I have LONG been fascinated by the myriad, mysterious connections between various parts of the human system: between body and mind; between thought and emotion; between emotion and biochemistry, biochemistry and belief, belief and behavior — the list goes on.
Just as there are no discrete stopping and starting places in the body (parts of the fingers extend into the hand, parts of the hand into the arm, and so on), there are no distinct stopping and starting places between our bodies and our daily experiences, our environment, and the social structures by which we are formed.
How we process and respond to all we experience is, of course, quite individual. But there are also strong patterns we hold in common.
For example, we know that stressful thoughts and feelings tend to provoke a cascade of inflammatory and immune-suppressing hormones and neurochemicals. We also know that pleasurable feelings and moments of relaxation and emotional connection provoke a cascade of healing, pro-growth and anti-inflammatory compounds.
What qualifies as a stressful or pleasurable experience varies from person to person, though. And it turns out that our attitudes about the stressful stimuli we encounter can be the determining factor in whether they break us down, make us stronger, or both. (For more on that, see “Good Stress/Bad Stress”.)
When I first learned about all these interconnections, I was agog. But even after I understood the science, it took me a long time to accept that every thought, feeling, and encounter I had could catalyze constructive or destructive effects in my body.
I still find it astonishing that the ties between my emotional responses and my cell tissue, are, in fact, quite direct. And of course, it works the other way around, too: Imbalances in my biochemistry can just as quickly trigger imbalances in my mental and emotional state. (For more on that, check out the microbiome insights in “Healthy Gut, Healthy Brain”.)
To date, such connections are not well understood by much of the medical establishment. But that is changing.
Years ago, I interviewed Connie Grauds, RPh, a pharmacist who had practiced conventional medicine for years before she traveled to the Amazonian jungle to learn about medicinal botanicals. She wound up staying for nearly two decades and becoming initiated as a shamana by the traditional healers with whom she trained.
Grauds explained to me that, according the medicine of the Peruvian Amazon, there is only one disease: Susto, a disease of fear and disconnection. It can be a disconnection from physical nourishment, from nature, from our loved ones and community, from our sense of purpose, or from spirit.
Whatever the cause, when we feel disconnected, Grauds says, we feel ill at ease, and this can manifest as a variety of physical maladies within the body.
I reflected on this notion a great deal this summer, after losing my dad and my beloved dog, Frida, in the space of two months. Those abrupt losses threw my whole world and my health into a tizzy: For several weeks, I experienced disruptions in my sleep, appetite, energy, focus, and sense of well-being.
The cure, of course, was reconnecting — with friends and loved ones, with my own daily self-care practices, with the gratitude I felt about having had such good beings in my life — and finally, with my new canine pal, Calvin, a rescue pit bull who is reminding me what it means to romp and play with abandon, even when I am sad.
On several occasions in the year leading up to his death, my father told me that he was experiencing an increasingly poignant sense of connection to everyone and everything he encountered — strangers, animals, plants, you name it. “Honey,” he said, “it’s the most amazing thing — I feel like the membrane between me and the rest of the world is thinning.”
I think what my father sensed was a perennial truth about which most of us are only occasionally aware — that our perception of separateness is probably an illusion. One way or another, we are all connected to everyone and everything around us.
We assembled this issue of Experience Life with the goal of illuminating at least a few of those powerful connections, and with the hope of encouraging you to explore and appreciate more of your own.