Microbes: A Love Story

A few years ago my (former) dentist messed up—jabbing a spinning blade into the inside of my cheek while putting the finishing touches on a filling. Yes, I yelled.

She said to her hygienist (after shoving gauze in my mouth, and sort of apologizing), “Let’s get her set up on antibiotics.”

I said (as best I could around the gauze): “No.” Shaking, stunned, but clear.

“But you know your mouth is full of bacteria, and the risk of infection…” She began to lecture.

I realized I was not afraid of my own bacteria, and that I trusted my immune system. I made her understand that I did not want to take antibiotics. No thank you.

Fairly huge moment for someone who had struggled to rebuild her health for so long, who had been subject to catching “everything going around.” I don’t know when exactly it shifted, but I didn’t mistrust my own body anymore.

Among other issues, I had battled candida overgrowth for a decade or so, and had rebuilt my gut flora by consuming vast quantities of sauerkraut. I did NOT want to wipe out the friendly little beasties who had recently recolonized my body to good effect.

At home, using a natural mouthwash that burned the gouged-out place like blazing heck, I spit blood into the sink. My cheek had already begun to blacken and swell. I spent the evening holding my Triple Warmer* meridian points to return my nervous system to its hard-won state of safety and calm.

mouth

Actual shot of my poor swollen jowl the night of the “incident.” Later my lips turned blue at the corner. It was a good look!

Before bed I whispered to my reflection in the mirror, to my swollen cheek, to my wise cells and crafty microbiome, “Thank you for knowing what to do. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for protecting me from infection. I trust you.”

My body responded by healing up tout suite—and further rewarded me by no longer requiring a medication I had begun tapering down.

It might sound wacky to some, but the body responds to our love and care, and I believe that respecting our microbes is critical. I’m now reading I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong, and finding all kinds of fantastic information in its pages.

It is fascinating to learn that only 100 species of bacteria can actually make us sick–the vast majority are either neutral or helpful to us. (Even assisting the immune system! “They educate our immune system, teaching it to tell friend from foe,” Yong writes.)

But there’s still this stigma.

“Microbes are now so commonly associated with dirt and disease that if you show someone the multitudes that live in their mouth, they will probably recoil in disgust,” he writes.

I remember hearing: Your mouth is the dirtiest place on your body! (Apparently the mouth was one of the earliest arenas to undergo bacterial study.)

He later points out that shifting from the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us” is…equally wrong. Bacteria are neutral and have their own agendae. Symbiosis only means “living together,” not necessarily harmonious cooperation.

I get it. There was that tiny bout with MRSA—a naturally occurring bacteria that ordinarily lives under the radar in our nasal tissues. That infection took forever to get gone, and left me with a nickel-sized scar on my leg.

Yong likens our partnership with the microbiome to a relationship that takes work.

Work and love, I say. It can’t hurt. And it might help.

So go ahead. Show your microbes some love.

*governs the adrenals and fight/flight/freeze mechanism

It Can Be Shifted

I heard a Robert Bly poem on The Writer’s Almanac a few months ago that seemed to speak to our times. Called “Keeping Quiet,” it speaks of childhood “whoppings in the woodshed” living into the present. Bly declares that “every war is some violence in childhood coming closer” and that “it doesn’t change.”

What happened to us that we can never speak about, the poem says, leads us to perpetrate the same cruelty on others.

Fair point, and even more interesting in light of research on epigenetics and genetic memory. From what I understand, traumas that our ancestors experienced can actually impact our own DNA. For example, those whose ancestors lived through famine may be genetically predisposed to store more fat.

In my own work on the energetic level, I have found that we can carry inherited and ancestral emotions, beliefs, and traumas.

But I don’t agree when Bly declares that this pattern won’t change because it has been going on for thousands of years. How to change it: by loving the entire past that accompanied us in our arrival on the earth.

Lotus Flower

Photo by Yoshikazu Takada, via flickr Creative Commons

Those things we try to divorce and deny? They are exactly the things that return again and again, to snap at our heels, smack us down in the dirt, keep us unconsciously lashing out and “otherizing” those we see as different. Not a healthy pattern, but it can be shifted.

What if we strove to love those old hurts instead—and not just our own but all of our ancestors’ secret pain as well?

A tall order perhaps, but I believe that we are a tall people. Humanity at large. We have the ability to stretch and grow, to evolve.

I want to believe that we have a future here, that doesn’t give sole survivorship to the last person shouting (or shooting).

Step Up to the Fire

One of my favorite year-end practices comes at Solstice time, when we gather with friends to mark the longest night. While we welcome the return of the light, we let go of what no longer serves us.

My spouse and I have been doing this with various groupings of women friends for a couple decades now. We build a fire and each burn something to symbolize what we’re ready to release.

IMG_4453Over the years I’ve noticed a shift in the types of things people throw on the fire. If I remember right, in our 20s and 30s we often burned things like business cards, to symbolize an important job transition. I recall burning “toxic” letters, wanting to shift a problematic relationship.

Looking back, the focus felt external to some degree: We needed to declare that something was over and done, and move on.

(I do recall that one creative soul burned a photocopy of a sponge, to indicate she no longer needed to absorb everyone else’s “stuff.”)

In general, nowadays, it feels like we all are more apt to turn our focus inward. What is it within me that is ready to slough off? Is it my need to be right? my habit of pushing? my fears? my dismissive self-talk?

One by one, we step up to the fire and burn the pattern that’s holding us back.

At our 2013 Solstice celebration, this is what I committed to the fire: my need to distract myself. What would happen, I wondered, if every time I thoughtlessly drifted to Facebook, email, or some other addiction, I first checked in on my inner world?

The result, over the course of the year, was a deepening of quiet, and an opening of possibility. I began to turn toward whatever plagued me instead of overriding it. I began to listen more carefully to guidance, to seek it, to act on it.

I had been moving in this direction since my dear friend, energy healer Merry Henn, introduced me to energy work several years back. In a 15-year quest to heal from fibromyalgia, the “invisible arts” (as I sometimes call them) proved indispensable. In combination with other healthy practices, energy healing and emotional clearing have brought me back to resilience. I no longer get sick at the drop of a hat, and I no longer need the maintenance regimen that sustained me for so long.

Now I find myself offering intuitive sessions and hands-on healing work to others, integrating everything I’ve learned. I never imagined myself in this role. But it turns out to be one of the most meaningful contributions I could ever make to a new Story of Reunion.

It was the Solstice ritual that helped me receive this unexpected gift.

I won’t say yet what I burned at the 2014 Solstice gathering, but who knows what magic is afoot after that releasing?

The Other Face of Facebook

Part 1 in a series

A few months ago I blogged about how fantastic social media can be during an extreme weather event. The Facebook group for my neighborhood was a much-needed source of information, entertainment, and connection during a snowbound week.

It’s true that Facebook enriches my life. My Facebook feed has brought me wisdom, creative expression, long lost friends, writing jobs, amusement, and fascinating news stories, local and global.

But then there’s the other face of Facebook. Take the aforementioned neighbors’ page, which can be quite helpful, not just in a crisis. We’ve returned lost dogs to their owners, rallied to raise money to protect our public art, and urged each other to support small businesses during a grueling winter.

All good. And why is it that seemingly every other day, there’s arguing and accusation and drama all over that page? Why do so many discussions devolve into a pissing contest?

The nutty thing is how compelling it can be, like some kind of reality TV show that’s simultaneously grotesque and addictive. Even though I rarely engage, it’s hard to look away. With Herculean strength I resist the urge to read every argumentative comment thread.

The joke’s on us. I can’t remember where I saw it (probably on Facebook), but someone wondered what a person from the past would think if the smartphone had been foreseen: “Someday, we’ll have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the sum total of human knowledge. We’ll be able to connect instantaneously with anyone, anywhere. And we’ll use it to watch kitty videos and pick fights with strangers.”

Kitty

Obligatory Cute Kitty

(I have friends on the neighbors’ page, but many of the participants are relative strangers, except through their repeated appearance in that forum. Come to think of it, what’s crazier than arguing with strangers? Lurking among the arguing strangers.)

I blame the physiological response that accompanies a “hit” online. There’s a corresponding hit of dopamine. That spells addiction.

Photo by Michael Schlinge, via Flickr Commons

Photo by Michael Schlinge, via Flickr Commons

Still, my energy healer friend Merry Henn has found the Internet to be a partner in healing. “Through Facebook I have found that what I am feeling on a particular day is often being experienced by many others. The Internet is our energetic connection made manifest. It has a collective consciousness, and often the exact resources we need will appear before we even ask for them. Just be aware that prolonged computer exposure scrambles your energies.”

Perhaps it’s all about the intention we set, or the mindfulness with which we seek. Clicking around mindlessly, I sometimes seem more likely to encounter collective fear/unconsciousness than than collective wisdom. Before I know it my energy is in a downward spiral.

But then I’ll see something redemptive, some kindness or insight. Example: musician friend Sean Flora recently pointed out that whenever someone “spouts some godawful crap…there is some kind of hurt behind it.” He noted that in online interaction, it’s harder to remember that a hurt little child is driving the diatribes. He spoke of finding a path to connection and compassion—while recognizing how our own hurts might affect others.

A good thing to remember in both online and face-to-face conversations.

What about you: How do you experience social media forums like Facebook?

Next up: More on social media addiction, and strategies.

A Whole World Alive

I recently heard Michael Pollan speaking on NPR’s Science Friday show about research into plants’ intelligence. He revealed how mycelium (the vegetative part of fungus) figures into communications among the trees of a forest. (We learned about mycelium earlier in Peter McCoy’s guest post on radical mycology.)

Hyphae (branches of the mycelium) as seen under an overturned log. Photo by TheAlphaWolf (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Hyphae (branches of the mycelium) as seen under an overturned log. Photo by TheAlphaWolf (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Pollan said:

“The trees in a fir forest are networked, in a very complicated network, held together by the mycelium of mycorrhizal fungi, connect(ing) all the trees in a fir forest. A scientist in British Colombia named Suzanne Simard has studied this. She injects a fir tree with radioactive carbon isotopes, and then using a geiger counter and other devices follows the trail of that carbon.

And what she’s found is astounding! All the trees are connected. They use that network to send information, such as warnings of insect attack. They use that network to send nutrients to their offspring…They can even use that network to trade nutrients with other species…”

Isn’t that miraculous? And I suspect that—as the Wendell Berry quote in my previous post implied—everyone and everything, everywhere, might be invisibly interconnected in a similar way.

If this is true, what harms one, harms all. What uplifts one, uplifts all.

Is this possible? Perhaps. On an energetic level. What I’m talking about is rising above the zero sum game that’s so indoctrinated in us. Making space to see that without all of us being OK, none of us are OK.

We lack instruments fine enough to fully measure the energy field surrounding us (and surrounding every natural thing, every boulder and ant and trout and evergreen, every human and tulip and mountain). But I believe that through this field we have an impact on each other, on the whole of life, every moment we live, whether we know it or not.

It isn’t possible to live apart from each other. Not truly. The web of life knits us one to another, even if we are unaware of its strands.

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, via Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient sages say that if you pull one thread in the web, the others vibrate.

Quantum physics … the mycelium … the Internet even—all are outer manifestations of this esoteric truth.

For a while now I’ve taken a few moments every morning to ground myself, feeling and seeing my “roots” going deep into the earth. Lately I find myself connecting not just vertically but horizontally, under the earth’s surface, with the mycelium.

There’s a whole world alive under our feet that we don’t usually see. So it is with our energetic world.

Eve Ensler on Reconnecting, Re-conjuring and Re-conceiving

A friend recommended Krista Tippett’s recent On Being interview with playwright/performer/social activist Eve Ensler. Last week while preparing food for our Thanksgiving meal, I listened to the unedited podcast. (The interview is full of insights, but I’ve pulled out a few highlights for you here.)

Photo of Eve Ensler by Justin Hoch, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Eve Ensler by Justin Hoch, via Wikimedia Commons

Ensler is the genius behind the iconoclastic play “The Vagina Monologues.” Her focus on female physicality and power has led her to some phenomenal projects. For example, in the Congo she helped create a refuge for women and girls surviving gender violence. It’s called City of Joy.

Congolese_woman

Congolese rape survivor. By L. Werchick, via Wikimedia Commons

She’s a much-needed voice for a heart-centered, embodied ethic. I love what she says about the power of reconnecting with our physical selves and each other:

“The more people get plugged back into their bodies, each other, the more impossible it will for us to be dominated and occupied.”

She speaks of being both playful and careful as we begin to reconnect. Most of us are not used to this level of caring for our fellow humans.

“In the same way that we don’t see trees, we don’t see each other. We don’t see how traumatized people are, tender people are. I think sometimes if one were fully awake, one would do nothing in one’s day except stop on the road, on the people you meet, because you would see their pain…We walk past everyone. Sometimes it just crushes my heart.”

When Tippett responds that we don’t stop because we can’t bear letting in that much pain, Ensler notes that others’ pain is part of us already. We can’t avoid it, because we are all one. “So that when you stop to actually acknowledge it, you’re actually allowing it to move as opposed to be frozen in you.”

This reminded me of my energy healer friend Merry Henn-Lecordier, who showed me how to welcome uncomfortable feelings in order to allow their release.

Merry Henn-Lecordier is a trailblazer in the field of energy medicine.

Merry Henn-Lecordier is a trailblazer in the field of energy medicine.

Merry taught me the importance of regularly clearing stuck emotion by speaking directly to it, in love and compassion. For example, I might say something like: Anger, I see you. I feel you. I love you. I understand. I welcome you, anger. I approve of you, and I approve of the circumstances that caused you to be stuck in my energy field. You are welcome here. And I’m ready to move you now. (I modeled this blessing after phrases Merry herself uses.)

Then, again following Merry’s example, I ask for help moving the anger (or overwhelm or despair or anxiety or what-have-you) from my energy field, releasing it and transmuting it into love.

It’s remarkably transformative to do this simple ritual, intending compassion for all my emotional states. The lightness I feel in its wake gives me hope that Ensler could be right when she calls us “people of the second wind.”

“This could be (humanity’s) second wind, but it requires a radical re-conjuring and re-conceiving of the story…And I absolutely believe it’s possible, but enough people have to believe it’s possible and be willing to kind of move with this wind that is trying to come in, trying to pass through us right now.

Ensler’s latest memoir, In the Body of the World, depicting her journey with cancer, is high on my reading list.