Being Natural Chris Thomson – Intelligent Simplicity Series 4319
Note to the reader: This is the third in a three-part series on intelligent simplicity. In this part, I share insights and stories, and offer To Do lists about Being Natural!
Part Three: Being Natural
I first read the “Tao Te Ching” in the 1960s when I was studying Chinese. It was the translation by D.C Lau. In one of life’s strange coincidences, Professor Lau turned out to be my future wife’s godfather, and he was also on the panel who examined me for my degree.
A Taoist would see nothing strange or coincidental in these events. On the contrary, he or she would regard them as perfectly natural.
Although the Tao Te Ching means different things to different people, I like to think of it as a concise guide on how to be natural. But what does this mean?
We could say that it is to be as the world of Nature is. The challenge, as you can imagine, is that in today’s urbanised world, where we are surrounded by technology and the comforts of modern living, many of us are so cut off from the natural world that we barely know what it is to be natural. While it is true that we sometimes visit that world, to climb mountains or just to enjoy the beauty of the countryside, these are temporary visits, and we invariably find ourselves back in our city lives, cushioned again by technology, and cut off from Nature.
For most of us, it is difficult to avoid living in towns and cities, and we are perhaps more dependent on technology than we realise.
The question for me is: is it possible to be natural, while at the same living an urban life surrounded by technology?
I believe that not only is it possible, it is absolutely necessary. Unless we learn to be natural, and to live in tune with Nature, any human future will, at best, be a perpetual repair job, as we constantly try to undo the damage caused by our unnatural ways of living.
This still leaves us with the question: what would it mean in practice to be “natural”? We can begin to answer this question by looking more closely at Nature, by observing other creatures?
We admire tigers and wolves and falcons and dolphins, and many other creatures. They are usually graceful and elegant. They are “natural”, and we more or less know what we mean by this, even if we cannot define it exactly. Being natural for them means many things.
- It means that they are able to survive in difficult situations, without any of the comforts and supports that we take for granted.
- It means that they are truly ecological, living in balance with each other and the planet.
- Apart from the relatively few who are injured, or very old, or suffering from lack of food, it means they are in perfect health.
- And within the limitations of who they are, it means that they behave intelligently.
All this is obvious when we observe them. It is surely significant that, when we speak of “tiger nature” or “dolphin nature”, or about the nature of any other creature, we have something admirable in mind, possibly a kind of perfection.
In contrast, when we speak about “human nature”, we usually have imperfection in mind. We seem to believe that it is human nature to be flawed, to make mistakes, to behave less than perfectly.
How different it is for all other creatures! If they were flawed, if they made mistakes on the scale that we do, if they behaved as imperfectly as we do, they would soon be in serious trouble. If large numbers of a species were not in perfect health, and did not act intelligently and ecologically, the species would soon cease to exist.
- Why, then, do we make ourselves the sole exceptions?
- Why are so many of us not in perfect health?
- Why is truly wise, intelligent behaviour the exception for us, and not the rule?
- And why do so few of us live ecologically, in harmony with each other and planet?
Answering these questions fully would take us well beyond the scope of this article. What I will do instead is focus on describing four pathways to being natural. Just to be clear, I do not claim that following these pathways will solve all our problems, but I do think they would be a great leap in the right direction. First, let us explore what it would mean to be in our “natural state”.
Your Natural State
A very helpful way of thinking about health is to see it as your natural state. Being in perfect health is the way you should be, and it is the way you would be, if you had not deviated from your natural state.
While it is true that a few people are born with defects, the great majority of us are born in perfect health. Illness is what happens when we stop being natural.
And it happens in a huge variety of ways – what we eat and drink; the air we breathe; the way our parents treat us; the kind of schooling we receive; when we do not follow our inner voice; not to mention the negative effects of living in very materialistic times. Insofar as any of these are unnatural, then they will distort our natural state, and affect our health.
If we eat well, exercise regularly, breathe clean air, have good parents and teachers, live in a good society that is not obsessed with materialism, and follow our inner voice, the chances are that we will stay healthy all our lives. Of course, some of us will have accidents or be subject to infectious diseases, but living helps us to return to our natural state quickly.
The corollary should be self-evident, but perhaps it is worth stating. The more we deviate from natural food, regular exercise, good parenting, good education, and from our inner voice, the more likely we are to be in poor health. I will go into detail about this on another occasion.
Meanwhile, I would like to add just one more ingredient to what I hope is a common-sense mix. I would like to suggest that all of us have an inbuilt “sense of health”. This is just one of a range of inbuilt senses that include our sense of quality, our sense of right and wrong, our sense of survival, our sense of time, and so one. The list is quite long. They are inbuilt, because we seem to be born with them. They enable us to know things without having to be taught about them. We simply know!
Our sense of health enables us to know, without the aid of experts, how our health us. When we are in touch with this sense, and allow it to work for us, we know exactly what our body needs and when it needs it. It could be rest, or exercise, or sunlight, or certain minerals and vitamins.
A good example is my left leg. I broke it last year, skiing here in the Catalan Pyrenees, where I live. While the doctor and hospital staff were very helpful, I realised that they could take me only so far. The rest was up to me.
This meant that I had to get to know my leg better than ever before. I assume that this was possible only because I already had something that enabled me to do this – my inbuilt sense of health. In practical terms, it meant that I knew exactly how much weight I could put on my leg, and how far I could bend my knee. But it’s more than this. It also meant that I knew how far I had recovered and how far I still had to go before my leg returned to its natural state.
There is a virtuous circle here, and a vicious one. The more we listen to our sense of health, the healthier we will be. And the healthier we are, the more effective our sense of health is likely to be. That is the virtuous circle.
In contrast, the more we neglect our sense of health, the more our health suffers. And when we are in poor health, it can be more difficult to access our sense of health. That is the vicious circle.
Although the Tao Te Ching does not specifically mention health, it is strongly implied. My image of the “old geezer” – this is what Lao Tze means in Chinese – is of a roly-poly guy, with a constant twinkle in his eye, because he sees only the funny side of life. It is difficult to imagine that someone with a constant twinkle not being in his natural state!
A couple of questions for you:
- Are you in your natural state?
- How natural is your life?
You may never have asked yourself these questions, but when you do so, I think you will find it a very fruitful process. Let us now turn to the next pathway to being natural – your natural knowing.
Your Natural Knowing
Your natural knowing is what you know without having to be told or taught. It is what you already know. It is the knowing that is built into you from the moment of birth. It comes in four closely related forms:
Your intuition – this can be defined as “knowing without knowing how you know”. It is very common, and not as valued as it should be
Your “other senses”– as we have just seen, there are quite a lot of them, and they include your sense of quality, your sense of health, your sense of time and space, and your sense of survival
Your inner voice – this is a special form of intuition. Specifically, it tells you what you should and should not do in any given situation. It I your sense of right and wrong
Your higher knowing – this gives you direct access to “spiritual” dimensions, beyond the current range of science and beyond the range of your five physical senses
I will say a few words about each of them.
Intuition is the term we use when we know something without knowing how we know. There is much we can do to raise the level of our intuition and make it work usefully for us in our everyday lives. I wrote about this at length in my book Being Fully Human (available 2020).
The most effective thing we can do is to allow intuition into our lives, rather than doubting it, editing it, or blocking it out altogether. Perhaps I hardly need add that our intuition becomes stronger when we are natural!
Our “other senses” qualify as senses on two counts: we are born with them; and they give us direct access to particular aspects of the world. When the full range of our other senses is working well, this gives us access to a lot of useful knowledge. At times this knowledge can be life-changing, and even life-saving. The more natural we are, the better our other senses seem to function.
The other term for our “inner voice” gives the game away. It is the French word for “consciousness”. I am speaking here about our “conscience”. I will stick my neck out here, and say that the more natural we are, the more likely we are to be listening to, and acting on, our inner voice. However, it is one thing to be aware of something. It is quite another thing to act on that awareness. People’s muted response to their awareness of climate change and other pressing issues springs to mind! Yet the fact is that all of us have our inner voice. It is constantly speaking to us, especially in life-turning moments
Finally, our higher knowing. This is the least known form of our natural knowing. This is because we live at a time when science has become the dominant body of knowledge, as well as the preferred way of acquiring knowledge. And while it is true that science has given us much to be thankful for, this comes at an increasingly high price, on two counts:
- First, it perpetuates the current global paradigm, modernity, which is long past its sell-by date; and
- Second, it pushes other important forms of knowing and knowledge to the margins, or even out of sight.
In any event, I believe that all of us are born with the faculty of higher knowing. All of us have potential access to “spiritual” dimensions. If we made the time and effort to awaken and develop our higher knowing, we would soon discover that science gives us only part of the picture, the physical/material part. And we would discover that the spiritual part is very different indeed.
There is a virtuous circle here too, and a vicious one. Our natural knowing is more evident when we are being natural. And when we listen to our natural knowing, we are more likely to be natural. I don’t think that I have to spell out what the vicious circle is.
If you have read the Tao Te Ching, you will know that it takes an eccentric approach to knowing. It says: “He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know”. Don’t take this too literally! It is typical of the Tao Te Ching to make strange statements, often in the form of paradoxes. My image of the “old geezer” includes my belief that he knew a lot, but did not feel the need to broadcast it. For him, 25 centuries ago, knowing did not come from experts. It came from tuning into himself, and from being at one with the natural world.
We will now explore the third pathway to being natural – your natural ability.
Your Natural Ability
It is sometimes said that we use only 10% of our brain. Whether or not this is true, I often feel that we use only a small fraction of our potential ability. Speaking personally, I am uncomfortably aware that I am not the pianist I could have been, nor am I the rock-climber I once thought I was.
As for my spoken French and Chinese, they are not what they used to be. What excuse can I offer? I have been lazy at times and not as disciplined as I wish I was. I could go on, with more excuses, but I am sure you get the point. Most of us could be more skilled, with more abilities, if only we had been more disciplined and worked more on ourselves.
That said, all of us have huge potential ability. This is not to suggest that we will be another Mozart or Messi or Einstein. The outstanding will always be just that, standing out from the rest of us. But it is to suggest that, with some dedication and application, we could all be much more able, in two important senses: we could do the things we already do, but much better; and we could also learn to do completely new things.
Significantly, there appears to be no theoretical upper limit to our abilities. There are practical limits, of course, such as the limits of time and energy, but I believe that the more we work on ourselves, the more able we become, raising both the quantity and quality of our abilities. It all depends on how much work we put in.
This raises an interesting question: Do we already have all abilities latent inside us, just waiting to be revealed, developed, and put to use in the world? I believe that the answer could be yes. For example, I can speak Chinese, French and Spanish only because I always had the potential to do so. The same can surely be said for playing the piano, rock-climbing, skiing, indeed any ability you can think of. If you like, these potential abilities are the analogue of the beautiful statue, latent inside the block of marble, just waiting for the sculptor’s hammer and chisel to reveal it to the world. The actions of the sculptor are akin to the work we do on ourselves, to develop our abilities.
If this is true, it raises another question: What powerful, useful abilities lie dormant inside us that we do know about, or cannot even imagine? The answer surely has to be all possible human abilities, including those for language, music and sport, but also including those that we currently consider to be “paranormal”, such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, and distant healing. While it is true that these abilities are not normal, in the sense that they are outside normal experience and understanding, this does not mean that they are unnatural. I believe that, as with our natural knowing and natural state, they are part of our birthright.
All of us are born with them latent inside us. In a very few cases they awaken spontaneously. We call such cases “psychic” or something similar. In the great majority of us, however, they remain dormant, surfacing only rarely and sporadically in the form of extraordinary experiences, for which our modern culture is unprepared.
As with our abilities for language, music and other skills, our “paranormal” abilities can also be awakened, trained and made into a useful part of our everyday lives. Now that would really change everything!
There is another virtuous circle here, and another vicious one. This time, I will leave it to you to figure out what they are.
The fourth pathway to being natural is your natural wisdom.
Your Natural Wisdom
If your natural knowing gives you good knowledge, and your natural abilities give you the means to use this, then your natural wisdom helps you take the right decisions and act wisely and well. “Wisdom is as wisdom does”. There is absolutely no point in being wise in theory.
I define intelligence as “behaving wisely and well”. My example may surprise you. It is Forrest Gump! Although Forrest was portrayed in the movie as of below average intelligence – his haircut, his slow way of talking, and his lack of sophistication – he was simultaneously portrayed as someone who always behaved well. He never did anything bad or wrong. Indeed, he behaved so well that he was honoured by no fewer than three American Presidents. In the sense I use the term, Forrest Gump was an intelligent man. I realise that this flies in the face of the typical use of the word “intelligent”. Yet the fact is that brainy, intellectual people with high IQs often make mistakes and behave badly.
At this point, I will stretch my neck out, and suggest that we all have the potential to behave wisely and well. Of course, this is not always apparent. Too often, we allow ourselves to deviate from our natural wisdom. As with our natural health and our natural knowing, there are many reasons why we deviate. Prominent among these are our upbringing, our schooling, as well the society in which we live. These can powerfully impede and distort our natural tendency to act wisely.
It need not be this way. If we learned to be more natural, then our natural wisdom would flow more freely and be more apparent in our lives and work. We would behave better and make fewer mistakes.
Just to repeat the point – this would happen because it is our true nature to be intelligent and to act wisely, just as it is the true nature of all other creatures to be intelligent, within the limits of who they are. If it true for them, it is surely true for us.
After all, are we not top of the evolutionary tree? Do we not consider ourselves to be the most intelligent species on this planet? The answer has to be a guarded yes. Yes, we have the potential to be the most intelligent species. Our capacity to create languages, music, knowledge and technology is clear evidence of this. The trick – and the key to our continuing survival – is to convert our potential into reality. We need to be intelligent in practice, and not just in theory. We would then deserve our position at the top of the tree. This is where being natural comes into its own.
Incidentally, there are well over 200 translations of the Tao Te Ching in English alone. This no doubt reflects the depth of Taoism, as well as the inscrutability of classical Chinese. The translation I like best is by Stephen Mitchell.
Chris Thomson was a lawyer and economist in Scotland until the mid-80s, when he was asked to chair the Natural Medicines Commission in the UK. He then trained as a psychotherapist in London, before joining the Scottish Council Foundation, a think-tank in Edinburgh, set up in anticipation of devolution. From there he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he advised multinational corporations on various moral issues.
As well as passable Spanish and French, Chris speaks Chinese.
He now lives in the Catalan Pyrenees, where is a keen mountaineer. The ski slopes are only 20 minutes away!
Chris published Full Spectrum Intelligence in 2014. He is now writing The Inner Cosmos, and Intelligent Simplicity
YouTube or https://www.youtube.com/user/Vaguehighlander
As a guest post - the views are those of the author.
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