It seems pretty clear that the metaphors that are commonly used to describe the immune system — “fighting off” diseases and “pumping up” your immunity to “fend off” “invading” tumors or parasites —isn’t the whole picture. Really, because your immune system is evolving simultaneously with the cacophonous yet totally synchronized symphony of your body’s billions of chemical processes per second, it’s more like a braided river: A network of small channels separated by small and often temporary islands:


The flow of channels that form this braided river work best when they are moving coherently, and not surprisingly the Braided River is a metaphor for acupuncture: the channels are opened, blockages in the system are re-balanced. In the midst of this energetic movement, a body is evolving into who (heshe) is at this moment of cellular organization.

According to Francisco Varella, your immune system defines your identity. It is “self/non-self discrimination” and defends itself only when it is excessively perturbed — just as the channels of a braided river will do its best to push out, or diffuse, chemicals that are dumped into it.

And our immune systems — like our waters, our ecosystems, our forests and our economies — are excessively perturbed. We are excessively perturbed and right now your immune system is evolving your identity in order to reject or absorb these perturbations into something useful that will allow you to survive. 

This is useful knowledge for everyone battling the medical model.

A poetics of coherence: language changed with music, patterns, and meaning is a frequency, an emission of energy that provokes thought. Thoughts can trigger a chemical wash of cellular permutations and reactions that always cause a physical reaction. Always.

 Think about someone you love and who makes you smile. As you think about them smiling, you can’t help but smile yourself. And when you smile into thought you are regulating your heartbeat. You are calming your fight or flight response so that it can properly defend you when you really need to freak out. You are igniting a slight dose of serotonin that as it moves up and down your spinal fluid is stimulating your immune system. Just a little smile. Imagine what a daily dose of gratitude in the midst of all that sucks does for your immune system. 

Gratitude means remembering the most basic stuff: I’m grateful that my heart is still beating. I’m grateful that I have two hands that can type. I’m grateful that I still have two eyes.

FILL THE WILDERNESS in the eye-bags,
the call to sacrifice, the salt flood.


Come with me to breath
and beyond.

                                 – Paul Celan (from Corona)

This doesn’t replace political and social action and it doesn’t replace being pissed off about the environmental and social injustices that are perturbing our immune systems. It doesn’t replace paying attention to and effecting actionable change in communities who are under attack.

It simply means that the bodies who are not being sustained by the protective shells of corporate, institutional, or family tethers are empowered by their self-identified and evolving understanding of immunity. 

Language, in other words, transmits the knowledge of how to survive, not just through action, but through thought and emerging evolutionary immuno-self-awareness.   


From a sketch of the revised preface of Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind (Wide Reality Books, 2013). Written for a panel at Naropa University’s 2013 summer writing program on “Eco-Poetics & Poethics: The Braided River.”

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