The body self-organizes. Long before any conscious decisions are ever made, cells bundle, replicate and expand into meaningful structures. When a sperm pushes into an egg an organizational fire called Life is unleashed. The egg multiplies into a ball of cells, and slowly builds itself into the beginnings of a creature. The blob elongates and splits, forming limbs. Not long after, a new heart beats for the first time.
A baby is not built by its mother. The parents merely provide the starting seed and fertile ground where the baby can grow. The same process continues after birth. Given correct nourishment, a baby will grow into an adult of its own accord. We are like plants that way.
A baby gains consciousness as it develops. Human consciousness is not necessary to life, but serves as an accessory that allows us to change ourselves and find ever more ingenious ways to adapt. We use it to build tools, farms, and markets.
However, nothing is ever given for free. Consciousness separates us from the world so that we may act upon it. Consciousness gives us the ability to work beyond our instinct. In so doing, we become distanced from our plant-like growth instinct. A plant will always strive towards life. Humans are unique in that we can choose to strive towards death. We can choose to put other values ahead of life: faith, loyalty, family, friendship, love, bravery, knowledge, work, country. We can choose to pursue these values, even when they kill us.
In antique times people died because they couldn’t meet their needs. They couldn’t find enough food, they got too cold in the winter, their teeth rotted in their mouths. Where I come from, there is enough food for everyone. Nobody need freeze in the winter. We have brilliant medicines for every kind of ailment. All of our physical needs are met. And yet, people are sicker than ever.
How can this be?
One has to ask, how did we solve all of our physical problems? How did we find so much food? Or create warmth on demand? What was sacrificed in pursuit of these achievements? For there to be mass agriculture, there has to be a whole class of people who grow more food than they need for themselves. There has to be millions of people willing to sit in the blistering sun picking tomatoes that they themselves will never eat.
There has to be classes of people who spend their entire lives planning, pondering, designing, calculating. And they need to continue working long after their own bellies are full. These are the millionaires and engineers who keep working and working, even though they’ve amassed enough personal resources to last them the rest of their lives. Throughout all levels of society, people are sacrificing themselves to a larger purpose. Whether it be bringing electricity to far off places, killing the infidels, or building chairs. The benefits of this sacrifice are obvious. We’re sitting on chairs, aren’t we? The cost is individual suffering.
By training ourselves to be deaf to the survival instinct, we attain lofty external goals, but lose touch with what is good and bad for ourselves in the moment-to-moment. It’s interesting to note that the growth of society has mirrored the growth of the individual. A baby is unified and thrives naturally, but is powerless in the world at-large. An adult separates himself from the world in exchange for power.
Isn’t that exactly what has happened to humanity as we’ve moved from hunter gatherer tribes to massive, technological civilizations? The benefits and consequences are the same for both the individual and society. We gain immense power, but at the cost of a certain sickliness. The body keeps itself alive with one essential mechanism: sensitivity. In order to adapt to a continuously changing environment, one needs to know what is changing! Sensitivity is the ability to take in information about the environment.
How cold is it? Am I hungry or full? Is there a wolf behind that tree? Is this plant good for food? Does this stretch feel good? Does this movement hurt my knee? Am I tired or energetic? What feels good? What feels bad?
Answering these questions is how we survive.
We’ve accomplished our goals by working around the survival instinct, but how does one diminish something so basic to animal life?
Primarily through dulling sensitivity. You’ll never dim the will to live, but you can dull people’s sensitivity so that they’re less aware of what is life-giving and what is death-bringing. As long as they feel numb, people can be convinced to damage themselves.
The training starts at a young age. We’re continually forced to put the needs of a task over the needs of the body. Sit still and focus, even though you want to move. Hold your piss. Keep running. Ignore the pain.
We dim sensitivity to strengthen abstract thought. Abstract thought and sensitivity are antithetical. Sensitivity requires a sensual attention to the present moment, while abstract thought requires the ability to leave behind the sensual present and enter a world of timeless symbols (like words and numbers). At every step of our education we are trained to ignore what we sense/feel and pay attention to what we think.
It’s this intensive education that has made us into brilliant engineers incapable of caring for our own health. It’s hilarious that we can build rocket ships, but are stumped by weight-loss.
Though I acknowledge the benefits of abstraction and self-sacrifice, I feel we have gone too far. The sickliness is almost overwhelming the benefits we’ve gained. In society and in ourselves. It happened to me, at least. I was abstractly brilliant, brimming with ideas, tough like a rock, and it almost killed me. I chose to go a little ways back in the opposite direction, away from abstraction and towards immediate life. If you’re reading this, I expect you’re trying to make the same change. Luckily, we are naturally sensual. We need only undo some of our education. If we can forget the symbols for life, forget about money and status and that new car, then we’ll remember what life really is: the feeling of blood flowing unimpeded through our veins, an easy breath of morning air, a freshly killed salmon roasting over the fire, a long, refreshing sleep.
No-one needs to teach us that these things are good. They are good in themselves. Not because of what they mean, but because of what they are. We know it in the same way that a plant knows to eat the sun.
It’s easy to feel these things; they feel good! They feel good because we love life!
The survival instinct takes information and interprets it into 2 basic categories:
Pleasure and Pain
Good and Bad
Life and Death
Pleasure is the feeling of life being preserved, the organization of the body strengthening. Pain is the feeling of approaching death, of losing our unity and degrading into our component parts.
Survival is similar to the game Hot and Cold. Where you have to find something hidden and your friend guides you to it by saying “hotter” when you walk closer and “colder” when you get further away.
We don’t know exactly what will keep us alive. And we don’t know when we will meet our individual deaths. But we have an instinct for whether we’re going in one direction or the other. The clearer we can hear the voice saying, “Hotter/Colder, Pleasure/Pain, Life/Death”, the longer we’ll be able to maintain our organization in this chaotic universe.
Body awareness is what we need to thrive.
Sensitivity is the key to developing body awareness.
Unity is the end result.