As the physical embodiment of our consciousness, the human body is a metaphorical gold mine, reminding me how best to live my life. How can the behavior of the microscopic world enhance the macroscopic? Here are a few of my favorite insights:
Motion is essential.
When was the last time you went for a walk, stretched your limbs, or exerted force? Has it been more than two days? In every organ system, we have learned that anytime there is stasis in the body, infection is prone to develop. Similarly, the old adage, “use it or lose it,” holds true for the human body. Without movement, muscles stop receiving the stimulation required to stay strong and begin to atrophy. At a smaller scale, the ATP synthase motor, found on the inner membrane of mitochondria, is a biological motor whose parts spin to generate ATP (the energy unit of the body) from the flow of protons. Life needs to move in order to function better, so if it has been a while since your last workout session, it’s probably time to give it another chance to get your flow going.
Take more chances because it’s all about probabilities.
Speaking of chance, one of the more fascinating aspects of the human body is how much of it depends on probability. Whenever I am thinking about hormones in the body, I notice that it is often easier to describe these molecules as having an agency. When the body becomes hypovolemic, aldosterone goes to the distal convoluted tubule in order to activate the receptor to draw in sodium. It’s as if aldosterone was sitting in his office in the adrenal gland, saw the numbers dip, and then stormed down to the kidney to chew someone out.
In reality, whenever the body wants to send a molecular signal, thousands or tens of thousands of molecules (depending on the scenario) are released from their origin sites with the hope that they will reach the right receptor in order to maintain homeostasis. The idea is that the greater the number of molecules released, the better the probability to achieve the desired action.
Back on the macroscopic world, I realize that if that is the way the body needs to live then we should also undertake a similar effort. Whether it comes to getting scholarships, meeting new people, or even achieving a personal goal, it all depends on the number of “molecules” you send out to the world. More attempts at solving a problem or understanding an idea will enhance our ability to achieve the desired result. And although there is a chance that the molecule will miss the target, we should be ready to try again. After all, the body will die trying.
Change is constant.
The 50-75 trillion teeming cells in our body are constantly turning over. Red blood cells live for about four months, skin cells for a few weeks, and colon cells are replaced every three to four days. The body is always recycling parts, equal parts efficiency and practicality. It does not fear change, but works to adapt. It takes what is useful and discards the excess. For as long as time and we allow it, the body will maintain the process of improving and growing and changing.
It is a fact of life that our lives are in flux. As soon as we become in sync with the rhythm of our lives, someone close becomes suddenly ill. Or you get into a car accident. It is essential to learn to embrace the challenge of change and how to be comfortable with a changing self. This reminds me of an old Chinese proverb: “A tree that is unbending is easily broken.”
Neither high or low, moderation is key.
Ever since freshman year biology, I have learned that the body strives to maintain homeostasis, existing as a walking, talking, controlled chemical reaction. If we become acidotic, the body will do what it can to retain bicarbonate and buffer or excrete the excess hydrogen. The amazing part is that homeostasis is occurring while the molecules and cells of the body are constantly flowing and changing like a beautiful symphony being sustained by an orchestra held in harmony by the swooping of the conductor’s hands.
In a similar way, we should be cognizant of the balance in our own lives. The road ahead of us will be arduous and we must remember to take care of ourselves. Sleep and a healthy diet are paramount. Occasionally reading something other than depressing political news might actually be a relief. Strive to find one new place in the city every week. I find that it helps in lightening the grind of life. We can still be focused and adventurous.
By nature, we are meant to go against the grain.
Now I want to try a thought exercise. Giving yourself a minute and trying to visualize every detail in your mind’s eye, start to scale back from the microscopic, from the histone-wrapped DNA to organelles to tiny cells to the level of blood vessels.
Keep scaling back to your body and then start moving further away from the ground. Pretty soon you are in space and as you keep scaling back past Mars back to the level of our solar system and onward, you should notice something.
As we move further away into the level of galaxies, the pale blue dot of Earth is swallowed by the darkness of space. And as far as we know, Earth (and I hope one day, Mars) is the only planet to be inhabited by life. As the universe expands, the life in the human body back on Earth maintains order, constantly using energy to defy entropy. Against impossible odds, it flows, shifts, improves, and stays in balance.
This brings me to you. Don’t hesitate to stand out or think differently. Find a new mountain or revisit an old one and take a look from a different vantage point. The hardest thing you ever overcame was coming into existence. And you have to believe: it’s a beautiful life.