TEDx Mendocino: Occupy Your Body
Karen C. Uphoff
Transcript of Talk: Feb 4, 2012
I don’t know about you but there is so much going on “out there” so much exciting, new information, like . . . TED talks! and all the amazing online creativity, books, art and music. We are now more than ever “out there” with our thoughts and ideas and brain. But did you know that there is as much gong on “in here” as “out there”? Each of us has a whole universe inside and it’s main occupant is space, really, since atoms are 99.99999999% space, we are more space than matter! After that, we are more water than solid and then after that we are composed more of other organisms then our own cells – there are ten times as many bacteria in our body as our own 100 trillion cells! Well, a lot of folks think that space has intelligence and that’s what I think . . . all our space must be full of natural intelligence the same incredible natural intelligence that permeates other spaces.
The same intelligence that appears as a Fibonacci sequence in the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the pattern in a pineapple or an uncurling fern – a natural intelligence that inexplicably links everything on the earth in the solar system and everything “in here”. I’m not addressing spirit or source, which I leave to your own discretion – I’m talking about the material connection between earth and our physical body. I call it the natural intelligence of the animal body, not animal instinct, which is the instinct to survive and often exhibited as fight, flight or freeze. I’m talking about the natural urge to unfold, to grow, up and out, to expand and express and also at times to contract and curl in, with the rest of the universe.
This is the same force that vibrates in a mushroom pushing up through the gravel road to share its fruiting body or a soft leafy plant breaking through concrete. Think about this – no wait, feel this – what do you feel when you see this picture of a soft herbaceous leaf steadily pushing up through packed down tar and stone? What is the force behind this? Can you feel that same force inside of your own body?
Behind and saturated in that force is an intelligence that is shared by all of nature – including us. Sometimes we forget this. Many of us were taught to feel separate from that plant, but if we were separate from it we wouldn’t have access to that same power. I am here to tell you that your body is that force, and the natural intelligence behind it is connected with every living thing on this planet and that we do fit in. Even when we feel like outsiders needing to protect our delicate organism, or act like misfits when we destroy what we are a part of. Even if one’s brain no longer functions well, we still have this intelligence of the organism, it is part of our make-up and our connection with all of life.
As a kid I would pour over animal books and the marvels of animal adaptations and feel as though Homo sapiens got the short end of the evolutionary stick – no fur, no claws, no wings, no super jumping abilities, just an opposable thumb. Despite with the wonders of our hands, it seemed like a consolation prize. We are otherwise vulnerable to the elements, not too keen in our senses and we have the weighty responsibility of a brain that can solve complex problems, but can also get us into deep trouble. Still, by spending so many hours outdoors studying animals and living in settings that connected me to that world, I realized that I did have a sensitivity to the natural world and I could share with it. That there was a communication that soundlessly crossed the species barrier and the more I occupied my own animal-version of body and the more I felt at home in it – the more I could access this innate natural intelligence and consequently, the more I understood. Not the more I knew, the more I understood.
One thing I came to understand is that as much as I loved and studied animals – all of them ate and depended on plants no matter what link they were in the food chain and that ultimately, plants are the great connectors. Plants are what spread this intelligence and are a mighty force in fueling adaptation.
Modern humans have inhabited this planet for about 100,000 years, most of those years were spent hunting wild game and foraging on wild foods. In the process we developed a body that learned about the world through plant chemistry, and an immune system that also took in information and catalogued it for future generations. Land plants who had already been on the planet for 475 million years served as our nurse-maids.
We are so connected to plants that the chlorophyll molecules in plants are almost the mirror image of the heme molecule in human red blood cells. Both are on a benzene ring with four nitrogen molecules that connect to a central atom. The only difference is that the central atom in heme is iron, while in chlorophyll it is magnesium. Further studies confirm that chlorophyll acts as a physiological stimulant to red blood cells in bone marrow.
Now we are finding that plants are far more chemically complex then ever imagined. As of today, ginger has approximately 500 identified compounds, working in complementary fashion to cause profound biological benefit. Each compound has some effect, whether influencing an enzyme or a protein and together these compounds address imbalances in our body such as inflammation or nausea. This is very different from the isolated molecule of one drug designed to do one thing. The potency of individual compounds in ginger vary from season to season based on environmental conditions and they pass that variation on to us when we consume them. That is why foods eaten close to where you live can be so beneficial. Our cells know plant chemicals in a way we have barely touched upon in science. What do those 500 compounds in ginger do when you drink ginger tea? Something happens that seems integral to all intelligence – there is communication. The chemicals of the plant communicate with our own chemistry and things happen and because we are all different combinations of DNA, amino acids and enzymes, there is the potential for slightly different things to happen. This might be more than our brains will ever figure out intellectually but our bodies knows it ALL. Our bodies, which come from all those years of wisdom-building and cellular communication with plants have that knowing built into the library of our DNA and that is what got us here.
So how do we address that intelligence today? One thing is to keep feeding it – literally.
As hunter-gatherers, hunted animals that foraged on a wide variety of plants and then we used an estimated 100 species of plants daily for food and medicine. Once humans began large-scale agriculture 8000 years ago, our plant use dropped to less than 50 species a day. In the past 120 years (only 6 generations) of industrialization, food processing and genetic manipulation, we eat, on average 10 species of plants per day and our domestic animals are eating less variety than that! By not consuming a wider variety of plant material, we may be that much less connected to the complexity that nature has to offer, in helping our body solve problems.
On the other hand our bodies have had to adapt nearly instantaneously (measured in evolutionary time) to the introduction of over 50 million registered (CAS) chemicals (most produced or isolated since WWII), many of them toxic or their effects untested. Add to that an atmosphere with lower levels of oxygen, increased radiation exposure and a comparatively sedentary lifestyle and we wonder why our bodies aren’t working as well and chronic illness is rising! We need to literally feed our intelligence again by incorporating wild weeds, healing herbs, seaweed and heirloom vegetables back into our daily foraging so that our cells can find the nourishment they need to make healthy choices in all this change.
Just the act of eating whole, fresh, organic vibrant foods will help you occupy your body! This occupation might get us more interested in listening to how our body responds to what we consume, what we hear, what we watch, what we smell and taste. Noticing those subtle natural responses might have us making different choices and not because we “should” or “shouldn’t” but because it genuinely feels better – not just in the moment, but an hour later and the next day. If our immune system chooses the menu, it might want the biggest variety of flavenoid-rich complex fruit and vegetables it could get. It might choose to eat a bowl of natural intelligence that could further inform it. Listening to your body might have you reaching for vibrancy the same way a dandelion grows up through the sidewalk.
Now, occupying your body, means that you are committed to developing a relationship with it and that brings up the same core issues as developing any lasting friendship. One of those is trust and that trust will be tested. It is easy to be in body when everything is going well – health! But when you are sick or something ‘goes wrong’ with your body, you can easily lose trust; “what’s wrong with this body, its not working, why is it doing this to me?” We tend to separate from it, we feel betrayed – it is body versus us but we can’t get away from its call to stark reality and that furthers our frustration and anxiousness. The mystery is like a black hole. To continue this commitment we run into the need to accept ourselves sooner or later. Accept the perfection of our own imperfection. As a massage therapist I can honestly tell you that I have never seen a body that wasn’t beautiful, even if the person who dwelled in it didn’t think so. In order to continue the conversation, we must develop compassion for the form we reside in. If we stop running from the mystery and start stepping into it – what would that look like?
The opposite of fear is awe. See, the body is your piece of the planet to borrow for this lifetime so that you can express your is-ness – your unique dreams and creativity, and there is only ONE of you on the whole planet and no one else has your body, your form! May I suggest that you are in the best form for that expression and when it changes over time, it is still the best form. If you can embrace that, you’ll have a lot more energy for your life. I’ve never met a pine tree who wanted to be a maple! If you haven’t occupied your animal body yet – now is the time. If we take some time to get into the space “in here” and actually befriend our bodies we might see healthcare as self care. We might listen to it instead of guessing at what might fix it, we might trust its intelligence and feel a little more empowered, we might really get to appreciate the form and love it for what it is.
You can turn on the news and be told the leading cause of death this week is heart disease, or next week, it’s kidney failure. But the only failure I see is not sighting the truth – the leading cause of death – is life! Our bodies are subject to the same laws and quantum physics as any other body-type on the planet and if we can accept that inevitability, then we can let go of trying to control it. Let’s not let our greatest fears dictate our decisions but remember that given present conditions, our body it is trying to keep us alive, it is our partner and always mitigating a 1000 tiny cellular disasters a day. Otherwise, it is hard to befriend something that deeply terrorizes you.
Several years ago the friendship with my body was sorely tested. I had a healing crisis. What started out as severe but seemingly straightforward sciatica turned into a year of scary twisting of my spinal cord and unrelenting pain. I didn’t know what was going on – my body was out of my control. It almost broke the deal between me and my body, after all I’m stubborn and apparently my body is too – in my fear and flailing search for someone else who might know, some cure I could be given, I got exhausted, felt depressed. I thought – “geez, if life is going to be this painful and limiting – maybe it’s not worth it.” I was connected to everyone out there experiencing this and worse and I felt the depth of that suffering. I felt betrayed by my body because up until then, if I treated it with care it always recovered quickly.
In that sinking moment I was spending time gazing at a sunset and I suddenly realized that maybe it was I who had betrayed my body, not the other way around. I had an agenda: we can be friends as long as you play my way, and provide the ease I want – what kind of friendship is that? I stopped and I asked my body what it felt about all this and I could sense my cells expanding for a moment – it said; I am this sunset, I am the mountain I am sitting on, I am the universe that we’ve living in. My body didn’t feel separate and abandoned – I did! I realized that it must have a handle on this because it was connected to every resource – my body and I should be able to get out of this together. We became a team. I had to listen carefully, I sung for my bones, I forced myself to walk a mile a day and do remedial yoga even though I couldn’t stand up straight and it hurt so. And since this natural intelligence is linked on a planetary web we can freely connect to via the innernet – I was guided to a practitioner who helped me figure out the “what” to what was going on, the “why” was for me to figure out as the years unfolded.
So, when you wake up each morning – greet your animal body, bless it for the day with the intention to listen, respond, get curious, get down to basics and trust its capacity to heal, renew and revitalize a little bit more. Feel the lava of your blood, the vastness of your inner ocean, how the earth beats in your heart, how your lungs rise and fall like the soaring of birds, how every molecule in your own piece of the planet is provided for and supported by this precious earth and you too are this preciousness.
Copyright © Karin C. Uphoff