A few years ago I sat on the beach with a Huichol shaman overlooking the Banderas Bay on the West Coast of Mexico talking about the life and health of the sea. Dressed in white pants and shirt trimmed in brilliant blues, pinks, and reds, he laughed more than he talked. His hat was straw with a red brim and had 17 wild turkey feathers shooting out from the sides and on top. A bright blue bandana circled his neck. At age 92 he still walked 6 miles down from the jungle mountains each day to greet the dawn on the beach and returned 6 miles in the evening after performing healing sessions and selling his art. He radiated health.
We traded shamanic stories and, soon, he invited me to join him in presiding at a ceremony to honor the beautiful Bay, which he said needed healing. His invitation inluded killing a goat as a sacrifice to the spirits of the waters. Such a sacrifice would make things better, he explained. As we explored that possibility, I shifted my hat from shamanic to scientific and asked him if he knew the sickness of the Bay was due to the effluent pouring into the waters from the local village. Goats might not be the answer, I said, with a bit of civilization’s arrogance. That tangent led him to talk about the little people living in our intestines as well as the Pacific. They were, he intoned, a community that could instruct us about the health of Earth Herself. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I would soon learn.
Eventually,the ceremony took place on behalf of the Bay, but that is not the point of this vignet. The point might be that I took one of the little people back home with me. In retrospect the little people—his description of microorganisms– may have returned with me to remind me I am not as smart as I think I am, or, more precisely, the ancient Huichols may know more than I imagined. Maybe my elder friend sent them with me as teachers of community. Let’s see why.
Mine was not a case of simple tourista but rather mysterious microorganisms that did not play well with my resident intestinal community. I will spare you the gruesome details of their playground disputes. It is enough to say an 18 month journey of getting to know the community in my gut was about to take place as my Huichol friend had predicted.
After exploring every alternative and/or shamanic cure I knew about, I consulted a gastroenterologist who told me I would likely never recover fully. That delightful suggestion came after I told him my age. To my questionable credit, I was aware enough not to buy his unintended, hypnotic dictum. I say questionable because I was questioning everything at that point.
Soon, though, the sacred web of fields had mercy on me.
The very next week I was talking to a friend, and she told me about a probiotic that bonded with food easily. She explained that she had a problem like mine and happened on the important information that our guts harbor a vast community of 100 trillion microorganisms, that they are well organized, and that my trouble boiled in the arguments my gut community was having with the newcomers from Mexico. She suggested a new probiotic that bonded with food would be better than the probiotics I was using that had some chemical bonding involved. Accompanied by food, these probiotics would–so the theory went–find an intimate acceptance in my disturbed microorganism community. The new probiotics would restore peace and harmony.
Desperate, I tried this cure. Within a week or so I was back to normal, feeling feisty enough to write the gastroenterologist a note pointing him in the direction of possibility rather than his dreary dictums.
The Microcommunity Conveys Humility
This experience drew my attention to the interlocking set of ecofields that make-up the organism called Will. Most of who I am consists of an interactive system of tiny communities that constantly exchange information about their well being and how they might support me if I could just be a tiny bit more aware and compassionate toward them. Justin Sonneburg, Ph.D., a microbiologist at Stanford, probes the tribal relationship we humans have with our bacterial partners. Joan Borysenko quoted Sonneburg in a recent conversation with me as suggesting that humans are an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.
Who would know?
Is it possible that one of our central human purposes is to be kind and aware hosts to these complex communities?
The Great Return To Community
Scientists from the University of Georgia estimate the number of bacteria on our planet to be 5 million trillion trillion, or 5 followed by 30 zeroes. There are more bacteria on Earth than stars in the universe. Nearly 3/4 of the living mass on Earth is microbial. Not humans. Not mammals. Not plants. Microbes!
And these communities talk to each other about us, with us, and in us.
Each community has its own personality, its own innate intelligence, its own values, and its own wisdom. The microbes are calling us to return to the circle of life by being a circle of life within us. We now know that the health of our guts greatly shapes our immune systems. Such musing is not theoretical to me. I know by experience that the conversation the microbial tribes have within greatly influence my health. Prayer might begin with an humble awakening of awareness of the little people who live within. These little people may not only be massively larger than humans but also may convey an intelligence worth listening to. Their lineage goes back 3.5 billion years while ours is a mere 200k.
Here is what they say to me:”Will, you aren’t who you think you are. Listen to your gut. Wake up to your utter dependence on the ecofields all around and within. We have something to say to each other, and all our well being depends on the quality of our intimacy. Listening to yourself might not be so psychological. It might mean listening to us. We can lead you back into the community of life.”