but perhaps you can help?
I have become,
much to my chagrin,
a lover of questions
and now I am indeed confused
for I wonder,
What is the self?
And how many selfs
does it take to make a Self, anyway?
Since over half of the 60 trillion plus cells,
in your body and mine too,
some three pounds of micro-critters
are bacterial and fungi and viral…,
rather than human cells,
tell me, is your true self human
or is your true self perhaps bacterial?
And is not each bacterial cell a self
and each human cell a self too?
And now, stay with me please,
do not all these some trillions of cellular selfs
make a self too, as in your self?
Or take a tree if you wish.
And take the species and even particular tree
of your choosing, please.
Now if this oak or aspen or cottonwood or ash or maple…
if this tree does not, can not, live on its own
but only through the ecological commerce
of symbiotic relationships with other species,
you know, various and specific bacterial and fungal species…
that allow the tree’s intake of mineral nutrition
and that foster its immune system for example,
might you tell me please,
where does this tree’s self begin—or end,
And if this tree, say a pine tree,
also has fungi living inside the body of its needles
much the way you and I have mitochondrial bacteria DNA
living inside each one of our human cells,
tell me, where does the self of this tree end and begin?
And what too of a human self?
If you or I, if our self be woven biologically
of more micro-critters than human cell selfs,
some 10,000 various species of bacteria at that,
and if our self be woven too
of stories—of stories of identity
interweaving ancestral lineages of family
and religion and profession and ethnicity
and economic status and—wait!
Who are you anyway?
What are you?
And what is this thing we call a self
and how many selfs does it take to make a Self, anyway?
Or perhaps, might you know,
How many selfs does it take to carry a soul?
Might you help me please?
For I have come to see
we are more like the forest and the trees
than we are different and now…
Now I see that the forest and I
and the soil and sun and rain
and that cute bushy-tailed tasseled eared Albert’s squirrel
and you too, yes, seems to me, we are a self too.
What now, what am I—are we—to do
with all these selfs anyway?
Do you suppose, perhaps,
there are enough of us for a party?
A Grand Self-Celebration of Our Selves, of Life itself, you know!
who else might we invite?
NOTES & REFLECTIONS:
The awakening of our wild resiliency is also an awakening to the ‘interbeing’ or interdependency of our entangled nature with each other and all of life. I (and others) reference this as ‘the ecological self,’ meaning that we are in fact ecological beings in the very essence of our nature; ‘superorganisms’ as science is coming to understand this nature.
This is not a reduction of human biology, spirit or of soul as some might fear. Rather it is an opening into deeper wonder and awe as we open to the mystery of what it truly means, this being human. It is also the reclamation of our birthright of innate belonging and worthiness for life.
Below are a few of the references at play in my field as I wrote the above piece.
They’re All Part Fungus (Science News)
Finally, A Map Of All The Microbes On Your Body (NPR)
Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones (Scientific American)
Scientists bust myth that our bodies have more bacteria than human cells (Nature Journal)
How Bacteria “Talk” (A TED Talk with Bonnie Blasser)
Who are “Me, Myself and Us?” ( A TED Talk with Jonathan Elsen)
Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People (The Atlantic)
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Larry Glover aspires to discover what being human truly is, particularly in a paradoxical world woven of mystery and consciousness and fire and water and air and earth and spirit and soul too. He struggled from an early age with a madness that would destroy himself, which he came to recognize as a cultural story of separation and unworthiness for life. Larry now leans into our shared love of nature to inspire and deepen what it is to truly love your self, through his writing, speaking, coaching, workshops and wilderness retreats. Learn more of how to engage with Larry at larryglover.com