Updated: Nov 9, 2019
Chapter Six: Symbiosis
Do you remember learning about symbiotic relationships in school? You know, where two animals of different species form an alliance to help each other out? It’s typically a surprising pairing like, an African oxpecker sitting on the back of an enormous giraffe or a cattle egret sleeping on the head of an agitated buffalo. There are many more examples in nature of an innate intelligence at work. A hermit crab taking up residence in a discarded seashell. A spider building a web on a tree. Barnacles that attach to the bodies of whales.
I saw an incredible image of butterfly perched on the eye of a turtle. Looks irritating? Well, it turns out that the butterfly is drinking the turtle’s tears! The Julia butterfly (or dryas iulia) is undertaking the process of lachryphagy, or ‘tear feeding’ as a way of gaining much needed nutrition. The turtle gets the benefit of getting his eyes cleaned. You can’t make this stuff up. Nature is incredible.
Most people are comfortable with the explanation that nature is intelligent. We witness the annual change of seasons, plants growing from seeds, forests rejuvenating after a fire, and awkward puppies learning to socialize.
And, our human bodies are incredible. We can grow babies, watch injuries heal themselves, digest food for energy, and a thousand other biological processes that we can’t even see. But we know it’s working, because we are still here, breathing, fully alive. Something of us, but beyond us is making that happen, the intelligence of the design. Most people have witnessed this in some capacity over the course of their life -- the incredible, miraculous process of life in the pursuit of life.
We see it everywhere, and yet when it comes to our mental health there is a general feeling of brokenness. Many people are searching for happiness and can’t find it. Or, are dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression without relief.
When we feel some of these lower emotions, we often feel like we have to fix it, we have to do something to create the happiness or peace. Yet, we would never feel like we have to make our bodies digest a piece of pizza. The body just knows how to do it. We feed ourselves the pizza, and the body does the rest. The same is true for our mental health. We have innate mental health we just don’t know it.
Low feelings are not a sign that the system is broken. Low moods tell us that our mental health is working just the way it is supposed to. Negative feelings are part of the design.
When we get a cold or flu, that is actually our immune system doing its job to keep us physically healthy. It detects a virus or bacteria, and it produces mucous or phlegm or a fever to help purge the body of that invader. On the surface, while we’re lying in bed binge-watching Working Moms on Netflix, it looks like we are sick and therefore broken. However, our illness is actually a sign that our immune system is healthy, active, and keeping us alive. The same is true for our mental health.
If we are able to maintain some objectivity to our thoughts and not get caught up in our tantalizing storylines, we might be able to see that our negative thoughts are actually trying to keep us healthy. A low mood is like a navigational tool, alerting us that we have drifted away from our innate mental health, from our center. We are sitting in an ocean of mental health. It is our natural state. On top of our innate mental health, we have thoughts giving us information about how close or how far we are from the ocean.
Our inner dialogue begins to shift. Instead of analyzing, diagnosing, running away from or trying to fix our sad thoughts, we begin to see them with distance and clarity. Oh, I’m having really sad thoughts today. The sad thoughts don’t mean anything about me other than reminding me that I’m a human being experiencing sad thoughts. I’m a little less centered today, I’ve drifted away from my mental health. It requires some objectivity, building our awareness muscle to be able to lift that 300 pound bag of sad thoughts without getting weighed down by them.
With Sydney Banks’ discovery, it was revealed that thought is a gift that human beings possess to create subjective, momentary images and words in their minds. Prior to this discovery, thought was seen as only one of many inputs into the formulation of people’s experience rather than the exclusive source. It was believed that the content of people’s thinking should be the proper focus of therapeutic intervention. This discovery suggested that the focus should instead be on “the fact” that we are the thinker rather than what we might be thinking.
When we realize that well-being comes purely through recognizing the simple fact that we think, we are less tempted toward fixing or managing our thoughts in pursuit of well being. We are well. Our thoughts simply obscure that fact. Through this realization, we are no longer tempted towards the effortful and ultimately unrealistic task of “managing” our thinking in the pursuit of well being.
If I were holding a bowling ball in my arms all day, my arms would probably get sore. One option would be to manage my task of holding the bowling ball — I could switch which arm is holding it, I could sit down to relieve some of the weight, or I could change my attitude about holding the bowling ball— all in order to make the task of holding the bowling ball easier. The other option is that I could see that I’m holding a bowling ball. Then, I could set it down.
The same is true for our thinking.
It comes down to trust. Can you trust that setting down your thoughts will allow the innate intelligence of life to move through you? Look to the animals for inspiration, to remember the intelligence of the design. The shrimp digs a burrow into the sand as a home for the goby fish to live, and in return, the goby fish touches the near-blind shrimp when a predator is near. How did this relationship develop?
We are built to thrive. Just as we go to sleep and wake up, as night balances day, and dried leaves fall only to bloom again. Our negative emotions are part of the design. They are there for balance, not for meaning. You are not broken. You are part of the whole, complete, and perfect f*cking universe.