Physiology of Hope

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By: Maurice Orange, M.D.
Are we what we eat?  If we would really be or become what we eat, we would be in terrible trouble––and edge nearer to becoming a couch potato with every spud we take in.  Health through nutrition, however, is maintained by opposing becoming what we eat.

Nutrition-associated ill health, and obesity in particular, has become a major concern in the western/ developed world.  A significant increase in ill health is predicted due to bad nutrition, impoverished lifestyle and lack of exercise in particular.  An epidemic of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease seems in progress.

In a recent article in Time, there appeared a short report on emerging trends in management development.  A shift has taken place from an approach that emphasizes organizational introspection and team dynamics to the study and development of skills to respond to the environment.  The upshot is that the health of an organization is defined by its ability to respond effectively to challenges from outside.

This assertion concurs with a dynamic concept of health in biological, psychological and spiritual domains, that defines health as the capacity to deal with both internal and external challenges, and grow from an encounter, even if the encounter destabilizes and even injures the organism or person.  This capacity is referred to as self-regulation, resilience and autonomy––and associated with health.

Nutrition offers a model for understanding this.  Through nutrition and in our digestion, the encounter with the outside world is direct and comprehensive.  In the melting pot of our digestive system, a dynamic process takes place—the integrity of our bodily identity is continuously challenged and our organism responds vigorously to the potential threat of ‘non-self’ foodstuffs, by thoroughly breaking down every part of our food, so that we do not become what we eat. 

Indeed, if food is insufficiently dealt with, a host of symptoms and conditions can develop, including a weakening of the forces we need to assert ourselves, to maintain our integrity.  There seems no better place than this front-line digestive action, to exercise our identity; here the outcome of every encounter is ultimately governed by the central question of identity:  what is this, who am I, who am I not, and what has this foreign object to do with me?

Our day-to-day consciousness operates under a simple concept of identity, with static features and clearly defined boundaries.  However, in reality, identity finding is a hugely creative and dynamic process, that starts with engagement, transits through a mixing process of ‘self’ and ‘not-self’––ending with regaining composure, stability and increased capacity of autonomy.  The recipient of the challenge has grown in understanding of both self and non-self, and has been equipped with new faculties of perception, discernment and action.  Indeed, encounters can be life-changing, as well as quietly supportive and sustaining.

Such a description starts to suggest a spiritual side to our biology.  The language and concepts that apply to biology can be seen to apply to spiritual identity and growth––and also describe the overarching organizing principle within our body: our immune competence, the all-pervading guardian of our integrity.  Interestingly, the immune system originates in the digestive system, and as it matures and develops it ‘fans out’ to settle in specialized organs, like bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes.  Our immune competence is born in the front line of the digestive capacity, and equipped with skills needed to maintain ‘self’ within the dynamic relationships and challenges of ‘non-self’.

A strong immunity will arise from a well-trained interaction with and a ‘standing up to’ our natural environment.  Identity finding and autonomy are subject to education processes, can assist in growth and can be truly therapeutic.  Much depends on this: our spiritual-physical health as well as the continuation of our existence.

In spiritual terms, in an encounter with another being, we are perceived by the other, which initially is a process of loss of identity; we are ‘digested’ and conversely we ‘digest’ others.  If we regard thoughts and feelings as having equal reality to physical objects and actions, we can imagine the power of such ‘simple’ perceptions.  In this sense, every encounter is initially a darkening, and brings us to a place of loss, darkness and coldness.  Out of this darkness emerges strength, which has light quality.  It is the quality of Hope.  It emerges out of the chill of despair and nothingness.  Our immune competence is born out of these forces of Hope.  More about this on another occasion.  

Maurice Orange, M.D. is a physician at Park Attwood Clinic in Worcestershire, England

From FOCUS Park Attwood Clinic Newsletter  Autumn 2007  Issue 42

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