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This reflection is adapted from the teaching of one of my colleagues, Kate Lila Wheeler.
We only get one body in this life, the one we are each endowed with right this moment. Please begin by giving yours the respect it deserves. Did you realize every atom in it is 14.5 billion years old? All bodies are part of matter, created at the big bang, 10 billion years before the earth appeared. Yes, your overall body is composed of about 7 octillion venerable atoms (that’s a 7 with twenty-seven zeros after it), mostly produced by exploding stars. You are literally stardust; so is everything around you.
Your body is alive
The water in this body seems to flow into your mouth from a fountain or a glass, then out again through pores and orifices. But like all the waters of earth, no one knows where it came from. Perhaps a comet’s tail, it’s said. And if you have gold fillings, your teeth carry a share of all the gold that exists in the universe, for the number of gold molecules is finite.
Your body is not just mineral and elemental. No, it’s vividly alive, as anyone knows who’s ever danced, had a sore throat, made love, or stubbed a toe.
Try to sense the skin around your body. Feel how alive it is! For this, you can thank a single-celled creature. All the baroque variety of life on earth is considered to come from a common tiny ancestor who appeared about 4 billion years ago (again, no one knows quite how). And still today, on a cellular level, basic functions like respiration look similar in plants and animals. So does our DNA–we humans share about half our genetic information with plants. We truly aren’t very far away from anything.
We are connected, yet diverse
Our salty blood remembers oceanic origins; the structure of our spines and rips was first developed by fish. Population geneticists agree that all of us are literally one human family. What would our wold be like if everyone acted on this truth?
Yet as connected as we are, there is astonishing diversity even within being human. Each person is utterly distinct. Our fingerprints, toeprints, and tongueprints will never be reproduced.
Amazement and the brain
But surely it is the brain that is our most fabulous body part. Scientists believe the human brain is the most complex object in the universe, capable of making one hundred trillion neural connections. Lay all your neurons end to end, and they’ll reach to the moon and back. Awake, asleep, or dreaming, your brain is active night and day, a magic lantern. Its neurons interact in constantly shifting patterns of electrical energy and are deeply attuned to others and the outside world. Not only that, but your brain is capable of self-awareness.
Brain and body are inseparable collaborators, producing the symphony that fully absorbs us. This is the wonder of a life. how amazing that we can even be amazed.
Sharon Salzberg is known globally as a pioneer in the field of meditation; as a teacher, and a New York Times bestselling author of books on various meditation subjects, including Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, published in 1995. She has played a crucial role in bringing meditation and mindfulness to the West since she first began teaching in 1974. Sharon is the co-founder of the first western meditation center in the US: The Insight Meditation Society. Her modern approach to Buddhist teachings makes them instantly accessible.