Saturday, November 5, 2011

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)**

As a kid growing up in California in the fifties and sixties I came to believe that the “me” I called Dan Gurney was separate from everything outside of my skin. I saw my situation as just another “Me versus the World” drama.
Inside I thought I was totally germ-free. To stay healthy I thought I needed to follow the rules of general hygiene and keep my environment as close to germ-free as possible. 
Image credit:
Since then I have gradually become aware that my boyhood ideas were quite incomplete. In the past several months I have come across several articles that make the point that most of the cells inside my skin aren’t even human cells. 
For example, the California Monthly (a journal that comes to me from my alma mater, U.C. Berkeley) recently featured an piece titled “The Teeming Metropolis of You” by Brendan Buhler that begins:

You are mostly not you.That is to say that 90 percent of the cells residing in your body are not human cells, they are microbes. Viewed from the perspective of most of its inhabitants, your body is not so much the temple and vessel of the human soul as it is a complex and ambulatory feeding mechanism for a methane reactor in your small intestine.This is the kind of information microbiologists like to share at dinner parties....
My body, the one that I walk around in every day, could be regarded, quite reasonably, as a complex community of living microbes. 
From this perspective, we look after multitudes of sentient beings when we look after our bodies and minds skillfully, you know, according to the advice grandpa (hopefully) taught you: getting enough rest, taking regular exercise, eating nutritious food and perhaps most important, cultivating a warm heart, a forgiving nature, and a contented outlook. 
For me, knowing all this (I am large, I contain multitudes) is a happy twist on the Mahayana Bodhisattva vow to save all sentient beings. 

**By the way, the title for this post comes from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I do not believe Walt was thinking about the microbes in his small intestine when he wrote that line.
Link to the article in California Monthly, The Teeming Metropolis of You


Anonymous said...

I have often used this and similar thoughts for reflection. But I never thought of the Boddhisattva twist. Thanks! We also live in an world of the Boddhisatta! NamoAmidaButsu!

Dan Gurney said...

You're welcome, Mark. I'm glad you found this twist helpful.

steven said...

there are little microbial creatures living at the base of your eyelashes that as a happy side effect of their work, prvenet you from going blind . . . . it's a lovely complexity. steven

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you for this, steven. I guess since we're only about 10% human and 90% microbes there must be countless stories like that. I never felt so much like a host!!

Word to the wise: Be a good host.

richard nichols said...

There is an idea out there that the microbes and not here for us, but that we are here for the microbes.
In other words, no microbes, no humans