Who, or What, is Running the Show?

All manner of amusing topics, including polyvagal theory and epigenetics, uprose during the recently-concluded FOUNDATIONS OF ĀYURVEDA PART II that Dr. Claudia Welch & I co-taught in Vermont. All were germane to our subject because Ayurveda concerns itself with everything involved with embodied life.

Anything that can be said about embodied life will be couched in the language of a descriptive model. Like other medical systems Ayurveda is a model of reality, not the reality itself; and all models of reality are imperfect since they are obliged to describe in human language a reality that is quite beyond language’s descriptive capabilities.

Given however that it is a human trait to try always to make sense of things, and that for humans making sense usually involves selecting & adhering to a point of view, it is not surprising that most of us are convinced that, as in outside society, someone or something must be running the show. For centuries many thought it to be the soul, until later it became the intellect and brain. Many now believe it to be the (selfish) gene; arguments rage.

The unsettling actuality is that no one element of our physical bodies exercises paramount authority. No single control system commands all: the brain directs the body’s activities with the help of hormones, the body uses hormone receptors to manage its genes, and the genome operates the brain by switching on genes that produce hormones. Each of us is all of these processes, and more, all acting at once.

Nor is this all. It is quite likely that our microbiomes (the aggregation of microorganisms that inhabit our bodies) play a substantial role in all the above processes; and the possibility has been raised that our very immune systems, which we think of as existing to control microorganisms, may in fact BE controlled by microorganisms. Other systems may be affected otherwise; people for instance who carry two copies of a particular gene mutation will develop cystic fibrosis, while those who have but one copy not only do not develop cystic fibrosis but are also almost immune to typhoid. People with blood group AB are almost immune to cholera; people with blood group O are more susceptible than any other blood group to cholera but are more resistant to malaria.

Modern science is finally coming to understand that our organisms are aggregates of almost inconceivable complication that somehow function with relative efficiency while being managed by multiple physiological systems acting simultaneously each with its own agenda. This mind-blowing realization however pales in comparison to a revelation that will one day sweep research corridors around the world, the disclosure that there actually IS something that is running the whole show: prana, the life force. Prana is what impels the gonads to create gametes, pushes individuals to attract and couple, and thrusts sperm into egg to yield zygote. Prana drives the expansion of that single cell into a community of trillions of human and non-human cells able to behave as if it were one being with one will interacting with dozens or hundreds of other individualized multi-trillion-cell-assemblages to create ever-more complex alignments.

What ultimately guides prana is something subtler: the Law of Karma. Each action we performed is accomplished through prana acting via its manifold channels, and prana causes us to undergo within ourselves the reactions that arise due to our actions via those same channels, steering us into states of being by activating a gene here, dilating a blood vessel there. What experiences those states of being is of course Pure Awareness, filtered through the self-conception that our personalities generate.

Om namah sivaya!