What is it to be natural?


“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
— Lao Tzu

The term “natural” may be understood in different ways respective of the context.  Yet, in every context, it is much easier to handle if viewed in contrast with its antonym. At one point, “natural” contrasts “artificial” while at another, its opposite is “cultural” and further still, it is antithetical to “supernatural”. In the first sense, what is “natural” is original and its copy or simulation is the artificial. The simplest example I can think of right at the moment is orange juice which of course is natural if derived by squeezing real oranges while artificial if what makes it look like an orange juice is the artificial coloring and the simulated taste is produced by a concoction of certain chemicals called artificial flavors.

Similar thought may be applied to human beings wherein a person whom we know very well is acting very strangely–i.e., very artificially–in a particular situation. We could make a spontaneous judgment on the matter because we know the person so well and under normal circumstances, we just couldn’t imagine s/he would act in the way s/he’s acting right now. In other words, it is a circumstance wherein the contrast between what is natural and what is artificial is so pronounced. At the end of the day, we get to the point of saying, the person wasn’t her/himself. However, the same evaluation or judgment may not be applied if the other person is a total stranger. We know nothing about her/him, i.e., we are ignorant of who s/he really is. Having this condition, there is no way for us to know what is natural and what is artificial in that person.

In many instances, many normal people tend to act artificially in public because of general social expectations–even pressures–embedded in the ways and means where we have gotten used to. We always tend to think of how the public will react if we start doing something unconventional. So the best thing to do is to toe the social line. We go the way of the majority and act artificially to maintain the convention without rocking the boat. However, we act in a very natural way in the presence of intimate family members and friends who, we are quite certain, will never expect from us anything beyond what they know of and about us since time immemorial, so to speak. And in such a condition, we don’t get ashamed. We don’t care at all even if some lapses–even craziness and stupidities–are committed because we know family and friends will always understand. Criticisms from them are always well taken with less strain and no embarrassment at all.

Being natural in the second sense, i.e., natural vs cultural, is a different state of affairs. In this context, there’s nothing negative both ways. The whole situation is basically characterized by a continuum that starts off with the natural and moves forward on a trajectory that leads to the formation of the cultural. In this particular sphere of discussion, the human factor is of the essence being a culture creator. There is no culture much less civilization minus humanity. In a more theoretical configuration, we find the human being right smack at the interspace between nature and culture. Hence, prior to human existence, we say that all was a natural domain, i.e., everything was natural.

Yet, the dynamics of what we call nature–or the natural, if you will–are distinguished by the process of evolution and the emergence of humanity is part and parcel of its orbit. In other words, the human being who is the prime author of all aspects of the global cultural landscape regardless of how diverse it is finds her/his most meaningful niche within the ambit of the natural. In this sense, it doesn’t matter at all how diametrically disparate nature and culture may be; the reality that matters once and for all is the fact that nature and culture constitute an unbroken spectrum. A further elaboration of this issue leads us to a realization that even if culture is by and large thought out in the most sophisticated operation of the human mind and substantially manifested in space-time, the most basic raw materials of physical culture amidst us are drawn and extracted from nature.

Nevertheless, even if we contend of how unbroken the spectrum that connects nature and culture may be, some infringements are however committed along the way not in the area of nature but rather in the area of culture. These infringements are not matters of lapses but of abusive acts of wanton destruction perpetrated by self-aggrandizing people to materially enrich themselves to the detriment of Earth’s natural resources. Having considered this leads us to the two sides of the human phenomenon: the creative culture-builder on the one hand and the destructive nature-abuser on the other.

Lastly, being natural in the third sense, i.e., natural vs supernatural, is simply being realistic. What is natural in this sense is that which we actually experience here and now. On the basis of this, we are all authorities of our respective experiences which in a lot of instances find a common convergence point. We understand each other and agree on many things of natural importance because many times we find ourselves in similar situations. It is realistic to say that we encounter a lot of problems in this world but in the same vein, most solutions to such problems are likewise located in this same world.

This world we live in is real and this is the main issue why we are deemed to make the best of this world. The most sensitive, sensible, responsible and committed among us are the most able and determined protectors of the Earth which is our home. There is no other nebulous world elsewhere which many religions have idealized. The supernatural is a figment of one’s imagination that gives false hope to the naïve and the brainwashed. We defend the natural because we are replete with the rational grounding to sustain its reality while upholding the “reality” of the supernatural takes a lot of imagination and presuppositions based on made-up stories elevated to the level of myths and legends.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 October 2015

Thinking Outside The Box

thinking out of the box

Each of us is an individual located in our own respective boxes, so to speak. Each box constitutes the components of a human person’s being–the particular programming courtesy of the family as well as the way society in general has conditioned our ethos and mores. The box provides the space  where we find safety and enjoy serenity. Basically, it is our comfort zone. It is our haven of rest. It defines what we consider as the norm. It grants us stability and constancy. The box is where we rush into in moments when risks prowl about and threaten our steady bearing.

In certain ways, the box may be seen as a factor that defines and identifies us as individual persons known and familiar to others. But in a deeper analysis, we get to a realization that individual boxes are nothing but microcosmic reflections/versions of the all-encompassing macrocosmic box that integrates the cultural structure of a society. We call it convention whose strength depends on how such is sustained in the lives of its individual bearers. We say that the box is unassailable, inalienable, non-negotiable. The box is therefore characterized by a self-reflexivity that aims to brace its own platform of strength. In this sense, it is deemed inviolable to seriously acknowledge that subverting the box is a grievous infringement of a preeminent wellspring of social cohesion and tenacity. In other words, we are not supposed to subvert the box.

But at certain points, the box gets oppressive and tyrannical with all the seemingly insurmountable barriers on all sides that define its box-ness. In this condition, our mobility and maneuverings are acutely confined within a very limited playing field. In such a situation, even our conception of free movement is adversely affected. The conditioning mechanism of the box actually prevents us to think of and explore even its frontiers. From a sense of uncertainty which spontaneously evolves in time to a feeling of trepidation and fear, the box asphyxiates and snuffs the call of creativity within the essential singularity of our humanity. The box through all the multivariagated factors that embody  its complex network prevents us to go beyond its fringes which if we just have the courage to get near them will prove to us once and for all that those very fringes are illusory. And thus we get to stand face to face with the reality that we can defy the box.

Yes, the box is here and now but the thought that we cannot resist and pass over it is a self-imposed illusion. The box may be traversed, even transcended, and normal humanity is endowed with the power to do so. In many instances, we tend to be hindered by the established presuppositions of the so-called conventional. Convergent information dominates and persists in us and in the process blinds us to see and explore the possibility of divergent information (cf., Giovanni Corazza’s TEDx Roma lecture on “Creative Thinking: How to Get out of the Box and Generate Ideas” . . . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEusrD8g-dM) We are reluctant, even scared, to diverge from the accepted, the acknowledged, the approved, the authorized. We don’t want to rock the boat. We are discomfited to think out of the box. By and large, we are denizens of the establishment. We have gotten used to things and events. A slight modification disorients us. We get upset when the old ways are challenged.

The box is like Plato’s cave wherein people are chained all their lives while facing a wall where shadows of things passing in front of the fire behind them are projected. The shadows constitute their reality. There is nothing more meaningful beyond the shadows. And when someone gets freed from that “reality,” s/he becomes a pariah. The box or the cave is real but not all of reality. It is just a speck of the more exciting and more immense reality for over and beyond the reality of the box is the more exhilarating and daring reality of possibilities. It is the latter reality that is supposed to excite us and intensify our aspiration to think and explore new opportunities, novel alternatives, unique approaches, uncommon ways, unconventional means. Thinking out of the box is awakening the hibernating courage within us and mustering our strength to probe and walk along the road less traveled.

The norm of the box is poignantly captured in the First Duty of the eminent modern Greek philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis’ “Spiritual Exercises” entitled The Saviors of God (http://www.angel.net/~nic/askitiki.html) as follows:

WITH CLARITY and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind.

The sun comes up and the sun goes down in my skull. Out of one of my temples the sun rises, and into the other the sun sets.

The stars shine in my brain; ideas, men, animals browse in my temporal head; songs and weeping fill the twisted shells of my ears and storm the air for a moment.

My brain blots out, and all, the heavens and the earth, vanish.

The mind shouts: ‘Only I exist!

“Deep in my subterranean cells my five senses labor; they weave and unweave space and time, joy and sorrow, matter and spirit.

“All swirl about me like a river, dancing and whirling; faces tumble like water, and chaos howls.

“But I, the Mind, continue to ascend patiently, manfully, sober in the vertigo. That I may not stumble and fall, I erect landmarks over this vertigo; I sling bridges, open roads, and build over the abyss.

“Struggling slowly, I move among the phenomena which I create, I distinguish between them for my convenience, I unite them with laws j yoke them to my heavy practical needs.

“I impose order on disorder and give a face – my face – to chaos.

“I do not know whether behind appearances there lives and moves a secret essence superior to me. Nor do I ask; I do not care. I create phenomena in swarms, and paint with a full palette a gigantic and gaudy curtain before the abyss. Do not say, ‘Draw the curtain that I may see the painting.’ The curtain is the painting.

“This kingdom is my child, a transitory, a human work. But it’s a solid work, nothing more solid exists, and only within its boundaries can I remain fruitful, happy, and at work.

“I am the worker of the abyss. I am the spectator of the abyss. I am both theory and practice. I am the law. Nothing beyond me exists.”

To SEE and accept the boundaries of the human mind without vain rebellion, and in these severe limitations to work ceaselessly without protest – this is where man’s first duty lies.

Nevertheless, it is in the Second Duty where we see how the box is defied and the reality of more challenging possibilities outside of the box is courageously faced, even embraced:

I WILL NOT accept boundaries; appearances cannot contain me; I choke! To bleed in this agony, and to live it profoundly, is the second duty.

The mind is patient and adjusts itself, it likes to play; but the heart grows savage and will not condescend to play; it stifles and rushes to tear apart the nets of necessity.

What is the value of subduing the earth, the waters, the air, of conquering space and time, of understanding what laws govern the mirages that rise from the burning deserts of the mind, their appearance and reappearance?

I have one longing only: to grasp what is hidden behind appearances, to ferret out that mystery which brings me to birth and then kills me, to discover if behind the visible and unceasing stream of the world an invisible and immutable presence is hiding.

If the mind cannot, if it was not made to attempt the heroic and desperate breach beyond frontiers, then if only the heart could!

Beyond! Beyond! Beyond! Beyond man I seek the invisible whip which strikes him and drives him into the struggle. I lie in ambush to find out what primordial face struggles beyond animals to imprint itself on the fleeting flesh by creating, smashing, and remolding innumerable masks. I struggle to make out beyond plants the first stumbling steps of the Invisible in the mud.

A command rings out within me: “Dig! What do you see?”

“Men and birds, water and stones.”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightening flashes!”

“Dig deeper! What do you see?”

“I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death.”

“Dig deeper!”

“Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore.”

“Don’t weep! Don’t weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart.”

Beyond the mind, on the edge of the heart’s holy precipice, I proceed, trembling. One foot grips the secure soil, the other gropes in the darkness above the abyss.
Behind all appearances, I divine a struggling essence. I want to merge with it.

I feel that behind appearances this struggling essence is also striving to merge with my heart. But the body stands between us and separates us. The mind stands between us and separates us.

What is my duty? To shatter the body, to rush and merge with the Invisible. To let the mind fall silent that I may hear the Invisible calling.

I walk on the rim of the abyss, and I tremble. Two voices contend within me.

The mind: “Why waste ourselves by pursuing the impossible? Within the holy enclosure of our five senses it is our duty to acknowledge the limitations of man.”

But another voice within me – call it the Sixth Power, call it the heart – resists and shouts:

“No! No! Never acknowledge the limitations of man. Smash all boundaries! Deny whatever your eyes see. Die every moment, but say: Death does not exist.'”

Yes, the box is real but outside the box is a more exciting and daring reality.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2015