"A Vast Expanse"
-In the High Desert -
I’ve been reading a newly published book by microbiologist, Ed Yong, titled, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. This exciting new book has indeed helped me to expand my vision - it has given me a grander view of life.
My guess is that most people think about “germs” and bacteria as harmful and foreign to human life but the scientific fact is that we are only able to survive on this planet because of our constant and dynamic interaction with the trillions of microscopic cells that live in our bodies and in every other life form in the universe.
In his book, Professor Yong points out that the human body contains more microbes than human cells (there are more bacteria in our stomach than there are stars in the galaxy). Furthermore, through our skin and various external organs like the eyes, nose and mouth, each of us interacts with the trillions of other microbial systems that exist in other people, in the systems of other animals, insects, the air, the ocean.
Without this dynamic web of universal symbiotic interaction, life could not be sustained.
When we look at beetles and elephants,
sea urchins and earthworms, parents and friends,
we see individuals working their way through life
as a bunch of cells in a single body,
driven by a single brain and operating with a single genome.
This is a pleasant fiction.
In fact we are legion, each and every one of us.
Always a ‘we” and never a ‘me.’
As the poet, Walt Whitman, once wrote:
‘I am large, I contain multitudes.’
As I read this mind-expanding book I was struck by the fact that, far before the age of quantum physics and microbiology, this was preciously the wisdom offered by the great mystics and teachers throughout history.
Jesus taught that we find our “true self” when we become aware of the truth that we “are” our relationships. Likewise, the Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree and found “enlightenment” when the veil of his ego was torn away and he realized that there is no separated “I,” there is only a “we”- a dynamically interconnected web of interaction.
Professor Yong suggests that, unaware of our dynamic relationship with a vast unseen world of microbial life we tend to see the world through a keyhole. I think he’s right and it makes me think that maybe this is exactly what the great mystics and wisdom teachers have been saying all along? I wonder if indeed, the goal of any spiritual journey is to move away from looking at the world through a keyhole and finding a grander view of life?
If we fool ourselves into thinking that our own individual, separated self “is” who we are, we see the world through a keyhole and we miss the glory of it all - always a “we” and never a “me.”
I am large, I contain multitudes.
I am reminded of a line from Rumi, the 13th century Sufi Poet
The whole universe exists inside you.
God writes spiritual mysteries on our hearts
where they wait silently for discovery