The Cult of the Natural

The catch phrase “go with the flow” seems to be on everyone’s lips. Often it often passes unexamined as an insightful guideline. But following “nature” is hardly a revolutionary philosophy. It’s the spontaneous tendency towards entropy, which the universe automatically follows. We’re already on this trajectory.

That said, defaulting to “nature” as a guide frequently backfires.

The costs of “following our nature” show up in many powerful concepts and symbolic images. Think of being caught in illusion (as in the film “The Matrix”). Or choosing behaviours that keep us firmly in “samsara” as taught by the Dharmic schools. Or being a puppet of Maya. Or playing the role of Papageno (the nature-loving comic relief) or being devoted to the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s opera about spiritual initiation, “The Magic Flute”. Or acting like the naïve Fool of the Tarot in reverse. And many more.

As described below, following nature may lead to unwanted results, especially without the presence of a force for change. Think about it.

Here is an extensive list of examples where “going with the natural flow” may not be positive.

Choices

As wizard Dumbledore of Hogwarts says, “One day we’ll have to choose between what’s right and what’s easy.” Every second presents choices. Each choice is either more or less fair/constructive or unfair/destructive for ourselves and others. How informed are our choices?

Food

It’s a “natural” tendency to want to binge constantly on the foods that appeal most to our senses, even those that aren’t necessarily good for the body. Thus, many people’s natural eating habits may slowly bring about their own death. Most people in North America would benefit from eating less food than they consume.

Natural downward trend

Any rock will “naturally” roll down a slope. It won’t roll upward. Humans have the same natural tendency to go downhill, not uphill. Climbing takes effort, which is a force for change.

Darkness

Darkness is the norm in the physical universe. Light is not. For there to be light a powerful event is needed: a star. A star is a “force for change”. For its light even to be seen, you need a reflective surface, otherwise all you see is darkness. The same applies to humans. We require the wise use of our life force to see clearly.

Entropy and Syntropy

Entropy is a law of physics. It governs the physical universe and every human being who blindly follows nature. It’s the tendency to disintegrate, to dissipate, to disperse, to separate, to scatter ourselves in the periphery to the point of self-annihilation.

Syntropy, on the other hand, is a law of physics that applies to the universe only at specific moments, and often under the effect of a “force of change” (such as the warmth of spring). In humans, forcing change requires an effort. Think of syntropy as the tendency to reunify, to return to one’s centre, to become One again.

The Sanskrit term Ulta Sadhana (originated by the yogis of the “Nath” tantric tradition) refers to the practice of the great inversion within oneself. It’s the shift from the default movement of the physical universe (the explosive entropic direction of separation) toward the less common, inverted movement (the syntropic direction of returning to the centre). A force must be applied in order to achieve this.

Ponds

A stagnant pond furnishes yet another example of nature at work. Stagnation produces accumulation. It doesn’t lead to subtlety or fresh new life. Here, a “force for change” would be the addition of a current of fresh water, such as a stream or waterfall.

Satisfaction vs contentment

Humans focus much more on pursuing short-term satisfaction than sustainable contentment. We don’t “naturally” grasp the luminous and liberating nature of true contentment. We have to learn about it and experience its benefits before we can begin to integrate the concept of contentment.

Natural impulses and instincts

The natural tendency is to follow our impulses. Are these impulses all perfect? If humans observed no self-imposed limits what would happen to crime rates?

Yet most of the time we follow the flow of our impulses and desires like fish or sheep. We presume we have “the right” to satisfy each impulse, when what we’re really doing is welding our chains to cravings for satisfaction.

“Nature” in the form of instincts, drives and genetic directives does not seek our happiness but the fulfilment of its own ends. The final goal of desire is its own (fleeting) extinction. Thus desires mindlessly enslave us as we seek to scratch our itches, whatever it takes.

“Go with the flow. Eat that eighth doughnut. Buy yourself more of those things you don’t need. Abuse this person. Lie to that person. Secretly remove your condom. You know you want to. Why resist? Don’t be a hung-up prude.” Ouch.

In fact, in their endless determination to seek satisfaction, our egos can lead us even to physical death.

Fears

We also have a natural tendency to fall prey to any fear that appears in our minds, whether it is well-founded or not. Then we have a natural tendency to feed those fears, to allow ourselves to be limited and controlled by them. Making life choices that can last 10, 20, 30 years, all based on fears. Think of religious fear, regional prejudices, or fears that we must have a corporate job, family, dog, house, big car, etc.

Distancing after sex

Nowhere is the power of nature more evident than in our sex lives. After an orgasm (or more than one), a man (motivated by a cocktail of self-injected hormones) typically wants to distance himself from his partner. This mechanism furthers his (unconscious) aim of “impregnating” as many different partners as possible for the survival of the species. With respect to the partner with whom he has just extinguished his sexual desire, his “job” is done (regardless of that partner’s actual fertility/sex).

In women, this distancing reaction tends to occur when the body realises that it has not been fertilised. Her evolutionary program tends to push away the “incompetent” person (man or woman) who has not fertilised her eggs. Nature doesn’t steer us for happiness in love, but rather for the survival of the species. Even if the act wasn’t aimed at procreation. Yes, nature is that blind, and deeply engraved in our genes. Incidentally, this chemical reaction of rejection is greatly attenuated in the presence of oxytocin (the “love hormone”).

Sex can even lead to death

Nature’s power to drive behaviour shows up heartrendingly in species after species. Consider the Antechinus, a mouse-like critter.

When a male begins to produce less sperm, he will mate constantly, sometimes for fourteen hours at a time, and do nothing else. His fur falls out. He starts bleeding from the inside. His whole body becomes infected. But gangrene doesn’t stop him. The Antechinus will literally continue to mate until his body disintegrates and he dies. (Why A Little Mammal Has So Much Sex That It Disintegrates)

In the wild, if an Adelie penguin does not find a female, it will go to extremes involving necrophilia, sexual coercion, or sexual and physical abuse of chicks. Some chicks are crushed and injured, others are killed (‘Sexual depravity” of penguins that Antarctic scientist dared not reveal).

Indeed, there are many examples of mortality linked to perfectly “natural” sex-related behaviour in the wild. To produce a Brazilian baby slender possum both parents die. The male expires shortly after the sex act (which destroys his immune system), and the female never survives the pregnancy.

Slavery to addiction

In short, slavery to the craving for satisfaction is “natural”. Yet following your instincts hardly promotes harmonious life as a couple or even a constructive experience of love…let alone sustainable contentment.

Keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with desire or pleasure, only with attachment, or addiction to them. This is the meaning of the 2nd noble truth of Buddhism. Human suffering comes not from desire (which is natural) but from slavery to the need to (attempt to) satisfy/extinguish it.

“The problem is not pleasure; the problem is attachment.” – Tilopa, Indian Buddhist monk who lived 1000 years ago

So, natural “desire” isn’t fundamentally bad. However, it becomes so when we let it blind us. That’s precisely what it does, to one degree or another, in almost all human beings. That’s its job…to force us to act without thinking in ways that further our genes’ success.

Believing thoughts

Now, let’s apply the same ideas to thoughts and our tendency to identify with them. It’s both natural and absurd to believe our thoughts. We naturally think that what surrounds us is the whole and reflects ourselves. These projections give rise to patriotism, favouritism, segregation and so on. These can narrow our perceptions and understanding in unhelpful ways.

Ignorance

Ignorance is [not always] bliss. Naturally, ignorance is our starting point. We then acquire knowledge and experience, assuming that we choose to exercise such opportunities. Many naturally remain in ignorance. Often, wisdom comes from lessons mastered as a result of entanglement in addiction to “natural” appetites. We learn to contemplate beyond our natural impulses.

Wanting more

Naturally, we evolved to always want more. More money, more recognition, more admiration, more food, more pleasure, more ease, more comfort, more partners. Naturally, we seek to avoid feeling a sense of lack. We want to remain in our comfort zone.

Yet real growth generally happens outside of that zone…

Happiness isn’t “natural”. Happiness is not about having everything we want (which is a delusion, and the natural aim of the majority), but about appreciating everything we already have. Naturally, we can’t grasp that being content with less is the path to real freedom, happiness, clarity, independence of mind and will. A recent study showed that responding reflexively to every impulse diminishes our capacity for willpower over time. (Such impaired pre-frontal cortex function is known as hypofrontality.)

Natural disharmony

Human beings develop behavioral problems at a very early age, influenced by parents already toxified by lives lived blindly following natural instincts. Once the child is an adult, it is out of harmony. It doesn’t want to see its dysfunction. It attracts to itself a toxic life and toxic relationships without ever sitting down to heal the cause of its disharmony. It’s “natural” to avoid working on oneself, to hide issues, to seek comfort instead, to blame others, to evade….

A “super-natural” revolution

What would be truly revolutionary? To grasp a complex, rich and magnificent version of contentment and to integrate it into all aspects of our lives. It’s not suffering or resignation. The ego dictates that limited definition, afraid of forfeiting its jollies.

Understand the infinite freedom gained by the pleasant feeling of “I don’t need anything right now”. I don’t need anything more. I don’t need the carrot in front of my nose. I don’t need to spend more, eat more, take better selfies, have more sex, or even have an orgasm. I no longer need to compensate, no longer need to fill my endless perceived voids, no longer need the false security that comes from feeding my addictions…. I’M FREE!

That feeling certainly wouldn’t be “natural”. That would be a real revolution to break the chains inside us. Yet that feeling isn’t generally sold. Nor is it appealing. Hardly anyone can imagine that contentment would be a source of greater happiness than obeying every impulse that our bodies and our suffering dictate.

We’re not talking about taking away the natural or repressing desire. We’re talking about knowing how to straddle the natural. To do this, you have to love freedom. You have to love it above short-term pleasure.

Who is prepared to do this effectively and with gratitude? Because if it’s done instead with frustration or “discipline”, without appreciation, “nature comes back at a gallop”. The key is to work wisely with the natural.

Having said all that, I’m going to sound like I’m contradicting myself by adding that many humans are so contorted by the false perspectives of toxic parents and environment that they can’t even allow their “nature” to manifest itself in its intended way. These people need to live their natural tendencies fully without restraint (but without artificial means) before trying to detach themselves from those tendencies.

Let’s be clear: Moving in the direction I’m proposing here would go against almost all the goals promoted by today’s world. Against our genetics. Against our most fundamental impulses. Yet it is, in my opinion, of paramount importance for human growth.

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Nuances

The word “nature” creates ambiguity because it evokes other ideas, which are not here under discussion.

1. “Our true Nature” often refers to god within, Atman / Purusha, the Self, etc. This is not what we are talking about here.
2. Several natural phenomena can teach wise lessons: the flow of water that gently shapes. The flexibility of reeds / the strength of oaks. The hydrostatic balance of the sun. And so on. I am not addressing such metaphors, but rather describing living things and their entropic tendency – in the absence of a force for change.

Stéphane Richer – Centre Summum (https://centresummum.com)