7 Reasons Humans Should Act More Like Mushrooms
The idea of mushrooms is met with confusion and aversion in much of western society. Most people have a bleak-at-best understanding of the vast and intelligent living network that exists under our feet, and its critical contribution to all life on this planet.
Mushrooms are truly misunderstood magic, and their innate wisdom can be distilled into countless life lessons to teach us how to be better to ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
When most people think of fungi, they only think of the mushroom, AKA the “fruiting body” that your average citizen would recognize popping up in a grassy field. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The mushroom fruiting body makes up less than 5% of the total organism and is only the outer extension of a vast connected web of fungi that lives under every step you take.
Literally, every step.
This web of magic is called the mycelium network, and it covers the entire surface area of the earth. It has been called the “Wood Wide Web” or the “Earth’s internet” because of the way information and nutrients are transmitted through its pathways. If you were to draw a comparison to a plant, the mycelium is the root system, and the mushroom is the flower.
Why should you care?
If humans mirrored the intelligence and behavior of mushrooms, we would have a more joyous and connected world.
“What happens on one level of reality also happens on every other level; the microcosm and macrocosm behave alike. The phrase, ‘as above, so below’ expresses the concept of microcosm and macrocosm: that smaller systems — particularly the human body — are miniature versions of the larger universe.”
In an attempt to simplify the fascinating world of fungi wisdom…here are 7 life lessons we can take from the mycelium network operating manual:
#1. Take more than your share of the blame, and less than your share of the credit.
Have you ever had a boss or coworker notorious for regurgitating others’ ideas as if they were their own? The same person is always at the ready to throw others under the bus when something goes awry. They are quick to critique, but when accolades are in order they love to give the presentation.
On the other hand, have you worked with the absolute diamond-in-the-rough team member that graciously acknowledges your ideas and labors? They exude humble energy even when being praised, may use the word “we” a lot, and are always attributing successes to a collaborative team effort.
I think it’s safe to say we’d all rather be around the energy of person B.
What’s the parallel? Mushrooms are person B.
Fungi are the driving factor in something called ‘bioremediation’, also known as ‘mycoremediation’. They are true martyrs, consistently cleaning up the mess we humans create, yet require no acknowledgment to continue being our generous but silent friends.
To translate: fungi can produce enzymes that break down pollutants in the environment and can even break down plastic.
Drop the mic.
Mushrooms eliminate the toxins we create through our greenhouse gas emissions and BPA plastic. They are being used to turn crop waste into bioethanol, and researchers discovered a fungus in the rain forests of Ecuador that eats polyurethane, posing a potential solution to many of the world’s waste problems. As if that isn’t wild enough, there are plastic-eating fungi that are also edible, enabling us to grow food off our plastic waste.
These seem to be the ultimate examples of environmental philanthropy and taking one for the team. Mycoremediation exemplifies the ceaseless efforts of mushrooms to detoxify the planet for greater good and sake of all kingdoms, rather than to solely protect their own. If fungi could talk, I guarantee they’d be sending their work emails from the “we” vantage point. These guys need a 5-star end of year review and a raise.
#2. Create more than you consume.
Someone wiser than I once told me, “you cannot be a creator and a critic at the same time.”
Our daily time, attention, and energy operates like a gas tank. If too much of this trio is put into consumption mode, whether through mindless social media, news, or Netflix, it’s impossible to have the capacity to be in creation mode for our unique work in the world.
Regardless if consumption is focused on positive content that expands our consciousness, any excessive intake inherently limits the time and brain power we can use to focus on our own crafts of contribution.
Mushrooms and mycelium are the ultimate example of the feng shui between creation and consumption. In addition to destroying things, eating things, and producing chemicals, fungus can create a sturdy building material through a process called ‘mycofabrication’.
Whereas mycoremediation, explained in #1, is all about decomposing the consequences of our actions, mycofabrication is all about reconstitution of various materials we use throughout our lives.
“It is the yang to the yin of decomposition.” - Entangled Life.
Fungi have quite the resume in commercial applications, and are being used across industries to create everything from supplements, to beverages, to alternative packaging, to clothing (check out this awesome company making high-fashion mushroom leather).
The incredible team at Ecovative Design have designed and commercialized a natural packing material from mycelium, the roots of mushrooms. It’s mold resistant, fireproof, nontoxic, a better insulator than fiberglass, and designed to replace plastics, brick, concrete, and even animal leather. Hundreds of square feet of mycelial leather can be grown in days on materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Ecovative is currently cooking up some pretty cool innovations with major industry players like Stella McCartney, IKEA, and NASA. — Entangled Life.
#3. Step outside of the conformity and comfort of the collective. Positive disruption requires you to march to the beat of your own drum.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr
It’s difficult to forge your own path when your peers are figuratively synchronized-swimming in the opposite direction. However, the perks of being a nonconformist allows for collaboration with diverse species, enabling far greater creation than what you could manifest solo.
Environmental Ethics describes two extreme degrees of mindsets: egocentric and ecocentric. An egocentric mindset can best be described as “actions based out of personal prosperity without consideration of the effects to others”. An ecocentric mindset is “the holistic view that each part of earth is inseparable, and to consider yourself as equal value to plants, animals and land”.
Most people, most days, make decisions from an egocentric worldview and have limited concept of how all life on earth is connected.
However, the more cultured and diversified our thinking becomes through things like travel and exposure to diverse perspectives, the more we can shatter the pattern of self-interested narratives and transcend into an ecocentric way of operating.
Mushrooms are ecocentric by default, and ridiculously collaborative. Fungi are infamously known for not following rules as well as other biological groups and having long, unconventional partnerships with diverse species. Just when you thought you were impressed by your grandparents 60-year marriage, compare it to the billion year old partnership between plants and fungi.
To exemplify their friendly nature — mycelium of fungi can literally grow into the roots of plants. Some form “hartig” nets around the first few layers of cells in plant roots and others will form an organ, called arbuscules or vesicles, that grow inside root cells. This bond is seemingly parasitic, but actually is the opposite, and the relationship that forms is mutually symbiotic.
The mycelium continues to grow through the soil unlocking nutrients, like phosphorous, that are directed to the plant. As a thank you, the plant will give photosynthates like sugars and carbohydrates to the mycelium which fungi cannot produce on their own.
Psilocybin, AKA magic mushrooms, have an equally powerful parallel in ecocentric thinking.
These mushrooms are making headlines weekly for their remarkable effectiveness treating different mental disorders, and are showing potential to revolutionize the healthcare system. Patients who have undergone psilocybin-assisted therapy commonly describe their experience as a “universal feeling of oneness”, and “connectedness to the planet.” Researchers at NYU and Johns Hopkins have overseen hundreds of psilocybin sessions, observing many subjects who have undergone mystical experiences. These patients often report “feelings of unity, sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy,” as well as the conviction that they have discovered “an objective truth about reality.”
#4. It’s what you do in the dark, that puts you in the light.
A few years ago I teared up watching this Under Armour commercial that was a tribute to Michael Phelps and the very much behind-closed-doors effort that made him one of the greatest athletes of all time. However, as many Olympians or high-performing individuals on the planet will tell you — what the world sees in a few seconds under the spotlight is a result of 24–7, 365 days a year ‘in the dark’ of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s easy to perceive success as innate talent or even luck, rather than acknowledging that we’re seeing the brief shiny end result of a long tumultuous journey often filled with failure and sacrifice.
Mushrooms are the Olympic gold medalists of our world’s ecosystem. They are toiling away and working every minute of every day underneath our feet to create life, decompose toxins, and build all sorts of magic.
Mycelium networks exemplify perseverance at its finest, and are consistently, patiently, building underground in the darkness. Their unwavering dedication to this process beneath the soil ends up coming to fruition in the form of mushroom fruiting bodies above ground — that end up on our plate to nourish our bodies, and some are even fueling a mental health revolution.
#5. You are a result of what you do consistently.
‘Kaizen’ is a Japanese proverb that means constant improvement. The concept behind it is that the improvement is both continuous and cumulative. Thus when you get better, you also get better at getting better. Remember your first personal finance lesson when your parents told you by saving the money you spend on a coffeeshop-made Americano every day, you’ll be a passive millionaire in 20 years via compounding interest?
If you’re like me, you may have resisted this parental wisdom and continued a coffee shop habit that has now adultified into a very fitting Chaga-chino (mushroom-based latte). My validation comes from studies that have shown for every dollar you invest in your health now, you’ll end up saving yourself 10x down the road in healthcare costs.
If you don’t invest in your wellness, you’ll end up paying for your illness.
Conveniently for my health food store addictions, the compounding effect of mushrooms on our health mirrors the effects of choosing to piggy bank the what-could-have-been frappuccino mustache and sugar rush.
Studies have shown that by incorporating functional mushrooms like Chaga, Cordyceps, and Turkey Tail into your diet, the effects will compound over time and build your immune system to make you more resilient against disease.
Functional mushrooms are not a one-dose solution to various ailments, but rather best serve as a long-term partner to optimize your vitality.
#6. Create your own wind.
Too often, we expect others to bring the good vibes instead of seeking to create our own magic. My favorite people bring the positive energy they wish to have in their daily experience, rather than making their enjoyment conditional on external circumstance. This may bring to mind certain friends in your life who make for the best plus ones — people who can be at a low key five-person dinner or the best party of the year yet having the exact same amount of fun.
Non-reliance on external factors to dictate internal state is an aspirational stoic principle for many. Yet, I’ll argue the goal is to take this one step further by radiating inward to outward — generating joy and love instead of expecting it to be bestowed upon us.
The mushroom anecdote here is inspired by this rare breed of life-of-their-own-party people. Fungi are symbolically bringing the tequila and boom box into the room — some mushrooms can actually create their own wind.
If mushrooms were to simply drop their spores, like a tree does its leaves, the chances of mushrooms reproducing would be slim to none. However, some mushrooms create air flow around them by causing water to rapidly evaporate, thus creating a vehicle for spreading their spores (future mushrooms) around their environment. Fungi would likely make for an incredible wedding date.
#7. Remember your roots, but seek discomfort in exploring the world.
They say home is where the heart is for a reason. It’s beautiful to stay connected to your past, yet nothing is more limiting than confining what you explore (both experientially and geographically) to the happenstance circumstances your youth provides. Although your given family is invaluable, there is a significant difference between who you grow up with and your chosen family of friends later in life.
Chosen family tends to align with you at your most evolved state, at a stage where it’s easier to identify qualities you want in relationships after having gone through major developmental phases to feel secure in who you are in the world. This explains the phenomenon of meeting someone for half an hour at a party and feeling a genuine soul connection deeper than you have with a friend who has known you for decades.
Regardless of what you think about fate, there is an undeniable difference in what your existence will shake out to if you let life ‘happen’ to you, versus going out into the world and creating the life you want through trial and error, hard work, and willingness to fail. If you choose the former as your life strategy (and don’t ever flee the figurative and literal nest to seek growth and uncomfortability), the social norms of where you grow up may potentially limit your fullest expression.
Mushrooms illustrate this lesson with grace — proven by countless case studies all over the world, right underneath our feet.
When a new branch grows from the mycelium network, it forever stays entangled with its origin roots, yet ceaselessly explores to connect with the ecosystems around it, growing stronger and evolving all the while.
Like your most-traveled, but still-humble friend that has an epic story for seemingly all countries brought up in conversation, fungi are inevitably the most cultured species of all the kingdoms while forever remaining enmeshed with their home-grown values.
Thank you for taking a glimpse under the soil during this mushroom masterclass for a few shining examples of the wisdom we can glean from fungi; they truly are a beautiful example of mother nature’s intrinsic moral code and serve as a role model for idealistic humanitarian values.
If your interest has peaked and you’re craving mush more…
- WATCH: The best starter kit I’ve come across for understanding the vast power of the fungi kingdom is Fantastic Fungi, a documentary that has been in the making for over a decade (2019)
- READ: If you’re looking to learn more about psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind is widely regarded as one of the best depictions of the history and current landscape of the space. (2018)
- READ: Entangled Life, by Merlin Sheldrake (2020)
- SHOP: Wanting to incorporate functional mushrooms into your daily routine? Step into The Multiverse. Head to yourmultiverse.com for the best snacks, supplements, skincare, and more to supercharge your health with mushrooms. (2020)