The Human Animal

Have you ever been reading something and come across a passage that made you go, "Ah HA!"  A passage that somehow said something in a way that you had always hoped to be able to do, but had never quite been able to express?  Sometimes an author puts your own thoughts into words so beautifully, that all you want to do is carry their words around with you, like a neon sign above your head.  "This!  This is what I think!"

What an amazing moment of shared experience.  To have someone else articulate your own thoughts or feelings - it can make a person feel less lonely, to say the least.  Sometimes we really need that, to see that their are others out there who feel the same way.  To know that we are not alone in our thinking, in our feeling. But, that's not what this post is about.  This post is actually about my shared moment with an author.  My, "YES! That's what I've been trying to say!"

In today's age of hyper intelligence, super achievement, and constantly advancing technology, sometimes we forget that we are simply animals.  We may be the few conscious, self-aware animals on the planet - but we are still animals.  Unfortunately, with this consciousness, we have chosen to dismiss our animal side as wrong or ignorant, and in doing so, we dismiss an integral part of ourselves.  While some instinctual behavior can get us into trouble, dismissing the fact that we have animal instinct gets us into more trouble.

The more people I have met, either socially or in my office, the more I think about the human being as an animal.  As a human race, or perhaps this is more a Western idea, we seem to have decided that because we have this consciousness, this higher order thinking, we are somehow immune to the dangers of our environment, of animal life.  Yet, everyday, I interact with wounded human animals.

I wanted to communicate this to people, but never could find just the right way to explain it.  Barbara Sher, in her book, Wishcraft, however, gave me the words.

"If a seed has to grow with a rock on top of it, or in deep shade, or without enough water, it won't unfold into a healthy full-sized plant.  It will try - hard - because the drive to become what you were meant to be is incredibly powerful.  But at best it will become a sort of ghost of what it could be: pale, undersized, drooping...we ourselves are the only creature we would ever expect to flourish in an environment that does not give us what we need!  We wouldn't order a spider to spin an exquisite web in empty space, or a seed to sprout on a bare desktop.  And yet that is exactly what we have been demanding of ourselves."

How many of you expect to be highly successful and serenely happy - despite being squashed, under-nourished, or under-supported?  We may be conscious animals, but we are still animals.  We need light, air, food, and water - we need an environment conducive to our growth and well-being.  Without it, how can we possibly be our best?  We wouldn't expect it of anything else living on this planet.

But, that's not where the story ends. The incredible upside of having this higher order thinking is that we can choose to do something about it.  We can choose to reflect, we can choose to talk with a therapist, we can make changes to our lifestyle so we eat better, sleep more, exercise more, get outdoors and stress less - we can even choose how we see and understand the people around us!  (Interested in this idea?  Take a minute for "This Is Water" by David Foster Wallace)

However, you can really only make these changes when you recognize that you are not immune, that you have been affected, that you are overcoming obstacles.  If you ignore the animal in you, if you ignore the hurt animal in you - how can you ever accept it, use it, control it, heal it?