Insights Into Human Nature & The Human Condition


I want to continue, flesh out, and give some concreteness to that which I shared in this  post: What Is Our Fundamental Nature? Is It All Made Up?  What better way to do that than share the insights of ‘sensitive’ human being (Ted Simon) who spent four years travelling around the world on a motorbike in order to come face to face with life, and experience-feel all that goes with being truly alive:

The concept of the Self seemed to connect with my own thought …. of being made of the stuff of the universe, all pervading and imperishable.  The Truth was in the stuff itself, revealed in the natural order of things.You have only to merge with the world to know the Truth and find your Self. 

There are shapes and forms which arise out of the natural order. Trees, caves and animal architecture lead naturally to thatched roofs, stone houses and mud walls. If you knew this you would not choose to put up a roof in corrugated iron. Nor would you think of throwing a plastic bag in a stream, not because of what you have been told about pollution, but because the idea of a plastic bag is offensive in itself. Without this sense of what is naturally fitting you can be cleaning up the world with one hand and spreading poison with the other.

It surprised me to discover that this sense of rightness does not appear naturally in people, even though they live in the heart of nature. In my own village in France the same people who fished the stream shoved every possible kind of refuse and sewerage into them, even when offered a convenient alternative. In Nepal, where not a single engine or power line disturbs the mediaeval rusticity of the Himalayan valleys, people shit in the rivers with a dogmatic persistence ensuring that every village is infected by what the people upstream have got.

The Truth obviously does not reveal itself unaided to humans. It has to be uncovered by an effort of consciousness. Or, more likely, it exists only in human consciousness. Without man to recognise it, there is no Truth, no God.

Yet it is not consciousness that governs the world, nor even ideology, nor religious principle nor national temperament. It is custom that rules the roost. In Colombia it was custom to do murder and violence. In a period of ten years some 200,000 people were said to have been killed by acts of more or less private violence. Yet I found the Colombians at least as hospitable, honourable and humane, as the Argentines, whose custom is merely to chat. Arabs have the custom of showing their emotions and hiding their women. In Sudan it is customary to be honest. In Thailand dishonesty is virtually a custom, but so is giving gifts to strangers. 

Every possible variation of nudity and prudishness is the custom somewhere as with eating habits, toilet practices, to spit or not to spit; and almost all of these customs have become entirely arbitrary and self-perpetuating. Above all it is customary to suspect and despise people in the next valley, or state, or country, especially if their colour or religion is different. And there are places where it is customary to be at war, like Kurdistan or Vietnam.

Speaking of the more vicious customs, and of men who should have known better, St Francis Xavier  said a long time ago: ‘Custom is to them in the place of law, and what they see done before them every day they persuade themselves may be done without sin. For customs bad in themselves seem to these men to acquire authority and prescription from the fact they are commonly practiced.’

Custom is the enemy of awareness, in individuals as much as in societies. It regularises the fears and cravings of everyday life. I wanted to shake them off. I wanted to use this journey to see things whole and clear, for I would never pass this way again. I wanted to be rid of the conditioning of habit and custom. To be the slave of custom, at any level, is much like being  a monkey, an ‘ape of the wayward senses’. To rise above it is already something like becoming a god.

Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels

Breakdowns as an access to breakthroughs


What is our default way of being in the world?  

Listen to the mystics and it is being ‘not awake’ – not awake to the reality of existence.  Listen to Martin Heidegger and it is ‘fallenness’ – fallenness into they ‘they’, the ‘anyone’, the crowd.  Listen to psychology and it is habit.

I say our normal way of being in the world is to be on automatic pilot.  A great illustration is driving a car.  How many times have you driven from A to B and when you get there you cannot remember the journey?

I say our normal way of being in the world is to go about life as one (anyone) goes about life.  That is to say we have fallen into/with the crowd. Which crowd?  Our society. Our social class. Our tribe.  So you/I go about life as one goes about life: you/I dress like one dresses; you/I eat like one eats; you/I walk like one walks; you/I hang out where one hangs out; you/I talk the way that one talks; you/I work they way one works; you/I entertain ourselves the way that one entertains himself; you/I form the relationships that one forms….

Put differently, our normal way of being is for our habits to have us, to be us.  And where do these habits come from?  From our society, tribe, social class.  So in our normal way of being you/I are simply being/showing up as our society-tribe-social class.  At one level this works great. It allows us to fit in with the rest, smooths social relationships, and allows us all to work together and accomplish more than we could accomplish on our own.

And there is price.  The price is at two levels. At the society-tribe-social class level we are blind to that which we are blind.  Put differently, we have no access to what we don’t know that we don’t know.  At a personal level we do not own our lives. And by not owning our lives we do not get the sense of aliveness, of joy, of meaning/fulfilment that comes with being creators of our lives – being, pursuing, creating, bringing about that which matters to us.  We settle instead for a life of drudgery.

So we are asleep. Habit owns us. We are the crowd – they anyone, the ‘average’.  Which begs the question, for those of us interested in waking up, what is the access to waking up and owning our lives, to living as creators?

Breakdowns are a great access to waking up and making breakthroughs in our living

Breakdowns are those events and moments in our lives when our ordinary way of being in life – not awake, fallenness, habit having us – breaks down even if that is for a minute or two.  In our ordinary way of being – being comfortable with habit, being on automatic pilot – you/I do not welcome breakdowns. No, we get upset, frustrated, annoyed, angry and even violent.  My son and I experienced a mild breakdown when in the midst of watching a movie the electricity was cut-off.  Another example of a breakdown could be the loss of our jobs, or a relationship with a loved one.

If you/I are up for playing BIG, living ‘extraordinary’ lives then we need to welcome and make the best use of breakdowns.  Why? Because breakdowns provide an access to breakthroughs.  When breakdowns occur we are given sight – without our wishes – to our state of being, our habits, our fallenness.  And if we generate the courage and make the time to get present to the sight that shows up for us then we enable ourselves to make breakthroughs in our living.  Put differently, breakdowns if embraced in the right manner enable us to transform our lives.

Want an example of what I am talking about?  Let me share with you the story that has made many tears flow from my eyes and still bleeds my heart.  Which story?  India and the horrific gang rape by six men of a 23 year old physiotherapy student in Delhi.  From what I read it occurs to me that this is not the only young woman that has been raped.  It occurs to me that many women are raped. Just yesterday I was reading of a young woman, mother of two, who threw herself of a train to escape rape and is critically injured.  Put differently, to be a woman in India is to be ‘one who is subjected to oppression, abuse and even rape’.  That is and has been the default state of existence for a long time.  And this default state has been in the background, invisible, not talked about.

For whatever reason the horrific rape of the 23 year old young woman, Jyoti, and her subsequent death has brought about a breakdown – at least for now – in the taken for granted way of ‘the way the world is in India’.  This breakdown has allowed people in India and outside India sight of the ‘darker side of modern India’ – that side which is not at all modern nor civilised (in the western sense of the word). And for some, this has brought both shame and disgust.  So that is the breakdown that has occurred in India, at least Delhi.

I am saddened at the rape and death of Jyoti. I am saddened with learning that a young mother of two is critically injured because she threw herself of the train to escape rape. And yet I see possibility/transformation amidst this sadness.  What am I talking about? This breakdown in India – a suspension of the ordinary way of being and going about in the world – represents an opportunity to make a breakthrough.  What breakthrough?  A breakthrough in the lives of ordinary women in India – young or old.  I can see a world where Indian women are not oppressed, not abused, not raped. Put differently, I see a world where it is not ok for one to oppress, abuse, rape.

What will it take for people in India to use this breakdown to create a breakthrough and thus transform the lives of the women in India? For enough people to be / show up / operate from the possibility that the women folk are free, are respected, are not abused, not oppressed, not raped.  Put differently, for enough people to climb out of their state of falseness and own/live the possibility of ‘freedom, safety and respect for the women of India’.

To sum up: yes breakdowns are painful, few of us welcome them, and yet if embraced breakdowns offer us the ladder via which we can climb out of our state of fallenness and make breakthroughs in our lives and transform the experience of our living.  Isn’t that true leadership – leading our own lives, owning our lives, being a stand for that which matters to us, being a source of contribution to our fellow human beings and life itself?