It seems we have a lot to learn from the animal kingdom.
The animal body is well equipped with an intelligence all of its own. It knows it needs food and how to get food, it knows how to convert that food into energy; it knows it needs rest and sleep, it knows it needs to reproduce and care for its young, and it knows it needs to keep itself safe from predators. The animal body has an inbuilt intelligence that allows it to live and stay alive; to take its part as a member of this thing we call life.
The animal, without the ability to think, can trust its body to take care of all that it needs in order to survive and enjoy the feeling and sensation of being alive.
If an animal meets with danger it trusts that its body has its own mechanisms for dealing with that danger. When danger comes the body kicks into either fight or flight response, releasing hormones to enable them to fight the danger or run from it. When the danger has passed the animal can return to rest as all the increased energy of the arousal state has been released in the fighting or the running.
If the danger is too great and the fight is not effective in dealing with the threat then the animal might instinctively choose to use the freeze response and literally play dead. In this way the animal prepares to either minimize the impact of death or if the danger passes it can wake up from the freeze response, shake off the arousal energy that is still housed in its body and move on to live life normally again until the next time a threat is detected.
In the human world we have an animal body that shares these very same survival strategies. However the problem for us humans is that as our species has evolved and developed a rational mind we have lost touch with our instinctual bodies and no longer rely on the felt bodily sense to alert us to danger. Nowadays we are just as likely to rely on our thinking mind to alert us to threats even to the extent of over riding our gut instincts. However our thinking minds are not as reliable as we have been led to believe.
With the development of the thinking brain we as animals have been given the ability to become self aware. This awareness of our selves as different and distinct from other life forms has pulled us away from the felt sense of belonging to the natural world and led us to a place where we believe we are separate from it.
Believing this in our minds and yet somehow still sensing in our bodies that this is not so has led to a fragmented sense of self and an overall sense that something is wrong.
An over dependence on thinking has had a traumatic effect on the human race. It has led us astray and into a world mindset that has concluded that we are alone, separate and vulnerable; easy prey to all manner of things that are 'out there' and that somehow, at a deep level we are lacking and incomplete in some mysterious and incomprehensible way.
Seeing ourselves as vulnerable and alone has led us to a place where we believe our life's purpose to be solely about protection and survival; that and puzzling out what is wrong with us, what is missing and what has to be done about it! All of this has created huge stress on the human race, stress that has resulted in our bodies living in almost perpetual states of arousal either fighting or fleeing life, or when these two strategies don't work freezing in response to it all.
Evidence of this is seen all around us in our speech, our mannerisms, our behaviours, the way we respond to the environment we live in and the thoughts that fill our minds.
For example a lot of us seem to spend our days in fight mode. Consider this list of common ways the fight mode presents itself.
We fight the flab; we fight cancer; we fight heart disease; we fight for justice; we fight for equality; we fight for the right to speak our minds; we fight for the right to be seen and heard; we fight our corner; we enter the battle of the sexes and the battle of the bulge; we fight for freedom; we fight for peace; we go to war against terrorism; we war against poverty; we battle away through our endless 'to do' lists; we fight back our tears; we fight our natural instincts; we fight to stay awake; we fight against falling sleep; we battle for various causes, we battle the elements, we battle through the day, we fight the good fight with all of our might; we struggle on regardless of what our bodies are telling us they need.
Our minds tell us that there is no rest for the wicked and we believe them!
Even if we are not fighting we are often in a state of resistance; resisting life as it appears to us in the moment. We can spend inordinate amounts of time stuck in future based fantasy thinking or else reminiscing about the past or simply resisting what is happening in this moment by telling ourselves that things should be different; they should be different; life isn't meant to be like this; this shouldn't be happening and generally complaining and moaning bout the unfairness of life as we see it.
Some us, rather than fight enter running mode. We prefer to deny the reality of the world around us, minimize the challenges we face in our lives, avoid them or pretend things are not so bad. We convince ourselves that there is nothing to worry about; we laugh things off or we withdraw from the harsh realities of life and choose to live instead in a bubble world removed from the things that bother us. Often we choose to disassociate with the difficult things of life and project them away from ourselves, believing they are 'not my problem' and leaving things for others to sort out.
If all else fails we freeze. Unable to cope with the pressures of living in the reality that we find ourselves in we enter a coma like state; we become uninterested in life; we feel helpless to know what to do; we sink into despair; we can't be bothered to do anything; we say things like 'it's just the way it is' and shrug our shoulders with a resigned helplessness. We adopt a victim mentality in which we passively succumb to whatever life may bring us. Many of us are so overwhelmed by the so called problems of life that getting through each day is enough of a struggle for us as it is. Many of us suffer from a serious lack of energy and vitality. Far from being vibrant and full of life we are drained of vital life energy and consequently vulnerable to depression and despondency.
Most of us go through life moving between these three survival states. I know I have.
But is surviving life the same as living life?
Is surviving the same as thriving?
I don't think so.
The human race is stuck in a seemingly never ending cycle that is set to end in our destruction as a species unless we can find a way to live our lives in a more peaceful and sustaining way. Breaking free from the endless cycle of stress we place on ourselves is crucial to this.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. We can all see evidence of this in the world and if we are honest with ourselves perhaps we will see this at play in our own lives too. Have you ever wondered why it is that you are always having accidents? Always choosing the wrong partner? Always the one getting hurt? Always having recurrent bouts of illness? Always ending up in a dead end job? Always ending up with no money no matter how much you earn? Losing weight only to regain it?
It seems like there is some force stemming from our subconscious that keeps offering us a second (and third/fourth/fifth) chance to resolve our difficulties. This is known as re-enactment and is another survival mechanism meant to help us find means to release the arousal energy of the stress response that is still housed within us. Despite what we think we are meant to live peaceful lives that are full of enjoyment. It is only our disturbed minds that tell us otherwise.
When an animal releases energy in the fight of flight response his environment is then threat free until the next predator attack. If an animal lives through the freeze response it shakes of the arousal energy and is again able to live threat free until the next attack.
We however are not so lucky.
Either we can't expend our arousal energy in the fight or flight because there is never actually a physical fight in which the energy can be released or if we live through the freeze response we awake only to find ourselves still stuck in a threatening environment and so the stress response is still there. When this is the case the pent up energy cannot be released because we need a safe place to release it in and our world is not perceived as safe.
Because we are stuck believing that the world has to change before we can be safe to discharge our pent up energy we have no alternative but to stay stuck in the patterns of survival behaviour that are the only coping mechanism our stress filled bodies have of negotiating threats.
But there is a better way. A way that does not leave us merely coping with life but actually being free to enjoy it.
We can thrive and not merely survive.
The way out of endlessly re-acting out our lives drama's is to learn to renegotiate life; to bring in something new; to learn to respond to life rather than react to it.
This renegotiation is our awakening from the mind induced sleep that has kept us locked in an ego driven, illusory world that is slowly driving us all mad.
It is time to awaken my friends and to explore what this might mean, how it might be achieved, what it will look like and more importantly how it might feel. After all living a peaceful, joyful life is essentially experienced in the body and as we have just discovered our stressed out bodies are longing for this. It is the birthright of everyone to feel this as bodily truth rather than just thinking it to be true.
As it has been said, 'If you always do what you've always done you'll always get what you've always got'. So now is the time to do something different. As Ghandi was fond of saying we must be the change we want to see in the world'.
This is the challenge of our time. It starts here with you and me. Will you journey with me as we explore what it means to awaken to life?
Please share your thoughts/insights. I'd love to hear from you.
The opinions I express here are my own. However I offer them with the word 'syat' next to them. 'Syat' is a word used by the Jain Tribe in India which means 'To the best of my knowledge SO FAR.' In the spirit of openness I invite comments from anyone whether you agree with my point of view or not. In this way we can all learn and grow together. Thank you.