- Mental Health
Learning Something from Our Biological Egoism
Can't Give without Having It First
Egoism is one of those words that could be borrowed for an other than its customary meaning, like I am going to do it in this article. In the context of everything that follows, egoism will not mean "selfishness", or "ego-centeredness", but rather a personal philosophy that prioritizes our basic care for our own wellbeing - so that we can have something to give of ourselves to others.
For, we can only give of what we have, not what we only hope to attain ourselves. We have to have love in us, in order to project it onto others; and be strong enough, to empower others, and calm, to calm them down. As the best example would probably say it - we first have to have money so that we can give some.
So this is the kind of "egoism" I will be talking about. I don't have any other words for it, because, after all, it depicts our most intimate sense of self, and the Latin word for it is "ego".
As you are about to see, ego also means something different to me from its everyday use. (Watch out Webster, here comes competition). Namely, it's popularly believed that ego is strictly a sociogene phenomenon in our personality make up - meaning that we only attain it through our interaction with others, like our social self-image.
We usually see it as a "price tag" of self-importance that we pin on ourselves for everyone else to observe, so that they know who they are dealing with. Well, to me it goes deeper than that, being an analogy, or an outgrowth from what I see as our cellular ego.
Before I start losing you with all this new theorizing, please bear with me for another moment, as I am trying to explain this important point that our body cells are each a complete organism, so something like "ego" is easily attributable to them.
You see, our cells have a full set of functions that our whole body does, like respiration, digestion, elimination, defense, and with perception of environment, including communication with all other 50 billion cells. On top of that, just like we pass our knowledge to our kids, they pass their information of their strategies of survival, their age, their malfunctioning features to their offspring. Now, how is that for having "50 billion tiny mirrors of ourselves" in our personal space.
Hence my tendency to talk about something like cellular ego.
Cellular Hierarchy by Their Rank of Importance
You may find it quite amusing to look at our cells this way - just like I did when it first dawned on me from everything else that I knew of human biology, but never read it with such an interpretation.
For, here comes another amusing part, and it's about a certain hierarchy among our cells, meaning a status they enjoy in consideration of their vital importance to us. Like in a kind of "biological kingdom", brain and heart get oxygen and food first, and the rest of the body gets whatever is left.
In that process, brain, the big boss has its natural "guard", a so called "brain blood barrier" which prevents impurities from blood to enter our precious organ of smartness. Well, in some folks this barrier doesn't seem to work very well, according to their reasoning, so garbage in - garbage out.
Bossiness of brain doesn't stop at that, because, let's say, if there is not enough calcium in our diet, brain will nonchalantly steal some from our bones. The same would go from some nutrients that our hair shares with it, and if those are lacking in our diet, we start losing our hair. As we know it, it happens when brain is under a lot of stress and it uses more than normal amounts of those precious nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fats, amino acids, and its main food - glucose. Now, how is that for a dictatorship.
There is so much more to all that, but this will do for my purposes of showing how that "ego-business" goes deeper than the nature of our social interacting.
One Ego - Two Manifestations
Coming to the main aspect of similarities between our cellular and personality ego, we are now facing that big "drama of living" that starts on our cellular level. Namely, cells can pretend, they can cheat, they can be happy and scared from what they sense in their environment, and they can go crazy, like in a cancer, and then of course, they die with new ones being constantly born to replace them.
Just like our body has its immune system with its strategies for survival - so do we in our personal analogy of that cellular ego, with an added advanced feature of a psychological survival as well. All those cellular functions are translated into our life, and here comes that part that may shock you intellectually - since every function seeks its expression in life, our cellular drama is seeking its equivalent in our social interactions.
Well, that's a novelty that you may not find in any books, but it has just enough logic in it so that you may think twice before calling it a fiction.
Yes, those strictly animalistic and raw urges of survival, like territoriality, fight for means of survival, a need for dominance/competition, and a whole arsenal of strategies to preserve our status, and ultimately our emotional equilibrium and sanity - it all composes our mental equivalent of our cellular ego.
The extent to which we can detach ourselves from those animalistic urges depends on our level of innate and cultivated spirituality. The more spiritual we are, the less materialistic we are, the less we seek a drama in our interactions with others.
This is why all spiritual schools are insisting on minimizing our ego. However, as we are about to see, in my view we should not push our nature to such opposite extreme of an ego-free, "self-less", and totally altruistic, martyr-like mode of mindset - if we want happiness, prosperity, and yes - longevity out of our way of life.
Heroes with a "Thick Skin"
Now that we know that a friendly bacterium in your guts has an outer equivalent in your good friend Joe, and that virus that's upsetting your cell has an outside equivalent in your mother-in-law - just kidding - we can leave our cells altogether and see how our biological ego works for our vitality.
Let us be clear about the importance of our biological ego. In its raw form of animalistic urges, it doesn't do us much good - as it keeps us on the level of a constant drama. It's most useful to us when it gets refined by our spirituality in such a way that it means a strong will to live, a pro-active attitude, and conscious channeling of those strong urges into a more dignified expression.
When I first saw those straight walking, firm, and robustly spirited survivors of concentration camps, then in their late eighties, as well as some WW2 veterans, I was deeply impressed by their preserved vitality, coherent speech, and even a good sense of humor.
They were obviously defying every textbook about "effects of stress on our health". A prolonged stress, in their case was a silly underestimation, because they went through a hell, and came back just to impress the hell out of me as one of those purposes.
Then it took me some time of curious observation to notice how some folks with a "thick skin", opinionated, stubborn, spiteful, assertive, with a pronounced love for themselves and their life - happened to live much longer and in a better health than those "nice" folks, sensitive, over-altruistic, often with a "victim" syndrome, or martyrs who are putting everyone's wellbeing before their own.
Is that why that saying keeps proving to be truth: "The good ones die first"? Suddenly I could recognize a parallel between a mental/emotional ego and that cellular one. It was the spirit coupled with that inner fire of animalism which kept those survivors well and alive for so long. It's what I named "biological egoism".
From that point on, where ever I looked, I could see some living examples for my little theory. My intellectual adventurism took me to a point where it seemed to me that I knew why people get something like cancer. It's from a deep seated emotional conflict that won't go away, that keeps driving crazy our cellular intelligence until those cells go into a frenzy of multiplying themselves.
Even little kids, whose impressions of life are too confusing due to their innate sensitivities may attract all kinds of sicknesses, as their personality ego attached to the outside life sends those confusing signals to their cellular ego.
"Thick skin" started meaning a lot to me, as it also fitted so well into my philosophy of a much needed personal sovereignty, of our detachment from the suggestive influences from society - to the point that I saw "biological egoism" as synonymous to it.
I saw those chronic complainers getting all kinds of reasons to complain, as their physiology with cellular ego was echoing their meek attitude and reactiveness to life. Now, thinking back about those survivors of concentration camps and WW2 veterans, the old saying comes to mind, making even more sense than before: "Whatever doesn't kill you - it makes you stronger". How true!
Can We All Train It?
Yes, we can. We can actually cultivate this strong biological egoism that may almost instantly affect our cellular intelligence and biology. Just for a moment think of all those well documented cases of medical miracles, or as they are often called "spontaneous remissions".
Think of those cancer patients, after they drastically changed their mindset, their attitude about life, with a brand new positive expectation about their recovery, with a new zest for life, a new appetite for fun and humor. They did not agonize and helplessly surrender after hearing about their devastating verdict.
So, why don't you try something of that sort the next time you catch a cold. Just behave as much as you can as if you were perfectly fine. Let all those symptoms be there, but don't succumb to them with your behavior. Walk straight, chin up, joke, laugh. Don't just mope around feeling sorry for yourself and expecting everyone else around to sympathize with you.
It's your cellular ego suffering and reflecting it onto your psyche. But then you can trick it by switching it into its health-producing mode by mobilizing everything your cells have up their sleeve. Remember, your nervous and immune systems are working extremely close, and you can affect it by your behavior. When we mope and complain, we just add fuel to inner misery.
That's why, folks, pump up that biological egoism in yourselves, be sovereign in your personal space, it belongs only to you and to those billions of cells - each one eager to imitate that resilient, stubborn, opinionated, assertive, courageous - custom-made ego, crowned with your never surrendering spirit.