I’m practicing physics without a license this week. Here is what I have learned: there are trillions of atoms in you. Actually, according to an estimate made by engineers at Washington University, there are around 100 trillion atoms in one human cell. Interestingly, there are a similar number of cells in the whole human body. To get the total number of atoms in your body we would need to multiply 100 trillion by 100 trillion– which exceeds my skill level. Please feel free to calculate and tell me in comments below!
So, and this is the part which piqued my interest, every time you breathe in there is a good chance you inhaled atoms that circulated in your mother’s lungs at the time of your birth. Take a breath. Consider that.
It is also possible that you just breathed in atoms that sustained Mother Teresa as she cared for the dignity and lives of the poor in Calcutta. Or the Desert mothers of the 4th century as they examined the human condition and contributed to the birth of the Enneagram. Or the migrant farm laborer who harvested your apple last month. (Based on your breath containing about one liter of air, and calculating the atoms in that liter compared to the atoms in the atmosphere through the ages. Yes there is an actual formula for this.)*
Entertain this possibility of swapping atoms with luminaries for a moment…
Does it impact your sense of the boundaries of your own life?
Does the sense of interconnectedness bring you any comfort?
Reading about this phenomenon gifted me with moments of perspective this week where I could stand outside my defacto frame of reference and notice how small it is. I live everyday with a vague sense that I didn’t get as much done as I should have. And a subtle but ever present anxiety over what people think of me and my work. This has everything to do with personality type and while it is so helpful to know about the pattern so I can get perspective on it (and boot it out of the drivers seat) I still have to live with it.
We all see life through the lens of our personality — what is your filter? Maybe you focus less on success in your work but find yourself always trying to do it right, or be helpful, or map out all the possibilities, or be true to your rich emotional life).
Yet there is always much more than we see or perceive.
In fact we can actually position this ego voice in a specific spot in the body: the left hemisphere of our brain, which is so very concerned with classifying, labeling right or wrong, and preserving our own idea of our identity. (Some people who have had strokes in this part of the brain report a blissful cessation of the mental chatter even as their bodies were struggling to live.) The right hemisphere by contrast regulates creativity, empathy, intuition and synthesis. It is the part of you which would light up on the MRI if we scanned you right now while you pause, breathe, and engage in the meditation below.
This is a simple meditation practice to help cultivate this more spacious approach to living by connecting to life within and beyond the borders of our body. This meditation is something you can do in five minutes anytime, or incorporate into a regular sitting practice.
The “Go in/Go out” Meditation
First—Go in with your awareness. Consider your body. Pause for a few minutes and scan yourself internally. Is there a part of you which is sore, weary, or otherwise desiring attention? Often we have habitual areas where our body talks back to us, which we then label– calling them “my weak knee” or “tight neck.”
Now invite a shift of perspective. What if rather than thinking of this area as a “weak spot” it is actually your “strong spot?” It is the part of you which shows up to carry the extra load of stress… until it can’t (and you feel the pain or recurrent illness.) Perhaps you allow an organic sense of gratitude to rise up for this area and the multitude of cells and atoms within those cells. You might even let it know that you see its extra work in support of your life and all that it does without your conscious awareness. Also take a moment now to recommit to your daily or weekly centering practice(s): meditation, time in nature, journaling etc. which help you digest extra stress and process it out of your body.
Second – Go out with your awareness. You can do this with your eyes closed –simply considering all that is in the broader world which supports you: the clouds which bring rain, the trees which provide shade, the moth you saw this morning on your windowsill which reminds you how delicate life is.
Or even better take your body outside as you do this part of the reflection. I meditate most of the time in my kids’ tree house. And the birds calling to each other or flying to the bird house make me feel less lonely. It is hard to be angsty when you feel connected to such a rich and restorative whole as nature—providing us with nourishing food to eat, oxygen to breathe, and falling leaves of many colors.
All of which are good for the soul to take in. So if you are able to step outside invite yourself to interact with another species and consider your connection with it. Maybe it is the small succulent on a pot on your porch. Or the grasshopper which flies up before you across the lawn. Or the squirrel which scampers away… And if you cant get outside perhaps you can hear the rain on your roof or see through your window sunshine and clouds passing in the sky– reminders that you are connected to broader weather cycles. However you do it draw your awareness up and out to the greater whole, of which you are part.
And breathe it in.
And after a few minutes go about your day and other tasks and work and relationships. But continue to take note of any shifts you find in your awareness.
And as always, I would love to hear about your experiences by clicking reply and leaving a comment below.
*Grateful to Sarah McLean’s book Soul Centered for this atomic observation.