The body is an incredibly vast landscape. If the entire circulatory system were laid end to end it would circle the planet about two and half times. It is even estimated that the amount of possible connections in the human brain is comparable to atoms in the entire universe! This vast landscape is densely populated with various micro-organisms. There are around ten times as many organisms in the digestive tract alone as there are cells of the body. That means about 90% of our bodies aren’t even ours! The human body is definitely a whole planet unto itself.
The terminology of resilience is becoming more and more popular. Consider the differences between how a well hydrated or dehydrated person will respond to a strenuous hike in the noon day sun? Consider the difference between how a properly nourished or malnourished person will respond to a flu virus or even a stressful day at work? Resilience infers that not only will a given system respond and recover from challenges; it can learn and grow, it can recognize crisis as opportunity and become even stronger. Some of the best insight for understanding resilience is found in the latest ecological observations and research.
Some key principles of resilient systems include diversity, self regulation, and learning. Diversity is important for a number of reasons but it is particularly important because it generates what is known as “functional redundancy”. This means that more than one organism or sub system carry out a particular function. If we look at the immune system we learn that there are many different bodily processes for fighting illness, not just one. If a foreign pathogen evades one line of defense it will soon encounter another. We can also understand the importance of diversity in our diet and lifestyle, providing a broad range of nutrients and experiences that enable the body to access its full potential.
Self Regulation or adaptability is evidenced in many ways. For instance the body can shift from utilizing carbohydrates for energy to burning fat, and in times of severe food scarcity the body can take apart proteins. The body has to employ thousands of mechanisms for maintaining a balance or homeostasis between vitamins and minerals in the body. For example calcium is very important, but too much calcium will upset the magnesium balance, even aggravating osteoporosis. Zinc is crucial to the body but too much will actually suppress the immune system and upset the functionality of copper. The body can store, excrete, and even convert various surpluses, and to a point it can compensate for deficiencies.
Learning is ongoing at every level of biological organization. From subtle genetic processes to overt nervous system responses, the human body works in direct concert with the brain to accomplish functional harmony in relationship to life experiences. This capacity for learning is highly refined and automatic; however the complexity of human consciousness and its impact on bodily function requires an attentive stewardship on the part of the individual. What we do with our bodies is obviously an important matter, but just as important and often even more so, is the state of mind with which we do anything.
The most important concept to take away from this post is that the human body is definitely an eco-system deserving of conscious stewardship. Exploring the correlations between personal health and environmental ecology is something we will return to from time to time. Essential Ecology is not about strapping ourselves into some abstract scientific philosophy, but is really the art of discovering and nurturing the simple, intuitive law of one’s nature. There may be some universal dynamic principles governing the play of body, mind and spirit, but each person has an utterly unique journey within their personal wilderness. Perhaps we do not ultimately know anything, but our intuition and attention can guide us in masterfully shaping our inner landscape. You have the right and responsibility to grow the garden of your dreams.