How a Biological Metaphor Informs and Empowers Social Activism
Referencing an aspect of the natural world as an operating metaphor allows us to align and orient ourselves to the living wisdom of the earth. Harmony and beauty are implicit in all Nature’s forms and functions; studying any aspect of the natural world, we discover richly diverse models for ecological integrity, vibrant self-organization, and co-creative relationships.
While forming a communal intention, a biological metaphor offers a multi-faceted mirror, helping us define ourselves and discern wise actions. A good metaphor also reminds us of what we are not. This is particularly important when we inadvertently assume roles beyond our original intention, or when we stray from our agreed purpose and usurp roles that are best served by another community.
Images are powerful. An image that resonates with a group’s mandate provides a multi-dimensional reference for all our interactions, within small group sessions and beyond, in the larger community. The metaphors we choose shape our conversations. For example, identifying with bone, we align ourselves with the enduring elements of stability and structure whereas if we choose muscle as a metaphor, we invite an exploration of movement, strength, and flexibility.
Every natural metaphor offers us infinitely diverse ways to be creatively catalytic; Nature is constantly changing while remaining completely balanced. Basing our ideas and actions upon a biological phenomenon, we invite dynamic participation in an open-ended model, one that is intimately woven into the larger evolutionary impulse. Though we may not need this initially, in times of crisis, the right metaphor provides insights about how to respond swiftly and appropriately, without jeopardizing our integrity.
Interstitial Fluid — Unify Toronto’s Chosen Biological Metaphor
Interstitial fluid, also called tissue fluid, bathes and surrounds all the cells in the human body. Occupying the space between blood capillaries and the cells, the fluid is made up of amino acids, sugars, fatty acids, coenzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and salts. Its role is varied and complex: to provide all the cells with nutrients, to communicate between lymph and blood, and to remove wastes. Influencing cell behaviors, tissue fluid modulates cell-to-cell interactions. Rich with white blood cells, it also plays a role with the lymphatic system in strengthening immunity.
The fluid is created through pressure — a delicate, constantly shifting balance of the hydrostatic pressure from the heart and the osmotic pressure from outside the vessels into the capillaries. When bleeding profusely, a person is often very thirsty. This is an instinctual response to the need to replace the interstitial fluid that is being used to replace the loss of blood.
Flowing in and out, tissue fluid constantly transports information-energy back and forth between lymph and blood. When there is a backup or build-up of fluid, swelling occurs, a form of stagnation that could be viewed as inflation or hubris.
The presence of interstitial fluid in the body is a metaphor for liminal, transitional space. Within this fluid medium, sometimes called a ‘third space’, no imposed hierarchy can exist. Instead, the fluid space provides room for new notions of self to be expressed and a new order of ‘politics’ to arise.
Immunity is a matter of negotiation and change, happening in the interstitial fluid in concert with the lymphatic system. As white cells intelligently employ both their acquired knowledge of foreign invaders and an open-minded speculation about how to deal with them, they are able to respond swiftly and behave differently in each situation.
Any time we find ourselves in a pressured situation, caught in the ‘between’ space by circumstance or choice, we know are in liminal or transitional territory — the waters of the interstitial fluids. In such a setting, we are enriched by (or faced with) a variety of possibilities that force our imaginations to open. What each of us draws out of ourselves in such times affects everything in and around us. Like the tissue fluid, we are invited to filter information, respond to what is foreign, recognize what is nutrition and what is waste, and to take action. Completely connected to heart-energy and the wisdom of lymphatic intelligence, this is an oceanic place of possibility, where we are able to touch and wisely influence the entire body.