We think of our body as a solid object, separate from the rest of the world.
But this is a totally arbitrary perspective.
Our body is a collection of 65 trillion cells. And those cells are assembled in all sorts of specialized communities. These groups of cells form tongue muscles, bone marrow, cataracts, ligaments, nerves etc. What we consider a body is actually a collection of cellular communities working together.
The epidermis is one of those cellular communities that sort of holds the rest of the communities together, but it is hardly an airtight barrier.
Liquids, gasses, and solids are constantly passing between “us” and the world outside through border of our skin.
But even if this skin border wasn’t so fluid, could we define ourselves as “what is inside of our skin?”
What about the countless bacteria and microbes that live inside us? Are the living organisms in our saliva or stomachs part of “us?”
If the answer is no, then how do we define “us?” Are we simply the collection of cells that originated from the DNA stew of our conception? If so, then only a fraction of this body we walk around in is actually “us.”
And what of the proteins we eat or oxygen we breathe. At what point does it stop being fuel and start being “us?”
And don’t even get me started on the quarks and space dust flowing through us at every moment.
The reality is that what we consider “us” is really just a specific density of matter, at a certain moment, collected around a nervous system.
Our brain is connected to this nervous system and functions as command center to protect this complex collection of cellular communities.
But the brain is not connected to ALL of the systems. We can’t control our lymph nodes or spleen. We have no conscious sensory connection to our kidneys or bile ducts.
Again it gets puzzling, “If a system functions without our conscious efforts, is it still “us?”
It is almost as if our consciousness is on a “need-to-know” basis with our body and surrounding environments. The vast majority of systems – inside and outside our bodies – work perfectly and harmoniously without any conscious input from us. We identify most strongly with the systems we *are* put in control of (like vision or touch) but clearly we consist of many additional systems outside of our control.
So if conscious control is not what defines us…
And if the boundary of skin is not what defines us…
Then what does?
The microbes in my stomach break down the food that I need to eat. Part of me?
The tree outside photosynthesizes and makes oxygen that I need to breathe. Part of me?
Where do “I” end?
Alan Watts explains that a person is more like a whirlpool in a river than a rock. The whirlpool may be in the same place every day, it may be recognizable. But the water rushing through it is constantly changing. The whirlpool is a idea, not a concrete object.
The same is true for a school – the people move through it while the idea of it remains.
We, too, whirlpool through the world.
And just as one section of the river can never be separate from the while, so, too, are we connected.
The entire universe is interconnected. All boundaries are arbitrary.
There is only One.
One universe made up of galaxies. Made up of solar systems. Made up of planets. Made up of eco-systems. Made up of organisms. Made up of cellular communities. Made up of cells. Made up of particles.
Drawing a circle around any portion of the universe and labeling it a separate “me” is as silly as trying to catch a whirlpool with trashbag.
Nov. 9, 2010
BONUS: Taking on the same topic during Hug Nation: