Monday, 20 March 2017

The mature mind's power over the instincts


Lent 2017, Day 20

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." [Corinthians 13:11]

Would that it were so simple.

As a child, I was aware of my childish instincts, which could get the better of me; but I was also aware of a deep consciousness that could perceive much that lay beyond my comprehension. Growing up, the process of reaching maturity (which has not yet fully happened!), is about overcoming our base infantile and reptilian reactions and striving to understand the deeper processes within. It is the essence of being human.

We live in troubled times, when tolerance of the Other in our society is in short supply; populist politicians garner support by exaggerating the threat posed to our societies by outsiders. A number of studies (this is an interesting one) have shown that babies are by nature racist, and with age and experience this innate bias can change.

The other day, late in the evening, crossing from the railway station to the Metro, I saw a Roma beggar woman holding out a paper cup into the stream of the rushing crowd in the cold wet rain. She was wailing loudly, and ignored by all. My first instinct was a shot of hate and anger. The sheer stupidity of begging in the 21st Century, a people that are wilfully unable to fit into society, playing shamelessly on naïve people's emotions, trying pathetically to elicit pity from passers-by!

Yet my higher consciousness managed to overcome the more barbarous instincts, the flash of anger passed to be replaced by reflection. The woman, forced into begging by the hierarchy of a people shut off from the mainstream of society for centuries. What is the alternative for them? What can be done? What's the correct policy response? I pondered on my low innate feelings; how easy it is to harbour them and let them run riot; how easy it is to allow them to be manipulated by evil politicians. I had a similar flash-of-anger-at-outsiders moment at Luton Airport last November, when a Bulgarian chap who couldn't speak a word of English was blocking an ever-lengthening queue to the train ticket machine when he actually wanted a bus ticket. "Take Control!"

No.

The reptilian brain is ever-present in us all, but higher awareness is also present, the angelic; it manifests itself in us at the earliest of age. As we get older, the latter should rise in influence and overpower the reptilian in us, managing how we think, what we do, what we say and how we behave. As young people, we behave in an uninhibited manner, showing more of our personality, with greater exuberance and abandon; as we get older we reflect more upon ourselves and what we're like, and we become more introverted, sharing fewer and fewer of our innermost thoughts, and when we do so, with a much smaller circle of close friends.

When I was a child, my thoughts and behaviours were a mix of mindless and mindful, the latter in the minority. As an adult, the mindful mature me is in charge, but every now and then mindless reaction, reptilian instinct kicks in. I have learned to identify it an correct my behaviour back to the path of mindfulness.

Looking back at the posts I've published on this blog eight or nine years ago, I can see how my writing style has improved - but I can also see a continual honing of my thought processes. Age and experience have been put to good use; life is about continuous, continual, learning and self-improvement. "Every day is a lesson in living," as my mother used to say. But what's the goal? To be able to iterate and comprehend all that we are conscious of, to set it down, to discuss and learn and put to the test and put into practice. Understand your biology, and rise above it.

The barbarous and angelic is there in us all, in unequal proportions. Some of us are aware of this truth, and strive consciously to decrease the former and increase the latter as we live and learn and grow older. But many of us have no consciousness of this duality within our nature and do not attempt to stifle the baseness and anger. When the barbarous side to our nature becomes fodder for those political leaders who haven't got their own innate barbarism under control, whose levels of self-awareness are too low to understand the motivations for own behaviour, things start getting dangerous.

This time five years ago:
Welcome to spring

This time six years ago:
Giving way or standing firm?

This time seven years ago:
Summerhouses near Okęcie

This time eight years ago:
A truly British icon

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