Sunday, November 4, 2007

Our Dual Nature

Many people today miss the points of their own mythology. Interestingly enough, the Creation/Evolution debate becomes nonexistent if we examine the Biblical Creation stories in their mythological context.
Perhaps the most telling tale in the Bible is the "Garden of Eden" story. This story is unique to Judeo-Christiandom, as the "6 Days of Creation" story is a copy of the Babylonian Enuma Elish. The "Garden" myth focuses on the origin of suffering, for in this story all is in balance until mankind eats of the Tree of Knowledge and is then cast out of the garden.
Sadly, many believe this story is a literal tale, and so they miss the whole point of the myth. As myths use metaphors to tell their story, much of the "Garden" story becomes very clear when we but try to understand the symbols.
The Garden, it seems, is a peaceful and perfect place. This is where the animals and plants are. Here is where all is beautiful and in balance. Here is where the Tree of Life is. Here, also, is where God walks.
The Garden represents a time when we were in balance with the animals. It is a metaphor for a time when we were no different from animals. A time when we were emotionally-driven creatures -- not the somewhat rational creatures that we are today.
In the Garden we were cautioned not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. But the serpent, long a symbol of transformation and rebirth, encouraged us to do otherwise. And so, by eating of the Tree of Knowledge we were transformed from reactive creatures into active ones. That is to say that we went from lives of simply reacting to instincts and emotions to lives of active change. And so we began to shape the patterns of our own lives.
And so the "Garden" story represents the moment when we separated ourselves from the Animal Kingdom -- the time when we became human.

In truth, we are no different than our animal cousins, yet we still try to view creation without ourselves. We talk about how nature works, labelling our own actions as "unnatural" -- and yet, we are a part of that natural order. We try to understand how animals interact amongst themselves if humans are not around, and we remove ourselves from the equation. We call ourselves human, as if this title somehow negates the "animal" nature we share; as though we are somehow alien to the natural world in which we find ourselves.
In fact, one of the most distinguishing factors about us is that we prefer to distinguish ourselves from our world. We speak of "natural" and "unnatural" actions, as though anything we do could be unnatural. And so we deny our connection to the world; our evolutionary heritage. Instead, we pretend that we are something much nobler.
For so long in our dominant culture we have denied our animal nature. Instead, we describe our animal behavior using words such as "sin". We fail to understand that being animal is an essential part of being human.

The most important fact to remember is that we are animals. Everything we do is governed by this. Everything we are. And as much as we try to believe otherwise, this fact will always haunt us.
Being animals, much of what we do is based on instincts and reactions. We live by emotions, and often we don't think about what it is we're doing. And so, to understand human behavior we need to understand animal behavior.
Perhaps the first thing we must consider is just what it is which distinguishes us from all other animals. We may believe it to be our ability to communicate. But all animals communicate in one form or another. We may consider it to be out ability to use tools. Yet, many animals, especially primates, use tools to obtain food or for protection. I would suggest that the deciding difference is our ability to ask questions: to behave based on reason rather than instinct -- we have "eaten of the tree of knowledge", so to speak.
And so our dilemma becomes more complicated. For we are torn between our thoughts and our emotions. We aspire to leave our animal heritage behind us, and to be rational creatures. Yet this evolutionary baggage is still within each of us.

Much of our Western Heritage has viewed sex as horrific. I believe this is because sex is an act which reminds us that we're animals. When we have sex we bring a great deal of our primal instincts to the surface -- parts of ourselves we often try to hide.
Again, this is an item which brings back our evolutionary lineage. So often we try to think of ourselves as something much nobler than the other animals. Yet, our passions are a slap in the face for the deified vision we have of ourselves. They are a cold reminder that we still live and breathe.
We should learn to balance our passionate side and our noble side. For without the noble side, we are no more than the others animals. And without passion we lose our connection to the universe.

We carry with us the baggage of countless millenia of evolution. And this heritage brings us to an odd place. For, on the one hand, we are animals driven by our instincts and emotions. And on the other hand we strive to be rational creatures, basing our judgements on our rationality.
We threw our own selves "out of the garden". For a long time since our branch of the evolutionary tree grew out from the rest of the animals we lived with them in harmony, surviving by our instincts and our emotions. But somewhere along the line we began to think rationally: basing our reactions on the questions we have about the world around us. By becoming rational creatures we separated ourselves from the animals and began to consider ourselves superior. And so paradise was lost .
Today, this evolutionary baggage creates many of the problems in our world. We still have greed, aggression, and fear. And these threaten to destroy everything we've created. Our greed drives us to accumulate ever more -- depriving others of their basic needs. Our aggression makes us hostile to one another at every turn. And fear drives the strongest wedge between us -- begetting anger and hatred among our societies.

We live at a time when we can use our rational nature to counter our dominating instincts. We can learn to think calmly when faced with fear. We can learn to live more simply -- making wise choices to reduce our consumerism. And we can channel our aggressive energies in more productive ways.
Chief among the changes we need is a new ideology. We need to understand ourselves, each other, and our world better. We need to understand that our sense of individuality often leads to isolationism, and we must seek out the ties which bind us all together. We must understand that we are all interconnected through the Web of Life.
We must learn that there is Sacredness within all. We must find it in ourselves, in others, and in the world at large. Perhaps then we can truly learn respect for life.
Respect, compassion, and harmony: these things will be the keys to our survival.

The "Garden of Eden" is a mindset, not a physical place. The Garden represents a time when we made no distinction between ourselves and the other animals. It represents a time when we reacted based solely on our instincts.
The universe exists in a state of balance. For every action there is an opposing reaction. Life creates life and life destroys life.

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