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Posts tagged ‘Endocrine system’

Sacred Anatomy: The Hypothalamus, Our Stress Response Center

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HOMEOSTASIS AT ALL COSTS

As spiritual beings, our incarnation is not accomplished without a great deal of stress being placed upon these flesh bodies. They embody, after all, the Spirit of the Living God.  Angels, such as we are, incarnate to live and create at the lowest level of being, the physical plane, where we are met by challenging and often stressful conditions and events that require a clear and accurate line of communication with and feedback from our environment. 

The first means of communicating with the physical plane is the brain and central nervous system, the first organized system to develop in the embryo. Among its many roles, this system provides feedback information about the external terrain in the world around us—the earth.  The endocrine system provides a means for conveying creative commands and directives from the inner realm of spirit in the internal terrain—the heaven. The hypothalamus, together with the thalamus and the amygdala, play roles of mediation between these two communication systems and thereby between these two conjoined worlds, the inner world of spirit and the outer world of form.  It connects the endocrine system with the nervous system, mediating the ongoing management of stress, the process of maintaining homeostasis in the material world, a state of equilibrium between boundless creative power and extremely limiting physical boundaries.  The body is built, nonetheless, in a state of homeostasis.

(Note how the brain stem in this diagram is funnel-shaped as it inserts itself into the hypothalamus, where it downloads information gathered by way of the outer senses and sent up the spinal chord via nerve fibers and spinal fluid.)

Few medical writers have captured both the spirit and function of the endocrine system as a sacred vessel for the administration of life’s fierce and volatile creativity as has Dr. Robert Becker. In fascinating research published in his book, The Body Electric, Dr. Becker speaks of this area of the floor of the brain with high regard, reflecting Dr. Hans Selye’s research into the stress response mechanism in the physical body:

The hypothalamus, a nexus of fibers linking the emotional centers, the pituitary gland, the pleasure center, and the autonomic nervous system, is the single most important part of the brain for homeostasis and is a crucial link in the stress response.

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, Clinical Professor of Surgery at Yale University, where he also teaches medical history and “bioethics,” writes about the relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. His books—the acclaimed best-selling How We Die and, more recently, The Wisdom of the Body—are an inspiring search within the interior life of our bodies for the biologically elusive quality of life that defines us and a journey through the body’s magical “tumultuous” terrain of chemistry-driven physiology that constantly seeks homeostasis at all costs.  Ironically, such dynamic balance is achieved by means of the “turbulence of chemistry, the seeming chaos of tissue, the volatile responsiveness of cells” upon which tempests the stability of health rides. 

Almost poetically and certainly with profound depth of understanding, Dr. Nuland elaborates on how our bodies care for themselves and “how we have transcended mere survival . . . and . . . made use of our unique biology to travel the long road from the creature Homo to the human being.” He speaks here about the action of “signaling molecules” in the brain, ordinary neurons (neurosecretory cells) that function like endocrine cells and produce “neurohormones” called “neuropeptides.” Some sixty of them are to be found in the human brain, including endorphins that work like morphine for pain and calm us even to a state of euphoria.  He writes:

Not uncommonly, a neurohormone’s action is to make an endocrine gland secrete. Accordingly, the neurosecretory cell allows direct communication between the endocrine and nervous systems.  A stimulus reaching a neuron can thus be converted into an action caused by a hormone.

The relationship between the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland is particularly important in this regard, especially because the hypothalamus is involved with autonomic regulation and the states of the emotions, and it does contain certain neurons that secrete neurohormones.   The interaction of the two structures is facilitated by their anatomic one-on-top-of-the-other juxtaposition at the base of the brain.  So closely integrated is their functioning that they have together been called the neuroendocrine control center….

The relationship among the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal has been formalized in the writings of medical researchers by calling it the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA. Reciprocal relationships among these three structures have been shown to influence the body’s response to stress and the secretion of certain neurohormones that affect the immune system. This is one of the fields of research under the general heading of psychoneuro-immunology, and it has shed considerable light on possible ways in which the brain and even conscious thought may play a role in immune response . . . .

The back, or posterior, part of the pituitary is actually composed not of endocrine cells, but largely of glial tissue and nerve fibers coming down from neurosecretory cells in the hypothalamus.  The axons of these cells extend down into the posterior pituitary, carrying the neurohormones oxytocin [a lactation and uterus-contraction hormone produced in the hypothalamus and stored in the posterior pituitary gland, as well as a disengaging hormone for the fight or flight reflex returning the body to a state of calm and coordination] and vasopresin [the hormone that sets off the fight or flight reflex and acts as an antidiuretic]…. A great deal of the behavior and response of the body’s 75 trillion cells is determined by signaling molecules, whether carried afar by the bloodstream or active locally.  In complex and complementary ways, such chemical substances work in coordination with the wondrous array of responses within the nervous system, all with the aim of maintaining that dynamism of constancy, that exuberance of seeking, which is the substance of human life…. The result of the interactions of electrical and chemical messages is that every part of the body is able to know what every other part needs and is doing.” (p. 347)  

A vibrant community is to be found within these temples on the microcosmic level of cellular activity, a community that is reflected in the macrocosm of the natural world we inhabit where all things are connected by vibrational cords.  Dr. Jacob Liberman, in his book  Light Medicine of the Future, summarizes the essential nature and function of the Pineal Body as a powerful and focal hormonal gland along with the coordinating function of the hypothalamus:

In Oriental medicine, the daily patterns of individuals are associated with the level of health they maintain.  Imbalanced responses to specific rhythms, seasons, and their associated cycles are related to specific kinds of physical and emotional problems.  Harmony within our life processes is related to the level of communion between our bodies and the environment. Can we experience fluid integration of our own minds/bodies/emotions without creating that same level of harmony in our relationships with nature, or vice versa?  Isn’t our internal integration a mirror of our integration with all life (people, animals, nature, work, etc.)?  Perhaps, literally and symbolically, our longevity may be related to our ability to integrate and synchronize ourselves with the planetary and solar-stellar energies that surround us.  The pineal gland and its interdependence with the rest of the body hold the key to the mysteries of our aging as well as our agelessness.

In summary, light enters the eyes not only to serve vision, but to go directly to the body’s biological clock within the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls the nervous and endocrine systems whose combined effects regulate all biological functions in humans.  In addition, the hypothalamus controls most of the body’s regulatory functions by monitoring light-related information and sending it to the pineal, which then uses this information to cue other organs about light conditions in the environment.  In other words, the hypothalamus acts as a puppet master who, quietly and out of sight, controls most of the functions that keep the body in balance.

All the body’s systems relate to each other in a constant state of flux, with the hypothalamus at the center.  The hypothalamus interfaces between mind and body, coordinating our constant state affecting our consciousness, and thereby controlling our constant state of preparedness. This critical maintenance of body harmony is effected by synchronizing the body’s vital functions with the environmental conditions, or, as some people say, “becoming one with the universe.” (p. 34)

Thus is life in the body maintained by internal combustion of powerful hormonal and chemical interactions, fiercely but accurately conveying spirit through flesh. Our house of being is a burning bush, much like the one Moses experienced when he rose in his spirit to meet his destiny, stressful as it no doubt was. This is the only way to meet the stress of life, even in the face of certain death.  He did not just see a burning bush. He was himself the burning bush that was not consumed.  

 I am reminded of that powerful scene from Philadelphia where Andrew Becket (Tom Hanks) and Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) are listening to an exhilarating aria sung by Maria Callas as Madelena in Umberto Giardano’s opera, Andrea Chanier, as she watches the family home burning after her mother had died saving her.  It’s a climatic piece in the film where the two are preparing for their final day in court when Andy will testify on his own behalf against his former employer who he contends terminated his association with the firm when it was learned he was an active homosexual with AIDS. Andy pours his heart out, filled as it is with deep love for life amid bitter sorrow for what is transpiring in his defenseless body,  translating with tearful anguish as Maria Callas sings with the fullness of her enormous voice from the depth of her passionate soul: “Look!” he utters through his tears, “The place that cradled me is burning!  . . . I bring sorrow to those who love me . . . It is during this sorrow that love came to me as a voice filled with ardor . . . It said: ‘Live still!  I am life! ….I am divine!  I am oblivion!  I am the God that comes down from the heavens to the earth and makes of the earth a heaven.  I am love!  I am love!’”  

This scene always splits my heart open to its core longing to fully and freely reveal my Self to my world, to let love manifest in all of its beauty and unconditional generosity, all of its non-judgmental acceptance, without consuming this flesh.  As things are now, it will be consumed in the end, even though all that is in me says it could be otherwise — and one day shall be.       

Hormonal chemistry brings the fire of love into the body-temple. Thus is it cleansed, made new and lifted to its true vibratory level as the Cathedral of our Milky Way Galaxy is reordered by cosmic forces.  These forces are at work within Gaia, with whom we share an inseparable bond.  What happens within Gaia happens within us, and what happens within us happens within Gaia.  We are one with our Earth Mother, and through her with the Cosmos.  We breathe the same breath of life. We are one with our Father, the Great Spirit Creator Gaia embodies, along with the entire solar entity. We may well honor this Father and this Mother that our days may be long upon the land which the LORD our God has given us, recalling the promise of Moses’s seventh commandment. 🔯

(Excerpted from SACRED ANATOMY— where Spirit and flesh dance in the fires of creation, and adapted for this blog post.)

I will continue sharing excerpts from SACRED ANATOMY in this blog series.  Until then,

Be Love. Be Loved

Anthony

For information about my books, see my website

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