While twisting myself in the odd yoga shapes the morning I thought, this is nuts! No normal animal on the planet would do this. In fact, no other animal can be found doing most of the things our species does. Working, resting, and engaging in the basic biological functions is all that we have in common with other species. And we even go out of our way to embellishing those aspects. Just consider the fancy bathrooms we have (photo below).
The common view is to see all this as being what makes us unique, special, superior, advanced… “higher beings” no less. Looking at this from a symptoms point of view helps me avoid such a “pat myself on the back” biases.
For example, my yoga contortions are simply a convenient, efficient way for me to compensate for the lack of nature’s pushback. Nature is always pushing back on living creatures in the wild, preventing them from willfully innovating to the point of imbalance. When doing yoga in India, I noticed how it was only the wealthy Indians, by and large, who had the time, inclination, and need to do yoga. The lower classes had their hands full with basic survival.
All cultural taboos and ethical proscriptions are symptomatic of our effort to find balance. Namely, we follow taboos and proscriptions as a means to counterbalance the instability wrought by civilization. Not civilization as it is commonly defined, however. Seen more deeply, civilization is simply the result of an overwhelming use of tools and language. The resulting disconnection from natural forces creates severe sociological and psychological instability. Oddly, all this goes on without us ever having any underlying sense of why. Perhaps this is one reason why a tipping point eventually comes, and a new set of taboos and proscriptions replaces the old ones.
Generally, the activities we pursue most, are driven by the natural instinct to take the easy way. In the wild, this seldom leads to difficulties. Natural difficulty is already pushing back. In civilized life, we’ve stripped away as many nature-induced difficulties as possible. However, the original instinct to take the easy way remains part of our DNA. As a result we swing dreadfully out of balance.
Generally, the activities we pursue that are difficult are driven by the natural inclination to want to feel life meaningful, ‘Right’ and in balance. Like a pendulum willfully riding the waves of fear and need, we swing one way and the other, constantly seeking the happier Middle Way. As I see it, there is nothing really “unique, special, superior, advanced” about us. All we are doing is struggling to maintain enough balance on the one hand, to compensate for all our success at freeing ourselves from Nature’s ruthless side on the other hand.
This is not such a flattering view of us, I know. We prefer the “positive” story we’ve created for ourselves, like how we are “created in Gods image” and the like. Does our self serving, self aggrandizing view serve us well in the end? I can’t help but think not really. Honestly considering life with as much impartiality as possible can only benefit us in the long run. After all, Right Understanding is the first fold on the Buddha’s eight fold middle way. Taking the effort to consider life from symptoms point of view is a step in that direction.