Fear: All right to visit now and then, but not a good place to live…

Three cheers for gatekeeping

Health is a matter of many things and the absence of sickness is not exactly the same thing as health at all.

We are biological creatures, living in a biologically active and living world.  Each of us is also, in a way, a whole world to hosts of unseen micro-critters – bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and then, an order or two smaller, viruses.  These are all parts of the biological world in which we live, move and have our being, and it is not very realistic to think that we can set up complete barriers between ourselves and the world.    The day we succeed at a complete barricade between ourselves and the living world, that is the day we stop living.

Boundaries, yes.  There is a point and a purpose to building walls, to having a skin around a body. to having a membrane around a cell.  But every boundary is porous.  Walls have gates, through which friends can be welcomed in, and through which rubbish can be put out.   A body and a cell works the same way, having mechanisms for allowing things in from the outside, by invitation, and having mechanisms for allowing things to be put outside, during housekeeping processes which include separation of the useful and the unreclaimable.

Occasionally those who enter our boundaries are not invited.  Occasionally, we are too slow at housekeeping, or distracted by other things, or too tired to get it done, and the rubbish piles up inside the boundaries.  In this cases, sickness occurs, and we become distressed, and all of our systems for ejecting the unwanted guest and for ridding the space of the rubbish build up go into overdrive. We experience these ejection processes in the form of symptoms, cough, fever, sweating, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. The body is very busy with internal housekeeping, so we can experience fatigue, feeling just too tired to get on with ordinary life. And pain signals can come to us from any part of the body where things are not moving or transforming or working as they should be. Everything that draws attention to the body, and attention away from all the other concerns that normally busy us during the course of a day, we call sickness.

However, even in sickness, we can be healthy, in that we may be undergoing an interaction with the biological world of infectious agents with a healthy complement of systems for dealing with the added burden, driving out the unwanted guest, and quickly restoring the body to its optimum condition of health. Sometimes, even in our ordinary, daily, condition of functioning, we are chronically lacking in health.

This is all by way of saying, the terrain “within boundaries” of the body matters as much as the strength of pathogens it encounters as we move through the living world, of which we ourselves are a part. All of the processes for protecting ourselves can be helped through the course of our daily lives.

We know that we should wash our hands thoroughly. Our hands are dear to us, because we are makers. We hold and grasp whatever part of the world is within our reach from the day we are born. We learn to use our hands to hold, and communicate with, and settle those we love, to give shape and form to our homes and environments, to manage our worlds, in work and out. Good handwashing habits throughout a lifetime of busy hand use, are part of good boundary-keeping. We welcome the invited, keep the uninvited at bay.

We know that we should select our foods and drinks with care. Whatever we introduce into the body through the gateway of the mouth, can become part of the material the body uses to build itself, and we want it to build itself well, with good quality materials. We want to keep the filters (liver and kidneys) at work, doing the housekeeping and sorting the useful from the rubbish, we want to keep the exits (sweat glands, bladder, bowels) at work, moving the rubbish back outside the walls, without overwhelming them.

We know that we need good people around us. The support of family, the laughter of friends, the goodwill of neighbours are all enormous helps to our health. And of course, we will see these things operate in our own lives when we freely offer support, freely instil laughter, and freely offer goodwill.

We know that we need good things to think about and fill the mind with. Our minds have been under assault for a long time by advertisers and spin doctors and others who find they profit most when we are filled with fear, and anger, and suspicion. But spending any time in such a state of mind is stressful, of no profit to us, and no help to our health.

In a time of pandemic sickness, a time when, as a species, we have encountered a new virus and are in the process of acclimatising to one another’s presence in the world, the last thing we need is to allow fear of the virus, or anger (either at those who pass rules, or at those who flout rules), or suspicion of others (those who are potentially our families, friends and neighbours) to take over our minds. Our minds belong to us, and we should remember that we may build and keep a protective boundary around the mind. One that lets in what we invite, and outside of which we can place the rubbish. One of the best ways to protect the mind these days, is to consume less of what others serve up, and do more of our own home thinking.


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