. My acupuncturist told me that human cells are outnumbered one to ten by foreign microbes. (And remember these microbes make us of our will to serve their own). That is fine. There is not need to eradicate any living thing, even viruses and dangerous bacteria. They can stay. All lends itself to healing, as long as the “good guys” have the upper hand.
Traveling in India, I took eight rounds of antibiotics for an infection. I also took antibiotics multiple times for parasites. Then I got lyme disease causing me to take several rounds of antibiotics again, another massacre blasting the teeming ecosystem of my gut. Nasty bacteria multiply in the wake of these bombshells. They trick me into craving what they feed on a, fooling my brain into being dissatisfied with life. I might even find myself thinking, “I just don’t feel like myself.” But what is the self anyway?
There is mutiny aboard this ship. It’s hard to appreciate the view when the decks are overrun with vampires, the experience of dying for a quick fix? These evil forces are nothing supernatural; just an overgrowth of de-evoloved microbes feeding off my energy. I don’t need to read the news to understand war, abuse, corruption, ignorance. It’s all going on right here inside me, obscuring the beauty and the good. Much of what motivates human behavior is phenomenological and can happen to anyone. Realizing this helps to not take life so personally. Be careful visualizing biological coups of unhealthy gut flora too extensively, though. The friendly bacteria respond to images, and they need positive ones, especially when they are temporarily outnumbered.
Why am I talking about this rather disgusting, and rather private, health issue? Because it is a very common spiritual disease. The living organisms inside us do not merely effect us on a physical level. They hijack our thought and emotions as a means to survive. I see the mutiny I am experiencing, damaged gut flora intoxicating the personality, happening all around me every day. People in grocery stores, walking down the street, colleagues, friends…I see them wrestling with this same fight, the politics of the inner life. A lot of self-justification goes on to mask this desperate struggle, but let’s be honest. Who is in charge here? The spiritual battle between good and evil is fought within (and for) individual souls.
Achieving good health is like fostering a spoiled brat. I was a teacher for eight years, and I can tell you, spoiled brats are the worst. Damaged gut flora performs just like one, otherwise known as the “addictive personality.” Every good foster parent should know, the qualities of goodness are already present in the child. Punishing misbehavior doesn’t remedy it, as spoiled brats often thrive on attention even when it’s negative. Give positive reinforcement when it is truly earned or just wait. Peace of mind is not regained by killing off all the unhealthy cells. That would be like trying to dominate the ocean, or lasso the skies. Being a health individual requires learning to see the whole world, especially the areas of extreme unrest, as integral aspects of community. Health comes when you when you see yourself in strangers and see the stranger in yourself. It’s all about relationship.
Peace comes from remembering that the Captain, humanity’s infantile executive function, is still the MC of the party, and he is not worried. He is sipping tea in the corner, not going anywhere. His bride, the conscience, is dancing in silence. She too is not trying to arrive at any other shore than that of her own awareness, not trying to be liked, nor to fix anything, just enjoying this, how it is right now. The gangsters wander in and out of the cockpit, cranking the wheel this way and that. Most of them don’t even notice this quiet old couple. The storm rages, and far beyond the mysterious raging waters, the Captain and his wife know their love encompasses the entire horizon.
Who, one might ask, is the Captain? It is only a metaphor. The real question is, what do you serve? What force? What craving? What desire? What intention? Or, better put, who do you serve? There are no inanimate objects. Everything has its karma, a purpose, a consequence. Can you identify who these beings are when everything is always interacting, changing, impacting through relationship. Look at the beings motivating your behavior. Did you elect them? Are you too struggling with mutiny? If so, join the club, fellow Bhodisattva. This is anarchy. Nobody can achieve liberation alone. The shit is already hitting the fan so to speak and we are all in this together. The good news is, karma is not only about wounds and problems. Karma includes all the laws of Nature, most of which are healing, diversifying, and beautiful.
What does this all have to do with destiny? Destiny is just a fancy word for peace. Health is peace. Peace is health. We do not have to participate in corrupt politics or gain mastery over the environment to survive. Spiritual change happens before materials transform. Learning to relate to the mirco-scopic ecosystem inside the body as a spiritual community of living forces, and how to consciously choose how we devote our time and energy is the task. Human’s destiny to enjoy peace on earth.
I’ll wrap up with my motto, the mantra for my life:
The world is my child and my child is a poet.
And since here we are at sea, and the battle wages on, one more shout I cry over the frothing waves to you, my dear reader, in solidarity:
Kindness, is my Captain! Sugar is my enemy!