“Mycelium is ecological connective tissue, the living seam by which much of the world is stitched into relation.”
Merlin Sheldrake invites us to see the world from the point of view of mycelium. He coaxes the reader to “[i]magine that [they] could pass through two doors at once. It’s inconceivable, yet fungi do it all the time. When faced with a forked path, fungal hyphae don’t have to choose one or the other. They can branch and take both routes.”
When obstructed, they simply branch, Sheldrake explains, making it sound as easy as falling out of bed in the morning, for fungi, that is. They even appear to have an inner compass; “after diverting themselves around an obstacle, the hyphal tips recover the original direction of their growth.”
Could we be more like the fungi?
What kind of people does the world need right now? Reading Grit by Angela Duckworth, my temples throbbed. Her emphasis on specialization supersized my self-judgment, already monster-sized on a steady diet of messages that specialization is the road to success. I find comfort in Sheldrake’s account of fungal magic tricks. My curiosity carries me like those hyphal tips, through doors, and around obstacles, and it connects me to a rich web of people with myriad ideas and life experiences.
The greatest challenge of this century may be finding life-giving ways to reconnect and weave purpose into our daily home and work lives. Who will be the human fungal connectors? Who will mend the tattered social fabric? Who will decompose our collective grief? Where is the griot, and where is the poet to decompose the oily waste from our social media machines, to release us of our fears, to sublimate extremism and open up our hearts, give us eyes and voices that see and speak like kin?
My whole life, I’ve been told that I have to choose, to focus, to settle on one path. To be one thing, to have one subject. One. Singular. Focus. This has never felt right. Imagine telling fungi to go through only one door? No way.
Choosing fungi as my operating metaphor feels radical. Imagine choosing to be connective tissue, like skin or facia? In anatomy, we learned the names of all the organs and organ parts down to the minuscule components.
A decade into my career as a radiologist, I take delight in learning to identify connective tissues, the various facial planes that group, divide, suspend and support organs — like tissue paper wraps presents, or careful packing prevents breaking in transit. The elaborate origami of embryology folded each human body like a tapestry of Möbius strips, placing each organ in its proper location and leaving a few clues for us to follow the winding folded paths.
We need everything fungi stand for.
To describe the elements of emergent strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown uses six emblems from the natural world created by the Complex Artists Collective of Detroit that works for community transformation. The list she places in no hierarchical order at the top of her list because hierarchy isn’t her thing, but she had to start somewhere, is mycelium. I’m hooked at M. I’m hooked period. In emergent strategy where she beautifully unpacks her theory, mycelium represent interconnectedness, remediation, and detoxification.
As a journeyer, an alchemist, a weaver of science, sociology, and artistic sensibilities, what’s not to love from this list of mycelium traits? Cast a wide network. Grow, connect, feed others, hibernate, smolder and spark. I do not believe we are meant to be one thing. We are meant to decompose, combine, split, and — and, yes — go through two doors.
The fungi tell me so.
Sarah Averill is a radiologist.
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