Vimilakirti said, “I am sick because the world is sick.”
Yunmen said, “The whole world is medicine.”
It has been said that Buddhism is good medicine and that Buddha was the ultimate physician. What is good medicine? What is health? It is not just the absence of symptoms, but somehow includes resiliency, fluidity, openness, stability. It includes the ability to take in our world, as oxygen, as nourishment, as relationship, to radiate ourselves out into the world and to have the wisdom to then release what is no longer needed. Is our digestive system effective? Are our vessels flowing freely? Are our hearts whole and open? Our bodies intrinsically know how to do this - unfortunately, our minds sometimes get in the way. How do we live our lives ‘as’ good medicine, for ourselves and for the world?
Much of the attention now in integrative medicine is focused on healing the gut. It is here that I delight in the non duality of our spiritual practices and our physical practices. There is a new understanding of the relationship of the digestive system’s integrity and our emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. We now know that much of our immune and neurotransmitter systems are produced in the GI and that inhabiting the gut are also trillions of non human cells, essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. Residing within our bodies are entire communities, all hopefully working synergistically. Arising out of our gut is our intuition, our ‘gut’ feelings, what we know to be true. We now recognize the importance of digestive wellbeing. Our world is processed via the gut.
Remove, Repair, Replenish
Digestive protocols are often referred to as the 3 R’s: Remove, Repair, Replenish.
First we Remove - we limit our intake of foods that may be injurious, we go on a hypoallergenic diet, we give our bodies a respite, a rest. Before eating, we pause, giving our bodies’ a moment to shift out of our fight or flight nervous system, our sympathetic nervous system into our vegetative, digestive nervous system, the parasympathetic. We meditate. We open to the enlightenment inherent in every cell of our body. We cultivate the wisdom of recognizing what nourishes us and the wisdom of letting go. Suzuki Roshi reminds us that that wisdom is not something we learn, but instead is a readiness born out of mindfulness. We renunciate.
We heal the lining of the intestines, this semipermeable membrane that is designed to allow the release of only the most minute particles of our digested food into our bloodstream. In addition to recycling water and other reusable substances, the digestive system must break down toxins, rendering them benign and excrete that which is dangerous or no longer needed.
In Leaky Gut Syndrome, it is believed that particles of food not adequately broken down, escape into the bloodstream and can be misidentified as ‘other’,and attacked as an invader. This is thought to be a factor responsible for the alarming increase in autoimmune illness-where self attacks self. Auto immune illness seems to be a metaphor for these very troubled times in which we live. Now is the time to understand there is no ‘other’, that we are all inextricably linked. Can we see everyone and everything as Buddha?
Integral to good digestion is the first step - adequate chewing, breaking up our food into manageable pieces. Now is the time to thoroughly digest our lives, penetrating each moment completely. We must recognize our stories and know when we are hooked, when we are confused and deluded. We must penetrate each moment completely. Suzuki Roshi, in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind writes, “ When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself. You should not be a smoky fire. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. This is the goal of our practice.”
We replace the beneficial organisms, we reinnocculate the gut. We trust that our body knows which foods nourish us. We invite an increasing awareness of our habitual stories and ability to know when we are ‘hooked’, when we are confused and deluded, when we become a ‘smoky fire’. We explore tools which help us open to our lives, live wholeheartedly and completely penetrate each moment. We gather in community, we create sangha. We cultivate and water those seeds that deeply nourish us, that awaken our hearts. We allow transformation of our poisons. We bring compassionate curiosity as we find out for ourselves ‘What is good medicine?”