There is a great contradiction within most men and women. On the one hand, our mind is desperate for control and will create all kinds of systems and disciplines to try and impose order on the universe. Most significantly we try and impose some kind of order on ourselves – domestic life, spiritual practice (whatever that might mean), daily routines, and ideas of how our life should be. Almost directly opposed to all of this is the unflattering fact that we are animal in nature, and as an animal we react in real-time to circumstances and events around us. This animal has no understanding of order and discipline, and will simply respond, on an ongoing basis, to ensure that it survives and breeds. Anything that enhances survival is generally experienced as pleasure, and anything that diminishes survival will be seen as pain. These are the basic dynamics of the animal, and while we may dress it all up, things such as ambition, seduction, envy, boasting, schadenfreude, greed, the desire for fame, and any other power-enhancing activities, are simply manifestations of the animal.
While we tend to flatter ourselves that our mind has some policing function to perform, and can dictate the activities of the animal, the opposite is actually true. What we call spiritual, philosophical or religious is often no more than our animal finding ever more elaborate ways to establish power. The Christian religion, for example, has degenerated into the Church of Abundance for some people. It represents an attempt to persuade God that He should give us stuff – money in the main. Of course, not all people subscribe to something as crass as this, but many activities are nothing more than our animal seeking to increase its power – and the power to exist is its only interest. So it should come as little surprise that the Buddhists claimed that all desire and all suffering comes from the desire to exist – a simple statement that is as profound as it is simple. New age types will indulge in ‘visualization’ to increase their power, believing that if they focus on an imagined outcome for long enough, it will actually happen. Others will believe they can live their life according to some strict discipline that will improve their chances of success – the positive thinkers and self-help gurus. Almost all of it is about power of one sort or another. A few people may look on the suffering caused by our animal nature and try to deny it, or subjugate it – but this is futile. Reason has no power against desire. We are almost all animal and a frontal assault upon it is the height of folly.
There are many people who would claim they have the key to inner peace and contentment. Almost all of them will prescribe some regime that eventually subdues the passions, and reduces the cravings of the animal. Such a regime might include meditation, positive thinking, relaxation methods, loving kindness, moral imperatives, various kinds of denial – and so on. In the right context some of these things might be useful, but more often than not the gurus and self-help charlatans present these things as solutions in their own right – which they are not. So here are a few things I have found to be useful in calming our inner war with ourselves:
- Accept that we are animals driven almost exclusively to survive and procreate.
- Get to know the animal by simply observing it – no judgment and no attempts to change anything. This is much harder than it sounds, our superego is fully programmed with should and shouldn’t.
- Observe all attempts to bring order to your inner world. There is no order other than in your imagination. Again just observe the ego as it attempts to build regimes, systems, and beliefs. The only order you will ever know is when you fully accept chaos – but you can’t force this either.
- Follow your pleasure, but be on the watch for when pleasure turns into pain. A good meal is a pleasure, but gluttony is painful. Listening to music is pleasurable, but too much and the music just turns into noise.
- Ultimately we can be conscious animals or unconscious animals. To be unconscious is to be subject to many unnecessary pains. To be conscious opens us up to the pleasures of the animal – it’s desires, its play, and its spontaneity. Either way, we are animal and we will die.
The rejection of our animal nature and indulgence in imagined states that somehow transcend it are the cause of much suffering. We are not advocating hedonism here – animals do not indulge in hedonistic activities in the main. All that is being suggested is that we adopt a friendly attitude toward the animal we are. It was said by Fritz Peters that Gurdjieff lived like an animal. This is not a derogatory statement, but an indication that Gurdjieff was at one with his animal nature. And finally a quote from St Francis of Assisi:
“Ask the beasts and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.”