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I AM IN NATURE, NOT APART FROM IT

Goldflake

It is an odd paradox that, although we live creatively from moment to moment, we are not our own creation. We live creatively in that our minds move swiftly from instant to instant, thinking, reacting, initiating, planning, sensing, perceiving, and remembering, all in relationship to what goes on in the present. We sense the environment; memories occur; language becomes available; thoughts occur as to what to do next. What we see clears away from instant to instant so that we are ready for the next moment. We make hundreds of decisions every hour, directing our bodies from moment to moment to do all the thousands of things that we do.

And yet we are not our own creation. We inhabit a person that we had nothing to do with creating. We are in Nature/life, not apart from it. Each of us is a phenomenon of Nature/life, appearing for a lifetime and then disappearing. We behave in ways that are given to us by Nature/life itself. We are the product of billions of years of evolution and thousands of years of civilization. When I look at my hand, for example, I consider that it is my hand, but it is also not mine - I had nothing to do with creating it. It is completely given to me, produced by millions of years of evolution. The working together of bones, muscles, blood, and nerves proceeds, independent of my consciousness. If my hand is injured, healing agents travel to the injured site, all without my direction. Similarly, I have certain feelings. They, too, are mine, but they are also not mine. As with my hand, millions of years went into producing them. I did nothing to create them. Similarly, our sentences arise from a pool of originations in the mind. They occur to us as a whole, and then we express them. Each person is privileged to have life, warmth, senses, intelligence, personality, skills, locomotion, protection against disease, and all the other amazing characteristics of human life, all of them creations of the processes of Nature/life.

All of a person's life is given. Everything you are was created by Nature/life. You are an expression of Nature/life and had nothing to do with making it, just as the sky or a leaf or a stream is part of Nature. Everything you are is a creation of Nature's processes - your consciousness, your mind, your body, your feelings, your hopes, your regrets, your past, your present, your future. Every thought and every feeling are provided by Nature/life - they are precisely the result of 1) your inner makeup and/or 2) what is perceived outside you. Everything that has happened was inevitable. It could only occur in the way that it did. Similarly, everything that is now happening and everything that will happen are inevitable. They are expressions of Nature. The Buddhists refer to this truth as the impersonal nature of all phenomena. They point out that self-importance is totally unjustified. They say, not I, but life in me. The realization of this helps to reduce personal shame and guiltiness.

Although what has happened was inevitable, and what is now happening and what will happen are inevitable, no one knows what the future holds - what the circumstances will be and what the contributions of people will be. Stopping to act would be its own action. Not knowing what the future holds, we can only continue to live our lives in the best way that we can. Maybe, circumstances and our own constitutions will make something good out of the future.

Religious leaders have tried to make out that we are our own creation by inventing the concept of the soul, as if there were some part of us that is, indeed, our own creation. Since we are responsible for ourselves, and since we create what we do each moment, we certainly seem to be our own creation, but deeper thought reveals this not to be true.

What happens is Nature's way. Everything that a person does is natural. If it weren't natural, it wouldn't exist. We cannot overrule the processes of Nature/life. Everything was, is, and will be inevitable, in accordance with the ways of Nature. Einstein's, or anyone else's, insights are all the workings of Nature/life. In other words, everything that we do is by instinct, just as it is with other animals. The pools of originations that lie beneath consciousness are the sources of everything that we do.

When people talk about body, mind, and spirit, what they mean by "spirit" is sometimes soul. However, the word "spirit" can mean something else, namely, life itself. A spirited person is a lively person, so in this usage spirit means life. Human beings, unlike other animals, know that they are alive. We know that life itself is something amazing and mysterious, untouched so far by science, which has not found what it is that adds life to matter. Spiritual people are people who recognize and honor the life within them. Since our lives are full of problems, it must be said that a qualification is needed - spiritual is that kind of life that chooses good nature. It is the evidence of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.

All thoughts and feelings arise from pools of originations in the mind. When a sentence is formed in a pool of originations, each word of the sentence, in turn, emerges into consciousness and is expressed. The pool is a feature of Nature/life. Knowing this, you can stop pushing yourself and thereby relieve yourself of the anxiety of not being good enough. Shame and guiltiness arise from the false belief that we are separate from Nature. We are not. You can allow Nature its way. It is greater than any ego. It is the false belief that we are our own creation that makes us ashamed and guilty.

We human beings often blame ourselves for our bad feelings, as if we should be in sufficient command of ourselves to overcome such thoughts. We convict ourselves of weakness. Something is wrong with us, we think, that we can't repel these strange forces within us. We don't realize that any bad experience, such as being excluded, is felt. It is in our nature/life to feel it. If blame must be attributed, it should fall on Nature/life itself. It is self-importance that causes the agonies of a bad conscience.

We have "should" on our minds - I should have handled that better, I should have gotten the right answer, I should have done better on the test, I should have been more fun to be with, I should have known what to do, I should have acted better. We also have "shouldn't" on our minds - I shouldn't have lost my temper, I shouldn't have been so quiet, I shouldn't have made the mistake, I shouldn't have failed.

In such instances, we can remind ourselves that human beings are in Nature/life, not apart from it. Everyone lives within a stream of events, responding moment by moment to what is happening. How a person responds is in large measure a consequence of the past. We are both empowered by the past, in that we learn, and debilitated by the past, in that we sometimes seem to be stuck with held-over bad feelings.

It is inevitable that what has happened to a person has had an effect. You cannot be other than affected by both good and bad experiences. Emotions have causes both inside and outside yourself. Any serenity you have can be traced to good caring - caring that others have shown you and caring that you have shown yourself. Similarly, any disturbance can be traced to mistreatment - mistreatment of others towards you and mistreatment that you have shown yourself. All experiences result in emotion. You cannot be other than a feeling creature.

The operations of one's mind are the operations of Nature/life. If your mind is full of conflict, it was set up by the processes of Nature/life to be that way. It is limited because all minds are limited. You cannot be everything that you wish you could be. You are limited by the limitations inherent in Nature/life. You are subject to the processes of Nature/life occurring in you.

As a human being, you are a mistake maker - you are set up by the processes of Nature/life to make mistakes. Anyone, including yourself, who thinks that you shouldn't make mistakes is unreasonable. You are a human being.

My parents made terrible mistakes. They were set up by the processes of Nature/life to make terrible mistakes. I, too, as a parent made terrible mistakes. Like them, I was set up by the processes of Nature/life to make terrible mistakes. Imperfection is inevitable; I join my parents in that reality.

There is no way to keep evil out of Nature/life. People are going to be selfish and cruel. They are going to try to take advantage of you. Despite all your efforts, you cannot be completely successful in turning away evil. Evildoing is in Nature/life, and evildoers are in Nature/life.

It is inevitable that there is pain from living in the real world. Every person is going to be saddened by loss, shocked by disaster, dismayed by perfidy, offended by meanness, horrified and terrified by cruelty, confused by meaninglessness, and wearied by responsibility. Often, a perfectly awful feeling is a consequence of normal living. If we were to eliminate normal responses to terrible events, we would be automatons, without feelings.

Furthermore, feelings such as fear, shame, hostility, and guiltiness are normal responses. When someone endangers you, you feel afraid. When someone turns his back on you, you feel ashamed. When someone intrudes on you, you feel angry. When you rebel, you feel guilty. These feelings occur regardless of whether you are in the right or in the wrong. Social conventions have a pull on almost everyone, regardless of their being right or wrong, and flouting them has its emotional effects.

When a person acknowledges his or her place in the context of normal human responses, a change in attitude occurs. Instead of thinking, "How awful I am," you can think, "This is human nature/life. I see it. From it I learn something about the nature of my life and of human life. Things have occurred, and my nature/life has responded. I face the consequences of living and acting in the real world." Even when thoughts are inappropriate to everyday living, you can still say, "I face the consequences. I see these thoughts as consequences of terrible past events. I am troubled by thoughts maintained by my human nature/life. Even though they are no longer appropriate, I see them as an attempt by human nature to solve problems, however unsatisfactorily."

You can also face the consequences of the effects of your negative feelings on other people. Feelings such as abiding fear, shame, hostility, and guiltiness are not popular with other people, and they sometimes cause other people to withdraw or to reject you. Even though you try to cover them up, other people see through your pretenses - always, body language tells on us. You can say to yourself, "I face the consequences of my bad feelings on my interpersonal relationships, now and in the past."

Whatever it is that we are, for better or worse, is an expression of Nature/life. Your thoughts and feelings arise from somewhere inside your mind - they are phenomena of Nature/life. We are vessels for the expression of Nature/life. All the credit for any accomplishment should be given to Nature/life. Self-importance is a delusion. With the Buddhists we can say, "Not I, but life in me."

Self-importance and the belief that all men are not created equal are the two sides of the same coin. They have had appalling consequences, from the untouchables in India to slavery and racism in the United States, to the suppression of women, to the mistreatment of children, to the belief that God favors one's group, and to royalty and aristocracy, which still poison social relations in England.

We in the United States owe a debt of gratitude to our Founding Fathers, who saw the harm in titles and nobility. It was Thomas Paine who, at the time of the French Revolution, wrote that France had "outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke and breeched itself in manhood." He said that titles "mark a sort of foppery in the human character, which degrades it. . . . Titles are like circles drawn by the magician's wand to contract the sphere of man's felicity." Titles, according to this line of thinking, are not an honor but a comedown from the nobility of a man.

In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "Nothing need be said to illustrate the importance of the prohibition of titles of nobility. This may truly be denominated the corner-stone of republican government, for, so long as they are excluded, there can never be serious danger that the government will be any other than that of the people."

These thoughts are enshrined in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution of the United States of America: "No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state."

Egotism seems to be the norm. Almost all lucky people think that they deserve their good luck. Our culture assumes that self-importance has its value in that it encourages striving and accomplishment. Consider the possibility that this is not true. Queen Victoria, for example, was an egotist, but Darwin was humble. Which was the greater person? Fortunately, there have been others, such as Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, and many others, both contemporary and in the past, who have given credit for their accomplishments to Nature/life.

When we give Nature/life its due, we experience a change of heart. Instead of insisting on our own way regardless of others, we see both ourselves and others as creations of Nature/life. It is not so important to justify ourselves, since it is Nature/life that is the creator - we can only take what we get. We are not so afraid of being in the wrong or of making a mistake. Bad memories learn to rest in the past. The nature of our lives comes to be seen as connected with something bigger - creation itself. What we personally possess is not critical to our self-image. We can ask, Who am I? and answer, I am a living organism, a self, functioning in the present.

We don't have to excuse ourselves anymore. Whatever we are, however we are, it's natural. We might wish that something weren't so, but it is. We might wish that something were so, but it isn't. If we cough or sneeze or hiccup, we needn't say, "Excuse me." It's natural. There is no need to feel embarrassed by anything natural, be it a handicap, a faux pas, or a mistake.

It is a comfort to see life in a broader context. As Albert Einsten wrote, "The conviction that a law of necessity governs human activities introduces into our conception of man - and life - a mildness, a reverence, and an excellence such as would be unattainable without this conviction."

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