Skip to content

R&V Reflections: Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

Image Courtesy of Merlin Sheldrake

I came across a strange puddle of muck in a landscaping bed. “Muck” is the gentlest word I can find to describe this strange crop of brown spilling over the mulch. It was ugly, I’ll tell you that. So I grabbed the garden hose and began to shower the muck with water.

The muck bloomed.

Maybe more accurately, the muck rose in a puff of smoke, scattering but not dampening. The more I sprayed the muck with water, the more it smoked.

This is by far the strangest encounter I’ve had with fungus.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Fuligo septica, more commonly known as dog vomit slime mold, may not be a fungus after all; they’re a member of the Myxomycetes classification. That’s a relatively recent reclassification, which is true of most of the study of molds, lichens, and fungi. While fungi, molds, and lichens are some of the oldest living organisms on Earth, their physical characteristics continue to confound us.

Now, however, their mysteries and complexities are just a wee bit more accessible, thanks to Merlin Sheldrake.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures gets down and dirty into what it’s like to be a fungus. Sheldrake lifts the layers of fallen leaves from forest floors to expose readers to the electric network of the Wood Wide Web pulsating underground. He introduces readers to the symbiotic community that is lichens and simultaneously challenges our sense of individuality. He explores the mind-opening power of psychedelic mushrooms to deliver transcendental experiences commonly reserved for monks and mystics.

In short, Sheldrake’s writing deepens and expands our sense of reality, hurling it into the realm of mystery.

The Strange and Startling World God Made

After reading the chapter about psychedelic mushrooms, I told my husband I didn’t think it would be wise for me to partake of psilocybin. I’m not opposed to the therapeutic effects of psilocybin; quite the opposite—research into psychedelics shows promising relief for individuals who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Anything that shows promise to help people without debilitating and life destructive side effects of addiction seem worthy of further exploration. 

The reason I’d hesitate to participate in such a “trip” is because I already feel like I walk around in a flighty state of wonder most of the time as it is. This book only amplified the sense that everywhere I walk, everything I touch, every moment of my existence is fuller and more complex than I can fathom. 

As I sit on my deck and observe my surroundings, the bee that hovers around my shoulder, the miniscule spider that spins down from my umbrella, the annoying and perpetual nibbling gnats that ultimately drive me off my deck also drive me into curiosity and wonder. How do you fit into this grand kingdom, I think to myself. Look at you! You’re fantastic! You’re incredible! You’re wondrous!

When I was a child, my grandmother would occasionally make this comment about the super religious: “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good,” and lately I’ve been wondering if I land in that camp. Are my eyes so wide in astonishment that I’m blind to what’s buzzing in the human world around me? Or do these mystical, magical experiences ultimately unite me more with God and by extension, all of creation and humanity?

Image: Guido Blokker

I hope it’s the latter, and I think Sheldrake (and Jesus) might agree with me. Sheldrake doesn’t dwell on the psychedelic for the entirety of the book, but the dissolution of the self is a recurring theme throughout the book. Where does the individual end and the community begin?

“It is exactly this sense of self that psilocybin and other psychedelics seem to disrupt. Some call it ego dissolution. Some simply report that they lost track of where they ended and their surroundings began. The well-defined ‘I’ that humans depend on for so much can vanish entirely, or just dwindle, shading off into otherness gradually. The result? Feelings of merging with something greater, and a reimagined sense of one’s relationship with the world. In many instances—from lichens, to the boundary-stretching behavior of mycelium—fungi challenge our well-worn concepts of identity and individuality.”

I think this is the greatest gift of Sheldrake’s work. God is once again using “the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,” (1 Corinthians 1:28 NIV) overturning our sense of reality as self-sufficient individuals. 

Fungi form the kingdom of lowly and despised things. They are the things that are not. My dog vomit slime mold’s ecological role is to break down dead materials to recycle the nutrients for other species to use. Beyond the garden bed, Fuligo septica could help us humans out, too—as antibiotics, fighting cancer cells, as antimicrobials, and even environmental site remediation. It turns out dog vomit slime mold can hyper-accumulate toxic heavy metals and convert them into inactive forms. They nullify the things that are. 

No one, not even one, exists in isolation. We require each other—not in just a nice-to-have way, but all the way down to our very existence, trans-species. We need bacteria, fungi, and microorganisms on our very person in order to keep being. We need fungi and slime molds and lichens in the environment to nullify the things that are and keep life flourishing. Our existence depends upon these microscopic creatures. All of life is intertwined with fungi.

Isn’t that humbling? Isn’t that amazing?
There’s so much more happening in Entangled Life. I highly recommend picking up the paperback for deeper reading, but if you can get your hands on the illustrated and abridged hardcover version, you can catch plenty of wonder that way too. Plus, it’s beautiful. Did you know that fungus is beautiful? It’s beautiful. Discover yet another way God has made everything good, real, true, and beautiful. It’ll blow your mind.

Share on Social

Back To Top