by John Espy
One of the benefits of practicing our faith is to make ourselves more aware of the wonders of creation. I recently started a practice of fasting two days a week. One motivation for doing this is for the health benefits that have been reported recently in the news, but I am also doing it as a spiritual practice to help me connect my mind to my body.
A few months ago I wrote a blog entry, “Caring for the Stranger”, the stranger being my body. In that entry I wrote how I had been estranged from my body for most of my life. Estrangement is a hard habit to break. I haven’t been fasting long enough to say that it has changed my habits but I am hopeful.
I am also excited to gain a deeper “experiential” understanding of my body and my interconnectedness to all of creation. Each cell in my body operates in the same way that cells in single-cell and multi-cell organisms operate in that they take in nutrients and energy, build proteins, reproduce, dissipate heat, expel waste and eventually die. The approximately 37.2 trillion (1 followed by 12 zeros or a million million) cells in my body live in cooperative relationship with each other and cells in our microbiome. There are 10 times as many non-human cells in my microbiome as human cells in my body. I could not live without these non-human partners as they digest my food and manufacture vital chemicals for my brain and immune system. Each second about 300 million of my cells die. Each millisecond (1/1000 second) the cells in my body cumulatively undergo one septillion (1 followed by 24 zeros, about 1,000 times as the estimated number of stars in the universe) processes.
My cells also live in a symbiotic relationship with the plants that convert the carbon dioxide from their waste into oxygen (air!); with the process of recycling of water (water!) from the ocean to rain to the streams that provide fresh water to replenish the water that makes up 60% of my body. They depend on the soil (earth!) that feeds the plants that feed the animals that my cells depend on for building new proteins and generating new cells. They depend on the sun that provides the energy (fire!) that plants use to convert CO2 to O2 and draw nutrients from the earth to build new plants to feed me and the animals that I eat to grow and sustain new cells.
The cells in my body live an a cooperative relationship with the farmer who raises the crops and animals that I cannot raise by myself. They depend on the migrant workers and “undocumented aliens” that harvest the crops. They depend on the people who drive the trucks that move the food from the farm to my grocery store. They depend on the people who stock the shelves and run the cash register. They depend on the people who own the store, the bankers that loaned the money to build and stock the store.
The cells in my body depend on the government regulators who insure that the food I buy is healthy to eat, the vehicles I drive will protect them from harm, the roads are safe for me to travel. They are dependent on the politicians who pass the laws that guide the regulators. They are dependent on the cells of other bodies who pay the taxes that pay for the operation of the government.
My body is not a single self. It is a marvelous and wondrously complex interaction of interdependent many selves within itself and beyond itself. Each cell in my body (human and non-human) is a “self” that cannot live without a mutual relationship with the other “selves” in my body. In the same sense, I am not a single self. “I” (my body, mind and soul) cannot exist without a mutual relationship with other “selves” be they other humans, animals, plants, earth, air, water and fire. We are all connected. What a wonderous, awesome creation!