THE ANATOMY OF VITALITY
Paul Ingraham is a writer and Registered
Massage Therapist in downtown Vancouver. At SaveYourself.ca,
Mr. Ingraham also waxes poetic and scientific about musculoskeletal
health care, publishing dozens of unusual
essays, handy tips, and advanced patient tutorials about common
injuries and pain problems like muscle
back pain and neck
pain, runners injuries like iliotibial
band syndrome, and medically neglected problems like muscle
knots and trigger points.
MAKES LIFE TICK? A POETIC ROMP THROUGH THE SUBSTANCE OF VITALITY
a biological entity. A living thing. An animal. An organism. You
are a great galaxy of cells, the smallest units of life, a community
of ten trillion. They all breathe together. You are ten trillion
life forms, the sum of which is entirely different from the parts.
stars added together have a mind? Is the cosmos awake?
community is alive with communication. Your cells talk to each
other, intricately, intimately. You are filled with the whispering
of microscopic lives.
language do I speak to myself? The language of nerves and glands,
at least, but probably even more subtle dialects exist. We do
not know the secrets of tumors yet, nor the detailed gossip of
undifferentiated cells. No one on planet earth can say with any
certainty how consciousness arises from the ruckus of ionic currents
in our skulls; the brain may be but an instrument, a lens through
which we study ourselves.
likely die without the quiet energies that must lie just beneath
the surface of Twentieth Century biology. You are sustained by
much more than bread and water.
recent research strongly suggests that magnetic fields -- present
wherever there is electrical current, in our hearts and brains
-- constitute a deep and entirely unexplored medium of cellular
communication. We are energetic beings, whether we know it or
not. Whether we understand it or not.
-- the great buzzword of the New Age. The irritating English translation
of the Chinese qi (pronounced ‘chee’). A
thorn in the side of every clear thinker.
poetry, however. It should never be used literally. We are poetic
beings, whether we know it or not. Understand it or not.
and mystics from a hundred traditions have danced around the same
fire in different masks. They can barely acknowledge each other’s
existence, and yet most of them hold a piece of the truth about
life. Many of them speak of ‘energy.’ Some never speak
is a poetical term, a descriptive image for things like the miracle
of touch or the power of love, things felt by many but understood
by none. It is well chosen. It strongly suggests the literal truth
that probably shines just beyond modern scientific inquiry.
speak of energy, and we Westerners constantly misinterpret it.
We try to think of energy as a literal substance or force, a thing,
a noun. But energy is a verb, and an abstract one at that. Qi
is something that happens ‘between’ our molecules
and our cells. It is the relationship between them. You are a
pattern. A walking habit. Highly organized matter, coalesced out
of the universe. ‘Star stuff’ as Carl Sagan called
it. The interactivity of all that stuff is what the Chinese call
energy or qi.
as concept remains poetical. In fact, the whole vocabulary of
mysticism is mythological in character: the imagery of mystery.
Minds groping around the edge of miracles, looking for the uncommon
sense locked tightly inside. Bear in mind that poetry and myth
are useless for some things, but still turn the world as certainly
as gravity, still carry the weight of all literature.
touch, movement, poetry, energy, music, waves, oscillations, meditation,
love, they all move energy.
and intention focus energy. They aim and direct it. Visualization
is not a mental exercise, but an energetic one. Every martial
arts master speaks of this. Qi follows mind, they tell
their students. Such masters demonstrate what they know by knocking
you on your ass. The results, if not the mechanisms, are quite
tangible. Do they understand what they have mastered? No -- they
can only speak of it poetically. Many believe it cannot be spoken
of any other way.
is for healers, and those who have experienced healing. To understand
healing, one must have an appreciation for the energetic nature
not just of humans, but of all things. One must know that the
atoms are empty. Imagine a nucleus the size of a tennis ball in
the middle of the football field, its electrons whizzing around
the stands like individual peanuts. You could run around for hours
inside this atom and not hit anything.
is not solid. Why does it seem to be? If someone drops a penny
from a tall building onto your head, its atoms do not simply fall
through and between the atoms of your hair and your scalp and
your skull and your brain. Why not?
two strong magnets that you cannot push together, the empty space
filling atoms is so alive with forces, familiar only to physicists,
that you cannot push the empty space of one through the empty
space of another. Their spaces repel each other fiercely. How
much weight would it take to squish one atom into the territory
of another atom?
Many tons. Many, many. Atoms are very strong structures. But their
strength is energy. Matter is energy, as we know from the Bomb.
There is in fact nothing else but accumulations of forces and
the useful illusions of physicality and solidity that emerge from
immersed in energy, washed by light.
in a pool of cool gravity.
in constant thunderstorms of cosmic radiation.
fields penetrate our hearts and minds like music.
licks our toes and fingers and crackles through and around every
atmosphere hums with the electromagnetic echoes of all its perpetual
lightning strikes -- the Schumann resonance. There are striking
correlations between the frequencies of the Schumann resonance
and properties of the human nervous system. Our ability to react
quickly to stimuli is affected by their fluctuations. Coincidence?
not. We have an energetic habitat. There is probably no aspect
of it to which we have not evolved some sensitivity. We likely
interact with it more thoroughly than a fish interacts with water.
We are the most complex structures known to exist in this universe,
and we have doubtless adapted biological mechanisms for using
virtually all its natural laws and energies to our advantage,
to achieve such mysterious results as a love of ice cream and
a need to make music.
prove to have roots that reach into every crack of being, I suspect.
as we are, we do not always work well. Organisms may even fail
surprise and inform us that we don’t fail more often, given
our complexity. Human engineering always sacrifices robustness
for complexity. Human engineers themselves are, by contrast, almost
infinitely more complex and more reliable than anything they've
ever built. Just imagine if our brains crashed as often as a computer
are self-healing. They (we) know how to be alive, how to stay
alive. All the information about being alive is within us, or
we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Being alive is a
cooperative effort of all your cells. It is a dazzlingly well-coordinated
system. The communication required for this vast balancing act
us the real story of biology. As long as the cells can keep talking
to each other, health can be maintained, and the great experiment
of each life can be continued.
of this is so overwhelming that we do not actually understand
why we die. Life seems to be so good at being alive that it is
not clear at all why it should ever stop. Why die at all? Why
not just carry on with the experiment? Is their some evolutionary
benefit to aging and death? No one knows this, and not for lack
we are still young, and our cells still talk and listen to each
other, exchanging information in a thousand different ways, we
are practically indestructible. Vast or critical tissue damage
will end us, or the failures in intercellular communication that
are at the heart of most pathologies. No less. We are incredibly
tough, as anyone knows who has shepherded a loved one through
on and on, if we have a reason. For love, usually.
small beings such as we, the vastness is bearable only through
love. Carl Sagan. Contact
are healthy when we are free, when our pattern pulses happily
away, wide awake in the universe, the interaction of all our trillion
parts relatively undisturbed. Sickness or frailty is not so much
a malfunction as a failure of expressiveness, an uncomfortable
and idiosyncratic stagnancy, a kind of emotional constipation.
are no exclusively mental states. When you love, your whole body
loves. When you are sad, your toes are sad with you. When you
are pissed off, all of your liver cells are also pissed off. Hepatocytes,
and every other type of cell, literally respond to every emotion
you feel with characteristic changes in cellular behaviour. They
do mad, sad, and glad cell things.
is ‘all in your head.’ It’s impossible.
with the glamor of the energies that sweep through our tissues
like aurora borealis, humble neuropeptides are an important mechanism
for the union of mind and body. Biologist Candace Pert has given
the world this gift of knowledge:
were previously believed to be members of a small family of
molecules indigenous to the central nervous system. Turns out
they exist in vast and diverse populations throughout the entire
body. Probably hundreds of different types are produced by and
received by virtually all cells, everywhere. These little molecules
are the molecules of emotion. Pump yourself full of the right
neuropeptide -- or more likely the right combination of neuropeptides
-- and you will immediately fly off the handle or develop an
unbearable crush on the lab technician who injected you, a modern
love potion. But the point is, it won’t just be your brain
that is responding to the neuropeptide -- the whole system feels.
researcher Dean Ornish experimented with the clinical significance
of this, guessing that perhaps cells that are in love do not care
to die as much as unhappy cells. Quite so: people who practice
meditation are generally more content people, and they resist
the onslaughts of disease with much greater success.
die, no one knows. But we begin to see why some people resist
death so well, especially when we love them, when love flows around
and through and between us.
away from the extreme example of dying, consider the case of the
average person. The average organism.
you are uncommonly healthy, you -- you the organism -- don’t
work as well as you would like. You suffer chronically from problems
of uncertain nature and origin. Perhaps you are fatigued. Your
digestion does not seem right. Allergies plague you. Even if your
symptoms are severe, you may never have thought of yourself as
sick. Nevertheless, you don’t exactly feel like a walking
miracle, either. Who does? You can’t hear the whisperings
of your ten trillion cells or see your kaleidoscope of energies
when you look in the mirror. In fact, for most people, on most
days, the body feels like a bit of a burden, a reluctant draft
these symptoms have even escalated, over the year, into something
very much like an illness. You have no disease the doctors can
name, and your troubles seem unlikely to kill you -- but you sometimes
wish you were dead.
infinite trivial sufferings of humanity!
of these irritations, people flock to their doctors. In droves.
Study after study has shown that the huge majority of doctor visits
are for complaints of this nature. The irritating, the chronic,
the vague -- the things that do not threaten life itself, just
the quality of it. And the doctors, by and large, simply have
no idea what to do about this sort of thing.
cannot hear your cells whispering any more than you can. If the
body mind were simple enough for us to understand, we would be
too stupid to understand it. But knowledge will come in time.
We will all know more -- maybe all of it -- some day. Not yet.
Meanwhile, life goes on, and scraps of science are not our salvation.
This is one great curse of this century -- a little knowledge
is a dangerous thing, just enough to paralyze us, just enough
to abandon ourselves to experts, to wisdom outside our own bodies.
all be surprised by the vigor of our ancestors, I think. Like
wise animals, stoic and pragmatic, people sick and injured followed
their hearts and did as nature bid them to do, usually healing
well with astounding speed. Their healers, now sneered at by science,
had a thousand tricks for stimulating this process without ever
knowing or needing to know what cells know.
not seek to know yourself, but rather to feel yourself. Experience
yourself. ‘Knowing’ is a dry leaf; ‘being and
doing’ is a green one. Act alive. Act as though you already
know yourself. In fact, you do-- we all know ourselves infinitely
our cells are an exquisitely organized self-regulating community.
The body is wise, wiser than you or your doctor. Any failure is
ultimately a failure of communication, when the left hand -- so
to speak -- does not know what the right hand is doing. There
is scarcely a bodily disaster that cannot be fully healed or at
least greatly helped by clear and continuous cellular interconnection.
Total health corresponds to total interconnection (a proposal
of the biophysicist James Oschman). To stimulate this interconnection,
to fan it like a fire, is the simplest thing: one must simply
move energy. Feel. Emotions -- e-motions -- are energies in motion.
what doctors do is a most complicated thing, and utterly impossible
without the will of the people they serve. All healing is self-healing.
No one is well or gets well without will. Interconnection may
be invigorated. To heal, feel! To feel, move energy: breathe,
laugh, touch and play, make love, music and beauty. Be still now
and then and listen to your heart -- you will be amazed by what
you already know.