Jellyfish don’t do anything. They float in the tide, rhythmically opening and closing their bodies, called “bells” because that’s their shape. Their tentacles move back and forth with the bell’s opening and closing. When the ocean brings them plankton or small fish, the tentacles attach to them and bring them to their mouth. They just wait and the world feeds them.
Watching jellyfish feels like meditation. So beautiful; so peaceful. Their life is a lot like things that go on in our own bodies. Unlike them, we have to make an effort to get food, but once we eat, we become like jellyfish. Projections in the intestinal wall called “villi” are our tentacles. They don’t go anywhere, but when digested food particles come to them, they latch on and absorb them.
From there transport proteins take the particles into our bloodstream. The bloodstream is like another ocean with its own tide, created by the beating of our hearts. Our blood cells and proteins move with this tide, until they get to where they are going, bringing oxygen or food, taking away waste products, relaying messages, healing injury. A sign at the Aquarium quoted the poet Robinson Jeffers: “The tide is in our veins.”
Could all these cells and proteins be aware of what they are supposed to be doing? Allow me to think they might, because otherwise, how could everything work so smoothly and rapidly? How else do proteins such as insulin find glucose they transport to feed the cells, or find the “receptors” on cells that will let them in? Could a protein actually “find” something or “look for” something? And yet within minutes of eating, insulin will have found and transported large amounts of glucose into cells. Maybe it is sentient. Maybe everything is.
Living in our internal ocean and on its shores are billions of cells, and each cell has many lives within it, called mitochondria, Golgi bodies, and several other “organelles” that once lived independently. Now they’re together as parts of cells, which are part of tissues, which are part of organs, which are part of us. So are trillions of bacteria which have major influences on our appetites, digestion, metabolism, immune systems and who knows what else. They are “us,” too.
And why should we stop there? Aren’t “you” and “I” part of larger beings called families, which are part of societies, which are part of Planet Earth, which is part of the universe?
We don’t live in an ocean like cells and jellyfish do, but one can think of the atmosphere as another kind of ocean. All animals and plants take gases from the air and breathe them back out slightly altered. Every living land organism shares this ocean of air and helps create it. Sea plants do, too. We are all in this together.
Last week at a meditation class, I opened my eyes and watched the other 15 people meditate for a while. It was beautiful – everyone sitting peacefully, just breathing. I could see the breath moving their chests up and down as they sat, and it reminded me of watching the kelp beds at the aquarium, swaying in the waves, perfectly in tune.
We are all a family indeed. We really cannot live without other people, animals, plants and bacteria. We are not separate, except in our ego-centered consciousness. We have some independence of action. But can we get out of the connected whole we are born into? I don’t think so.
And why would we want to? We’ve already seen how amazing life is. We can see more evidence of it everywhere we look. True, life can be painful. It can be sad. In fact, there can be pain and sadness most of the time, but there is also wonder. There is pleasure; there is joy. There is beauty, there is creativity, there is rhythm, there is love.
Why shouldn’t we “live in a constant state of amazement” as the Buddha indicated, or a constant state of gratitude or joy? Because life involves hardship and ends in death, no sane person can be happy all the time, but we can certainly take joy in living. Here are some ways people do that.