The intelligent immune system

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Living healthy can prevent almost any illness. Healthy environment, diet and stress reduction strategies are key to health.

Fifty years ago, we knew little about the immune system. Back then, only a handful of illnesses were classified as autoimmune conditions where the immune system doesn’t recognize proteins normally present in the body and attacks its own cells. Today, researchers have found that autoimmune responses explain about at least 10 percent of the diseases that affect the planet’s population; among them, diabetes (type I), lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name only the most common ones. But other conditions such as ulcerative colitis and even schizophrenia are possibly linked to autoimmune responses. Furthermore, coronary disease has been related to the efficiency of the immune system in clearing up plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart.

By the end of the 19th century, when vaccines were invented, Louis Pasteur discovered germs as the cause of many illnesses and later bodily reactions to specific microorganisms, like the tuberculosis Koch’s bacillus, were identified, confirming the existence within the body of the immune system. Initially, immunity was conceptualized as a defense army in charge of destroying an enemy, concept that reflects a predominantly martial mentality in society. Mainstream western medicine still holds this concept. However, a holistic approach will more accurately reflect the amazing immune system.

Researchers Koch and Pasteur inaugurated a craze where most illnesses started to be explained as caused by germs. In the early 1940s, viruses were found capable of generating illness, and the sixties and seventies saw a great boom in virology, when researchers tried to establish a causal relationship between viral infections and cancer. This causal relationship has however not been confirmed. In some cases, like the infection by papilloma virus (HPV) there seems to exist a strong correlation to cervical cancer in women. However, scientific evidence points to chronic inflammation (not the viral infection) as the precursor of cancer. Take into account that inflammation is modulated by the immune system and that our inflammatory response depends on our lifestyle.

Science has advanced  a great deal. Studies have established that human bodies continuously produce cancer cells but thanks to an immune system capable of recognizing misbehaving cells, cancer can be prevented. By isolating, reeducating and/or destroying those crazy cells, the immune system can keep us cancer free. A clear relationship between cancer and the immune system has thus been established. When the immune system is not working optimally, cancerous cell growth might go out of control.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, investigators have plunged into studying what exhausts the immune system, contributing very interesting insights into its multiple functions.

Beyond this concept of the immune system as an army that chases, confronts and destroys invaders, the immune system is a self-governing network that participates in the body’s learning process, and is responsible for both its molecular identity and the biochemical communication between organs. That’s why author Fritjov Capra deems it our second brain.

Different from other bodily systems, which are confined to a precise anatomic location, the immune network penetrates each tissue of the body. It is made of a number of tissues and organs (lymphatic organs) and specialized cells (lymphocytes and macrophages or white blood cells) that swim back and forth along the circulatory system during surveillance missions, gathering data to ensure the organism’s accurate functioning.

This extraordinary system learns and evolves with experience! From the moment we are born, the immune system learns how to react to unfamiliar agents. It learns to discriminate which molecular features typify bacteria that are usually not present in mammals. It also recognizes the body’s idiosyncratic proteins. Vaccines are developed based on the immune system’s capacity to memorize how to react to alien proteins.

There is also a kind of natural selection taking place in the thymus, where only T-cells (a specific kind of immune cells) that have learned to unite harmoniously with other cells in the organism can survive.

The thymus is one of the most important organs of the immune system. It is a small gland situated behind the breastbone (sternum) and is fundamental in shaping the way in which the body responds to infections. Half of the white blood cells, which originate in the bone marrow, go directly to the blood stream and interstitial fluids. But the rest of them have to go through the thymus where they become T-cells. These have three main roles: to stimulate the production of antibodies and other lymphocytes, to stimulate the growth and function of phagocytes that ingest and digest viruses and bacteria, and to identify foreign or abnormal proteins.

Many immune system organs function as gatekeepers. This is the case of the lymph nodes (in the neck, armpit and groin), the tonsils and the Peyer’s patches in the intestine. The lymphatic fluid, or lymph, goes through these customs checkpoints where lymphocytes capture particulate matter and microorganisms and decide if they should be granted admission to the system or not. Another lymphatic organ, the spleen, is in charge of recycling old and dysfunctional cells.

This amazing system only uses its defensive resources when facing a massive invasion of foreign agents.

Recent research shows that the brain, the endocrine glands and the immune system cooperate and share functions. Moreover, the borders that science had delineated between these systems start to blur, bringing opportunities for new understandings of the body’s functioning. Candace Pert used the term net to describe these systems, because their function encompasses a constant exchange, processing and storage of information. Most substances in charge of transmitting information in the body are peptides, and recent research has shown they are multifunctional; they accomplish different functions for different systems.

For example, the brain produces neuropeptides that are antibacterial precursors; the immune system has perceptual functions, and the endocrine system produces substances that work as neurotransmitters. Initially deemed exclusive to the nervous system, the neurotransmitters have also been found in the bone marrow, where the immune system cells are produced.

The three systems are thus, multifunctional. They form a network that exchanges, stores and passes on information, using peptide molecules as messengers. But, also, our physiology is modulated by emotions. Popular wisdom, which results from observations transmitted from generation to generation, has always correlated emotional stress with vulnerability to illness, and science has proven that our thoughts, mood and emotions influence the functioning of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In a nutshell, science is telling us that we can regulate the production and efficiency of our inner messengers (peptides) by adopting healthy lifestyles. It’s telling us to eat healthy, have fun (to reduce stress) and exercise.

Moving from the perspective of the ego to that of the soul

We’re multidimensional beings and as such, always spiritual beings… However, our consciousness resides or focego and souluses on this or another dimension. So, we say, a truly spiritual person is that person who privileges the perspective of the soul over the perspective of the ego. (No, the ego cannot be eliminated… it has a purpose, it regulates our physical dimension, but sets us in fear when disconnected from the soul).

So here is what I think the differences are between the perspectives of the soul and the perspectives of the ego. In my view, if  the ego is kept on check, the soul will lead us to a life that is a lot more peaceful and fulfilling, with less drama.

TIME FRAME:

Being eternal, the soul has no sense of time and therefore it is in no rush to experience or accomplish anything in particular. Since, it lives in the present, life is for the soul an extraordinary adventure where every experience is welcome. Joy is the natural state of the soul. Love is the soul’s North.
Being vulnerable and finite, the ego rushes through life and has trouble living in the present moment. Being here, it wants to be there. The ego gives us the experience of  fear because it lacks faith in its own capacity to create and survive hurdles.

SENSE OF SELF:

Being boundless and unattached, the soul has no sense of roots or possesions… therefore, for the soul, sharing is not an issue at all. Being alone is not an issue. Change is not an issue. Asserting needs and standing ground are just natural things to do in order to maintain healthy relationships. When an individual lives and sees life from the perspective of the soul, life is good. For the soul (and I think many people has this one wrong) it’s okay to use the pronoun ‘I”… to share experiences, to teach, to support others. The soul uses this I perspective to say, “this is what has worked for me in the past, you may want to try it too” but it is not condescending, so the soul will not to say or imply, “this is the way you should be doing things because I know better.”

For the ego, having stuff is of the essence, as are boundaries. Owning “stuff” provides the ego with a sense of security. I own (a house, a job, a title, a partner), therefore I’m okay. 

Instead, the essence of the soul is freedom. Possessiveness is not uncommon for the ego, which is concerned about ownership of land, water, animals and people… The soul would never consider owning. The ego swings between extreme defensiveness and need for privacy to extreme need for fusion, dependency and symbiosis. From depression to grandiosity. An ego that is disconnected from the soul, experiences fear of losing what it has the illusion of possessing. For the ego, nothing is safe, we’re not enough, we don’t have enough.

SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG:

The soul can very well discern right from wrong but makes no judgment, condemns not. Understands that inhabiting the body makes individuals susceptible to making mistakes. Errors are mere stumbling stones, learning opportunities, moments that demand changes. Everyone deserves a second, a third and a fourth chance. Taking responsibility is not an issue for the soul. It’s ready to own its actions and consequences.

SENSE OF COMMON UNITY (or community):

Since the soul understands that we’re connected and parts of a bigger reality, part of a whole, different aspects of the same universe, there is no point in competing. Adding and multiplying are better options than subtracting and dividing. The soul’s way of doing things is by supporting each other, not by eliminating competitors. For the soul, there is no vertical ladder, we’re all in a horizontal plane, each one standing or moving on a different stretch of the path.

SENSE OF PRIDE:

Pride is overrated. Humility is overrated. The soul is proud of the opportunities found, of the goals reached, of the service rendered, of the impact its loving actions might have on the lives of other people. Pride is not a sense of superiority because the soul has no sense of hierarchies. It’s a sense of accomplishment, of fulfillment and it’s good.
Instead, for the ego, pride is grandiosity, an inflated sense of self and therefore, it is destructive. It is out of this kind of pride that bigotry, abuse, hate, despise, envy and greed are born.

On anger, indiference and indignation

chemistry-of-love-heartThere is a big difference between experiencing anger and indignation. Making out the difference between the two feelings might prove useful for people who are seriously working on a spiritual path. Many religions exhort people to prevent anger. Buddhism considers anger one of the three poisons (with greed and ignorance) that prevent us from achieving Nirvana. Christians list ire as one of the capital sins and capital sins are considered the source of all sins. Islam considers that anger prevents you from using wisdom. But the great masters didn’t call for a state of indifference towards the state of affairs in the world. Preventing anger should not alienate us from advocating for the unprivileged or taking action against injustice.

We’re probably not born with anger.  However, as human beings, anger might be an intrinsic resource that, by using the memory of having been hurt, allows us to create boundaries meant to protect us from abuse.

Anger is in many cases born from experiencing frustration or feeling that we were not taken seriously; it might be the feeling that, understandably, follows bullying. Anger is a personal thing. And still, we always have the choice of taking things personally or not. We have the choice to stand our ground, turn our back or react aggressively. We must not make others responsible for our actions.

One of my most important realization about anger came about when I finally understood that behind anger is also the realization that no matter how much I’ve worked to be a loving person there are still times when my love is not unconditional and not enough. If it were, I am sure there would be no room for anger. I would just accept the other exactly as she or he is. I think that most of the anger we experience is actually against ourselves but we might project it unto others. This is so especially if we feel we have failed in becoming the loving person we want to become.

We need to know that anger is damaging to us and we need to learn to let it go. I use to say that anger is like experiencing an earthquake, the heart is the epicenter. We damage ourselves more than anyone else when we hold on to anger.

Anger is then, related to power issues. If someone makes me feel less or I realize that I am still less than the ideal me, then I get angry.

But what about indignation? A similar emotion to anger, indignation has moved advocates, spiritual warriors and other courageous people to heroic action. Indignation stems from not accepting injustice (not when you feel your brother received a better Christmas present) but, for instance, when you see children starving to death knowing that food is wasted somewhere else. Any sign of  social injustice and oppression, if we are socially aware, causes indignation in righteous people.

We must not see spirituality as a state of indifference or mistake indifference for a peaceful stance. Emotions stemming from indignation are not “personal.” Indignation is a state of the heart that moves us to play a role as healers on a larger scale. Healing is not limited to the role of soothing the other… it often involves fighting old patterns, empowering ourselves and others, unveiling uncomfortable truths.

Mindfulness is what would tell us the difference.

 

Barriers to love

BDcard“Love is all there is,” some say. But really?

I find that we live in a society where all too often telling the truth, and I am talking about your inner truth, is not valued as an asset. I see people smiling when they feel like crying or shouting out loud in order to hide their grief or their fear. I also see people refraining from expressing their political positions or preferences openly maybe because they are afraid of engendering discord. Especially among the so-called “spiritual communities” debate is seen as undesirable. It’s like we have built a society where only likeness could be trusted.

But in the world of duality in which we dwell we find ourselves constantly swimming between two waters.  Call it whatever you may: the law of polarity; the unity of opposites; Thanatos and Eros; destructive vs. constructive forces; yin and yang.

Our lives are driven by opposing drives or forces. One day, we love; the next, we hate. Today, we have faith; tomorrow, we worry or feel overwhelmed by doubt. We navigate through life driven by either duty or pleasure, pride or guilt and shame.

If we could at least honestly acknowledge the inevitable truth of our dual nature, we would not carry on pretending to be loving people when deep inside we are maybe despising others or pulling them out of our lives on the grounds that, for example, they are not as evolved, knowledgeable or spiritual as we are…

I’m aware that loving those who are different could pose a challenge. And there is no doubt that those people who are difficult to love are usually the ones needing love the most.

Friendship, partnership… any meaningful relationship for that matter… must be built on love, that’s true. But not love of the very mushy nature depicted in novels and movies! True love is strong and veritable, long-lasting and loyal. And I am not referring solely to a personal kind of love, but also of love for humanity, for other sentient beings, for the planet. Even unconditional love might be strong and bumpy.

When we invest our love on others, it’s better not to expect that they would behave or feel or talk in a certain way, that would be loving a potential not what is. Love is based on acceptance. I love you for who you are not for what I want you to become. We could, of course, deliberately choose whom to love based on our preferences and yes! we need to set proper barriers to keep bullies outside of our physical, emotional and mental spaces. But what if it’s love that chooses us. For example, we’re tied to our family and we didn’t choose it. We’re tied to our peers, etc. Then we need to look at duty.

I think that if we’re constantly comparing our object of love against some ideal we set up early in live, we’re likely to become disappointed more often than not. Expectations often come from an unconscious desire for perfection. Perfectionism comes from growing in an environment that required perfection as a requisite to be accepted and loved.

Not being true to ourself, idealizing the person we love, being unable to accept the other, are all barriers to love.

If we don’t pay attention…

natural remediesFor years, I have repeated as a mantra, once and again, that we need to regain body wisdom. I even wrote a book on this topic, the English translation of which is entitled, precisely, REGAINING BODY WISDOM. I truly believe that our health, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, depends on staying connected with our Source and with all that is. I have learned that when we’re not connected we worry, experience fear and uncertainty and the body starts giving symptoms of dis-ease.

It took me 17 plus years of practicing as a medical doctor until I realized that I was not paying attention to my body. I confess it… I was a totally inconsistent healthcare practitioner. I prescribed diets and lifestyles that I considered were only for the sick and not for us, the healthy people… In the process, and while I was a family and a community practitioner, I learned a good deal about nutrition. Even though I was familiar with the diets that needed to be prescribed to the people suffering from cardiovascular, renal or digestive diseases, I knew very little about how to promote the intelligence of the body with sound nutrition, exercise or contemplative practices.

I owe the mothers of the little children that came for consultation who were always asking about the best way to feed their babies and who encouraged me to go beyond what I had learned at the medical school. I enjoyed researching the topic. Nutrition became one of my specialties.

But it wasn’t until a few years after I quit medicine to become a psychotherapist that I had my quantum leap. I had a healer lay hands on me. I knew very little about energy healing, I didn’t believe in hands-on healing, but I was curious. Interestingly, at that time, I was clueless about why I was feeling so exhausted even though I was a heavy smoker, drank many cups of coffee a day, didn’t exercise, ate poorly and worked too much.

Why couldn’t I connect the dots?

When I visited  this medical doctor, who was also practicing some form of energy medicine, my motivation to introduce some changes in my lifestyle was high. Nobody changes without true motivation. And even though it was curiosity, more than anything else, what took me to consult with him, I was at that time concerned about the deleterious effects of smoking and tired of the tiredness.

Well, suddenly, just a few hours after he laid hands on me, my cravings for cigarettes were gone! In just a few days, I had also become a vegetarian and was exercising daily.

I went from being totally oblivious of my body to loving it. In just three months, I felt – and looked – like a different person, happier, healthier, full of energy. And to this day, 21 years later, I continue to follow a healthy lifestyle, but most importantly, I have become aware of the signals released by my body and, usually, I respond to them.

When I say body, I mean the whole multidimensional body-mind-spirit complex that we are. And when I mean aware, I signify not only experiencing, feeling, noticing symptoms or discomfort but also being conscious of how stress, worries and fear go along with being disconnected from our Source.

I can’t say that in the past 20 some years I have been free of accidents or symptoms. But I have certainly not used any medications at all. I have become very wary of putting any chemicals into my body. Colorants and preservatives in the food, prescription medicines and even supplements can affect the functioning of our intelligent physical body. Medications should only be used when strictly necessary.

We age though. Our bodies wear and tear with the pass of time. We are not immortal and would not become immortal no matter how good is the care we provide to the body. However, it’s worth to make our best effort to arrive to old age as whole as possible.

Why I talk in first person

On the right… a list of posts. Click on the one you want to read.

I want to issue a warning.

I talk in first person. I believe that we’re all unique and that my experiences and conclusions might not apply to every other person.

I am not shy in disclosing my shadow. Most people hide it. Unfortunately, this will invite others – sometimes – to judge me and the judgement will be based in the fact that I am a Reiki Master and have been in a spiritual path for a very long time. So, some people wonder, how come I haven’t get rid of the ugly side?

I am very careful to prevent possible judgment from expressing my wholeness. It is important to me to be authentic. I don’t want to go into denial. Only when my shadow is visible to others, they can become my mirrors and it’s through my image reflected on them that I can become aware of my own dark side.

I don’t think that being human we could really abstract ourselves from society or kill the ego. I don’t even think we should kill the ego. The ego is the regulator of our physical aspect. The ego doesn’t give us much trouble unless it’s disconnected from the soul, the soul being the light, the part of us that connect us with everything that exists.

I am not sure that we can say that we are spiritual beings living a human experience either. This for me would be a linear statement. It implies separation between physical and spiritual aspects of our being. I see these aspects as part of a whole.

Separation and fragmentation is the problem that we are facing in the world. We see our differences before we see our commonalities. We see the part before we see the whole. We need to look at things from a dialectic perspective, like Khalil Gibran did in his master piece, The Prophet.

I don’t believe either that we can say we are here to learn and evolve… being part of the whole, the soul has it all, knows it all, is perfect. It’s love and joy. Maybe all there is is love. I believe we are experiencing an adventure here with the normal ups and downs of any adventure. The physical aspect of our body allows us to become aware of certain aspects of this adventure that for the subtle part of our being would be impossible to experience.

The adventure makes us increasingly aware of our divine nature, of our wholeness.