The Holy Grail of Life

 

Holy_Grail

The Holy Grail evokes strong feelings and emotions in most people. The quest for the Holy Grail is wreathed and shrouded in the mists of time and history. Many legends and myths have been intertwined with it, so much so that it is very difficult to tease out its origin. At some point, around the 12th century, the Holy Grail started being interchangeably identified along with the Chalice from the last Supper from which Jesus Christ and his disciples had partaken and as legend goes, Joseph of Arimathea had collected Jesus’s blood at the crucifixion. holy-grail-in-last-supper.jpgLegend, fact or fiction, this fascination with the Holy Grail or the Cup of eternal life is mans own fascination with life, its meaning, death and immortality. Many of these musings and yearnings have found expression in literature, legends, poetry and more recently in Hollywood movies. During medieval times, there was widespread belief across Europe about the magical powers conferred by the Holy Grail such as eternal youth, everlasting happiness and immortality. Many historians, archeologists, scientists and travelers throughout history answered this eternal quest for the Grail and often spent their entire lifetime in search of it to no avail.  

My introduction to the Holy Grail was through the legendary Hollywood movie by Steven Spielberg, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. This movie left an everlasting impression TRILOGIE INDIANA JONESon me for a different reason. The senior Henry Jones addresses Junior, his son, just as the Grail is within reach, but Indiana would have to forfeit his life to reach it with the words …“Indiana, Let it go…” Reminding him that it is necessary to let go at the right time, despite something being one lifetime’s work.  An act that is very difficult for most of us in real life but very essential and often life saving. The Art of Letting go doesn’t come easily, but can bring about happiness that is just as real as the one hoped for from the Grail!

Many years later, when I read Dan Brown’s fictional novel “The Da Vinci Code” again the Holy Grail was mentioned with a slightly different connotation as an individual carrying the bloodline of Jesus Christ. The uterus or the womb is cup shaped and the author compared it to the Grail, a fictional concoction that did not sit well with many. Yet, a comparison was made.

‘Life’ is difficult to define and quantify. We know it as a mysterious natural phenomenon that is poorly understood and not yet decoded. We know about single celled organisms, where the cell’s birth or death represents life for it. In complex living beings such as animals and mammals, a single cell or a group of cells existence does not relate to the life of the organism, even though each cell does have its own life span. So then what decides the life of a complex being such as humans? This is still a very difficult question to answer. Today we live in an era of organ donation and transplantation. We know that life can be sustained with a transplant, which means that the life of a person is not determined by the heart, kidney or the lungs. If transplanted ‘with in proper time’, the person would continue to live. Then where is the ‘switch’ or the spot that determines life in our body?

As a Neurosurgeon, when you deal with life and death situations, one definitely becomes philosophical. The brain, that makes us all different in our thoughts and attitude, looks so similar in structure and yet elusive & mysterious in its function. With the transplant of organs becoming a reality, the concept of Brain death has gained popularity. This has led to newer definitions of death. What is death and how do we define it? Though it sounds like an absurd question, recently we have seen Hospitals being shut down by Lawmakers for the very same reason!

What we have not achieved so far is a technique to transplant the Brain, as that is not compatible with life. This probably holds the key to the question of the source or ‘anatomical location’ of life. As a surgeon, we routinely operate on the brain. In many instances, we land up removing significant chunks of the brain as treatment for various conditions (lobectomy for tumors and epilepsy). These patients do tolerate the procedure well and go ahead to lead a normal life. Then where is the ‘life’ hidden within the brain?

 

Why is the Holy Grail, Neurosurgery and philosophy of life, being discussed in a single blog?

It’s a coincidence that during one of my surgeries, I happened to visualize a structure within the brain that resembled the Holy Grail. A little scientific reflection on this region ‘resembling’ the Grail astonished me. I was actually looking at the region, which determined life in our Body, the Grail of life!  

holy-grail-of-life-1.jpg

This is a cup shaped region, thus resembling the Grail, at the lower end of the floor of fourth ventricle of the brain at the junction of the open and closed parts of medulla oblongata in the region of the Calamus Scriptorius.

 

Why is the Calamus Scriptorius, the Holy grail of Life?

This Grail of Life hosts Neurons (cells of the brain) responsible for breathing (the Respiratory Centers) and the Center for the Vagus nerve (the 10th cranial nerve).

calamus scriptorius image

The respiratory centers serve as the trigger for spontaneous respiration thus keeping us breathing without us being aware. When these cells fail, the person becomes brain dead, which is irreversible and eventually, every other organ would fail leading to clinical death. On a positive note, this region is divine as it has the gift of life and the respiratory center lies within it.

An analogy of the life span and respiratory rate of various beings is presented here. It is interesting to note that animals that breathe quickly have a shorter life span. Conversely, animals with a slower breath rate, the lazy fellows live longer! Like the Tortoise. It is very important for us to interpret this observation with the right attitude. It is not asking us to be lazy, but it tells us to remain calm and cool. When a person looses his temper, he breathes quicker, this in turn decreases the blood supply to the brain and thereby reduces the ability to think, thus impairing judgmental capacity!

The center for respiration within the brain stem also serves as the nucleus from which the Vagus nerve arises (the 10th cranial nerve, also referred to as the “wandering nerve”). This nerve has multiple branches that arise from the lower part of the brainstem (referred to as the region of holy grail here) and it wanders to the lowest viscera of our abdomen. It supplies nerves to the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines and glands that produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones (like Acetylcholine, Prolactin, Vasopressin, Oxytocin), influencing digestion, metabolism and the relaxation response.

When the brain triggers parasympathetic activation, the vagus nerve carries the messages to the heart (decreasing the heart rate and blood pressure), to the lungs (to constrict the respiratory passageways), to every organ in the digestive system (to increase motility and blood flow to the digestive tract, to promote defecation), to the kidneys and bladder (to promote urination) and to the reproductive organs (to aid in sexual arousal). It has profound control over heart rate & blood pressure and is essential in fear management. It communicates messages between the gut and the brain. 80% of the vagus nerve’s fibres deliver information from the enteric nervous system (the second brain in the gut) to the brain. gut feeling

The Gut feeling is a reality! Not just a literary term. The Vagus plays a major role in the “gut instinct” that tells us that something isn’t right. It also influences our mood; we all know that the best time to talk to a person, to discuss a favour is post-prandial (after food). One is happy and euphoric after meals. This happiness is conveyed from our belly through the Vagus nerve to its centre in the brain stem, from where it reaches the deep centre’s of the brain. 

How can we communicate to Holy grail of life?

  • With the practice of breathing exercises (deep breathing with prolonged inhalation, holding the breath and slow exhalation, 8 to 10 seconds per cycle of breath) we can influence the Vagus nerve through the respiratory centers.
  • With the right quantity and quality of food (balanced healthy diet), we can speak to the Vagus (and thereby to the holy grail in the brain) through our Gut.

 

In Conclusion,

The Holy Grail of life, in our brain stem determines our life span. So any insult to this region is detrimental to life. Ones quality of life can influence longevity through this Holy Grail.

To stay calm and cool is difficult, but achievable (once the art of letting go is mastered) and essential.

This coming new year, it would be a good idea to include breathing exercises and healthy eating habits (neither fasting nor starving) to our life, apart from a daily habit of walking for 45 minutes a day. This would be a great New Year Resolution.

Physical and Mental fitness should be the new Mantra of life!

Happy New Year! 2018

 

 

 

 

47 thoughts on “The Holy Grail of Life

    1. Chetan Malhotra

      Sir, indeed a different analogy and research, yes I do agree with your comments, more calm and let go attitude will bring satisfying life and healthy body and our Holy Grail is always full and fresh. To me this our human body represents whole universe and every Part of this body has its Holy significance, thanks and congratulations for well written article. Regards Chetan

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Vidya Ramakrishna

    Thanks Dr Murali, for giving a wonderful new year resolution.. God bless you..Wishing you and your family a very happy New year 2018. Waiting for your next blog…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Baven

    Nice write up. Liked it and having been aware of the Holy grail and Dan Brown’s novel as well as my own ever growing philosophical questions about life, death and man’s place in an universe outside of just earth, this was very interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mechelle D'Rozario

    AMAZING… write sir! Firstly congrats on your Discovery of the holy Grail and thank you for sharing it with us. U touched on such sensitive details and yet concluded beautifully about the secret of longevity. Keep up the good job and I wish u all the success life has to offer you in the coming year ahead…God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. T..V.Uma

    Dr.Murali once again you have proved to be different. A very interesting correlation. I have read enough of Dan Brown. Easy to understand but this is laudable. Thank you for the New Year Mantra.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kathyayini shanbhag

    Absolutely BRILLIANT 👌I woke up this morning thinking on what will be my new years resolution…. Like every year I make one only to break it… And now this brilliant article you have written has shone a fresh light on so much we take for granted. Thank you and happy new year to you ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Uma

    Thanks Sir for beautiful write up . Thoroughly written . Wonderful resolution which should be taken up for the New year . Happy Healthy and prosperous New year 🎂🎊🎉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dr.Murali, it was an amazing read. Enjoyed the seamless interplay between the legendary Holy grail and it’s counterpart that you discovered in the human brain. I was also especially glad to read your thoughts on the synonymous nature of the respiratory center of the brain and the source/meaning of life itself. It was an eye opening thought to me since I was struggling to grasp similar ideas and your explanation provided me with a clearer and deeper understanding regarding the unknown!

    Kindly continue to write many more such articles. I am looking forward to delve into them in the future.

    Regards,
    Rajiv

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dr Prabhudev P Bagali

    Dear Murali Mohan sir,
    I need to learn a lot from the Holy Grail of the life …it says to STAY CALM and LET IT GO . I’m a person who is totally opposite of those words …1.Never Calm – i behave like a angry young man
    2.Let it go – I have never done that …Example.. if there is something where in i feel its Wrong i will fight for the right till the end.
    Note : You know me as a case of head injury. I will always be greatful to you for the Second Innings of my life in this world.
    I will try and follow to stay calm and let go things.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hemavati

    Everything is there but my condition is footdrop after delivery because of anastasia. . What to do sir.. yet its not cure.. i am taking physiotherapy till today.. it happens on December 17th 2016. what should i do? Bladder problem is also there..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pk Upadhya

    When I started reading this article I was wary about where or what exactly it would lead me to. But I am sure it will have profound effect on whosoever reads it, like it has on me.
    Makes you believe that Science and Belief are intertwined.
    Truly an inspiring article moving into 2018. Thanks Dr. Murali.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Amar

    It is almost impossible to combine the Holy Grail, Neurosurgery and a New Year sentiment in a single blog! Dr Murali Mohan, you did it so fluently!! That’s a masterpiece!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Suhasa

    Nice to read your blog doctor your intertwining of the subject with philosophy, medicine and way to go forward in life is truly good you made us to understand our life in simple medical terminology which is a complex and most important organ of our body.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. S Balaji

    Amazing bro, well connected and educative to follow for a healthy life. A welcome new year resolution to all. All d best n happy new year 2018

    Like

  14. Chandrika Rajan

    Phenomenal Bro, the way you wished and elaborated the philosophy, with the knowledge you had gained from your experience, God bless you dear.

    Like

  15. Captain J Suresh

    Wow… This is worth a read for all. Amazing manner in which you have connected it all. Hats off. This is why it’s said that doctors are gods. Your commitment to human well-being is unmatchable. God bless you. Fantastic is the word. 🙏👌👏👏👏👏

    Like

  16. Dr. Manjula GB

    The article scientifically explains some of the ancient practices. A wonderful new year msg that inspires us to a better way of life.

    Like

  17. Cheena

    Hi There,
    Very Interseting thought and findings! Congratulations!
    Firstly, I am amused to see, neurosurgeons, nuclear physicists and mystics (yogis) unltimatley reach to a common mystery from different angles…
    Secondly, it was interesting to note the relation of. parasympathetic response and breathing and apart from the growing air pollution and food borne allergies …I feel the reason of growing no of cases of asthma in children and even adults may be the result of the dramatic change in lifestyle for adults ( more screen sensations…sensation towards and the real stuff and becoming hyper sensitive in responses to real world – for adults) for children, todays lifestyle especially in cities, doesn’t Give them freedom, and realxation which comes with it and from nature. For little kids it is a lot of stress…neuclear families with no safe hvean for kids at times of stress, over worked parents, not very comforting for kids and too much screen to keep them occupied…could be a reason for increased rate of asthma in children…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. SUDHIR KUMAR

    Very refreshing, new and informative. Thanks Dr. Murli adding this that ur name has been special for me since long as my elder brother is Mr Murli Manohar.
    HAPPY NEW YEAR.

    Like

  19. Dr. Poornima

    Amazing to see ur clarity of thoughts…..the end is really conclusive…..the gut feeling n the usefulness of pranayama n proper diet hv been wonderfully put forth…..great write up murali…. keep it going

    Like

  20. Dr. Poornima

    Hw letting go helps in maintaining our holy grail is awesome…..we shud prob practice letting go in a better way…..nice one👏👏👏👏

    Like

  21. Dr Manjunath B S RBSK M O RMGM.

    Hi Sir, What an explanation..alarming,but hopefully you have made it very simple SIR..One point I want to correlate with our ancient texts-Ayurveda.The Pranavayu I.e.the inhale & the exhale is prolonged thro pranayama,the manas(mind) is in control.While treating we Ayush doctors consider the kaya(agni-digestive fire) & treat,So your article has given the immense faith in our system.THANK YOU very much Sir..

    Like

  22. Vanishree Radhakrishna, Advocate

    Dear Dr. Murali,

    This blog on “The Holy Grail of life” used metaphorically, albeit aptly makes for an excellent read.
    Mastering the art of letting go, to me, a practitioner of meditation, seems imperative and you have very nicely made the point that quality of life is a choice, and is well within our control. Thank you for your erudite writing, based on in depth research. As a Lawyer, I am often faced with stressful situations at work, and what keeps me calm is my practice of meditation that involves mindfulness and deep breathing techniques, and yes, my gut feelings in all aspects of life have proven to be right! Thank you for driving home the fact that physical, emotional and mental well-being are interconnected, and for making such an interesting correlation. I look forward to future readings
    I wish you and your family a very happy and a successful New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

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