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The magic of fungi

Despite the absence of a brain or central nervous system, fungi are known to navigate their surroundings and make individual decisions. Arthur C Clarke pointed out that all life – for example, life on other habitable planets – need not necessarily be carbon-based, like human beings are. Similarly, intelligence and individuality, too, need not necessarily be the outcome of their connect with the brain and intellect, as these concepts come from our own personal experience.

Another question that mycologist Merlin Sheldrake, author of Entangled Life, raises is whether, when you slice open a fungus like the mushroom, the mycelium network you see, is an individual or a collective? Since you cannot destroy a mycelium network by removing even most of them – they regenerate themselves – it is both individual and collective. Says Sheldrake, ‘This means mycelium is at once a single entity and a multitude of individuals.’

Maybe we human beings, like fungi, are living communities, at once individual and collective. Perhaps it’s time we re-evaluated our conventional notions of individuality, autonomy and self.

We are a mobile ecosystem made up of a multitude of constituents, a veritable interconnected, interdependent web of life that can thrive when it is able to inter-be in harmony. In order to achieve that harmony, we are advised by sages to learn to cultivate equanimity; to live mindfully in the present and avoid negativities.