“To be one is always to become with many” (Donna Haraway).
There is no way to be sure. But I read in a book the other day that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of the cells that make up my body. The other 90 percent are filled with genomes from other species. No kidding! For every cell in your body there are approximately 10 more microscopic organisms living in you. That composite “thing” that we all like to call “human” is apparently filled to the brim with “other” species. Some microorganisms make you healthy, some make you sick and some are just in for a free ride.
You are not only you. You are also genes you exchange with your pet or your child’s virus infection. You are the plant you ate, the milk that was in your coffee. The pollen you inhaled, the bacteria you ingested while eating a carrot. Our bodies are mixtures, composite organisms. The author of the book, science studies professor Donna Haraway, boldly states: “We have never been human”. It seems that what I call “My body” is only being held together by a temporary and precarious orchestration of immune responses. This precarious balance allows me to feel, move, breathe, experience, speak, think. For a while. How rare and precious and that orchestration is. When I die, those 90% “other” will take advantage of “my” cells in new ways and the “we” will be mixed anew with more species. My body was “we” from the very beginning. Still, if it died today someone would mourn over the loss of this partiular body. It´s never going to exist again in this particular composition.
Consider the words you’ve just read. I’m not the only one talking here. Not even the language is mine! I was not born a native English speaker. The text above is full to the brim with the words of “others”. It mixed genes with american post-feminists, science studies, french sociology, microbiome theory, a zen master, a couple of yoga teachers, a tibetan lama, classrooms, the QWERTY keyboard, software, engineers, webhosts, electricity, burning coal, windmills.
We could go on. The orchestration of words you read here is probably less mine than my body is human. I can´t even take credit for 10%. And as you read, this text, it is already decomposing. “My” speech is already cross breeding with “yours” the moment you ingested it with your eyes. It came from elsewhere and you already transformed it with your understanding. Speech is a gigantic, transformational “we” breathing us through and through. Still, you can hold me accountable for my writing. And I’ll agree to that. I’ll take responsibility for what is being said by me.
We are taught to think of the mind as a private enclosure. These are “my” thoughts, “my” decisions. Right? But are they only my thoughts? Right now I have a song in my head that was played on the radio this morning. Rhianna. again. I didn´t ask for that! If I try to trace back each of the decisions that run through my head in a day I get lost in the number of shoulders they all stand on. Thought does not seem to arise in isolation, my mind seems to me to be intimately merged with whatever it is in relationship to. Philosopher Michel Serres wrote:
“I think therefore I am anyone. A tree, a river, a number, an ivy, a reason or you, whatever (…) I think therefore I am not. I think, therefore I do not exist. Who am I? A blank domino, a joker that can take any value (…) I am just the plain whore of the thoughts that accost me” (Serres, 1995, p.31).
Serres suggests that thought does not arise from an isolated entity called “I”. They travel through us like a draft wind, they come on to us and mixes us up in new becomings. If your mind decides you want to to have a baby, a hundred million thoughts and decisions that it did not plan or choose will make a pass at you. How to make a baby? Fertility cycles, hormones, suitable partners, what if it fails? If a baby enters your life, you become the thought-whore of diaper commercials and baby food experts. Doctors, statistics, moral values and institutions will chat up your mind and change it. You become the vehicle of a new expression of love that never existed before that particular baby was born. A draft wind blowing through you full force.
In the Victorian age, spiritual thinking was all about “channeling” messages from spirits. Not coincidentally, this kind of thinking arose alongside the discovery of wireless transmission (later known as radio). Today yoga teaches will talk about “downloading” inspiration for their classes from “consciousness”. Channeling spirits, radio waves, downloading teachings, internet. Thoughts are constantly cross breeding and mixing genes. They are not only mine or yours. Mind is mixed from the beginning. With technology, with babies, with theory, music, relationships, books, nature, time, numbers, spaces, with bare feet on sand, with the taste of lemon. Mind is a wide open big breath blowing through nonstop. A universal composite being with a very particular “me-effect”. “My” mind is inarguably not yours. There is a difference. I take responsibility for the concious decisions it pretends to make.
Where are we going with this? Trace back your body/ speech/mind and all you find is a big warm welcome to paradox. The personal and the impersonal, the universal and the particular are deeply entangled. Or should we say non-separate? Or dare we say empty of a separate existence? Look closely and you find mixtures… mixtures… mixtures all the way down. More enquiry.
We could go on. To the classical question: Who am i? Or (given that 90% of me may be non-human): “What am i?” Am I a blank domino? A joker? A hollow bone being played like a flute? The witness? God? A carrot? Bacteria? Consciousness? Love? The deeper we go, the more perplexing it gets. What is this body, really? Who is speaking? What is thinking?
What is this???
There is no way to be sure. But I would like to suggest, (for now), that holding those questions fuel that eternal beginning called yoga. And that finding The Answer may be the (dead) end.