The last essay defined terms: Body, Appreciation, Heartfelt, and Living. Putting these together yields MindfulBiology’s tagline, which can be loosely restated as follows:
By directing attention to the felt experience of living within a body, while holding in mind the organism’s immense complexity, we appreciate that we are supported by a sensitive, responsive being. Such knowing nourishes the heart; we feel gratitude and affection for the human body.
This site offers many pointers toward this end, in categories listed by the main menu as follows:
- The Systems section describes major body functions. The presentations aim to highlight bodily support rather than factual minutiae. We don’t need to know many details to understand that the body works constantly on our behalf, upholding our lives.
- Struggles such as illness, chronic pain, and dying are also addressed. Since these vulnerabilities account for most of our fears, they deserve careful consideration. The focus is on highlighting how, with openhearted acceptance, these difficulties can begin to feel enriching despite the discomfort and loss they impose. We can hold the body in love even when it isn’t performing optimally.
- Guided Meditations help make MindfulBiology a practice rather than just a philosophy. They suggest ways of experiencing the body from an inward perspective, so that we can feel more at home within it.
- Reflections are essays that frame things philosophically. They offer ways of looking at human life that are more healing than those that have become the norm within our competitive, individualistic, analytical, and technological culture.
- Reconciliations help us find our way home. They outline steps we can use to heal our feelings of alienation and build better relationships with our bodies.
With that summary of what’s on offer, let’s return to the question of appreciation. Much meditation instruction begins by drawing attention to the breath. I believe MindfulBiology can enrich this experience by adding a flavor of gratitude to the peacefulness that accrues when we mindfully attend to our breathing.
As inhaled air moves through the nasal passages, it is filtered, warmed, and humidified. The passages are lined by respiratory mucosa, which secretes a sticky blanket of mucus that inches along the interior of the nose until it reaches the throat. Along the way it picks up dust, pollen, and other debris; at the throat, all this crud gets swallowed. The respiratory mucosa is warm and moist, so as it cleans the incoming air it also heats it and saturates it with water vapor.
Below the throat, the airways branch many times. What begins as an inch-wide trachea ends in myriad microscopic bronchioles that empty into millions of tiny air sacs deep within the lung tissue. Here a delicate membrane separates air from blood. Because it is so thin, oxygen crosses it readily and meets the streaming red cells. These cells are red because they contain the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. Hemoglobin is a large, flexible molecule that changes shape according to local chemistry. In the lungs the shape favors oxygen’s capture, whereas out in the tissues hemoglobin rearranges and ensure’s oxygen’s release.
The oxygen is used by mitochondria, which are tiny structures evolved from bacteria (essentially, symbiotic organisms). These energy-generators live within every human cell and generate fuel that is used for the activities of living. All the thoughts we think, sights we see, and moves we make depend upon mitochondria, which depend upon oxygen.
Breath that begins at the nostrils propels the life that unfolds in our tissues. There is an unbroken connection between the physical movement of air and the mental experience of the sensations of breathing. When this is appreciated during mindfulness meditation, as attention is directed toward the breath, we begin to feel gratitude for this marvelous human body and all it does for us.