Imagine a tree with leaves. You pick a leaf from the tree and put it on your desk. After some time, the leaf on your desk has changed. It has become brown and wilted. All the other leaves of the tree, the wilted leaf’s siblings so to say, are still green and vivid.
This experiment questions a widely known phrase that says “change is the essence of life.” Wilting is a form of decay – and decay is a change that opposes life.
Something in the tree prevents decay. This is true for everything that lives. A piece of meat (dead flesh) decays within hours. Living flesh can be more than 100 years old, as evidenced by giant turtles and humans. The core aspect of life is decay prevention.
Decay is a change in which an entity becomes less complex. Preventing decay requires the opposite. It requires a change in which an entity becomes more complex. An apt word for such a kind of change is growth.
If growth and decay are equally strong, they balance each other and the entity remains what it is. It stays alive. Like the leaves on the tree. When life starts, such as when a tree develops new leaves in spring, growth is stronger than decay. When life ends, such as when a tree loses its leaves in fall, growth is weaker than decay.
Growth is the essence of life.
The quote “change is the essence of life” is often used to advocate allowing or soliciting changes in one’s life. But some changes may be like wilting. They may be destructive and thus threaten survival.
It needs growth to stay alive. The more you grow, the more you flourish. As I will explain in on of my next blog posts, “The Meaning of Life,” the essence of human life is limitless growth, which is achieved by lifelong growing beyond personal limits over and over again. It is an art of its own to find out which growth serves you in this.
photo by Nika Akin on unsplash.com
We know true joy of life from early childhood. As small children we had only biological needs, such as food. When these needs were fulfilled, we curiously explored the world by permanently asking ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ with all our senses. This is also known as “play.” We did not just grow physically, we also grew mentally at a phenomenal speed. Life was beautiful and we enjoyed it to the fullest.
Yet, as we grew older and learned countless rules about how to behave within the social groups to which we belonged, our joy of life diminished. These rules also created mental needs, such as wanting to be seen and loved, which further contributed to our discontent.
True joy of life eludes us, as we are busy following the rules that we have learned and we are busy trying to satisfy the mental needs that arise from these rules. We have learned to call this the search for happiness. But none of the satisfactions that we have learned to look for – food, sex, romance, success, possession, drugs – lead to the kind of satisfaction that we so eagerly desire.
How can we once again experience the deep joy of life that we had when we were little?
To find an answer, it helps to understand why we enjoyed life to the fullest as a child. The reason is simply that we lived our full potential.
This begs the question: What is the full potential of a human?
An answer to this question is in “The Full Potential of a Human.” The full potential of a human is limitlessness.
Living limitless requires to permanently go beyond. Therefore, we can experience true joy, satisfaction, and contentment with life not by being content with what we have achieved but by going beyond. Again and again and again - lifelong.
This is how we lived when we were little. We were never content with what we had achieved. We were not content with crawling but wanted to stand, walk, and run. We were not content with somebody giving us a hand while we walked but wanted to walk alone. We were not content with being fed but wanted to feed ourselves. We were not content with grunting and stammering but wanted to speak all the languages that we heard. We were not content with what we knew about something but asked questions to find out more. We were not content with what we could reach but wanted to reach what was out of reach. We always wanted to know more, achieve more, reach more. This is why we tirelessly explored with all our senses the world and our place in it. When we were little we always yearned to grow and we gave everything to achieve this. Our ravenous curiosity was the power behind living the limitless life we had as a child.
Why did we stop living like that? It happened precisely as told in “The Other Story of the Eagle in the Chicken Coop.” By growing up in a limited and limiting human society in which we saw but humans who live limited lives we simply took on the limited and limiting behavior of our peers and thus inevitably became limited and limiting ourselves.
We live limited lives because we started to be content with what we have achieved. We started to be content with what we have achieved because this is what most people do and because we were told to be content.
Limitlessness is our true nature. Limitation is what we have learned. To be limitless again as the only way of experiencing true joy of life again, we need to become free from our limitations. Our limitations are the rules that we learned, “The Boxes We Are In.”
photo by Ben White on unsplash.com
The potential of a life form is defined by its behavioral tools. The potential of a bird is to fly. The potential of a fish is to swim. The potential of a cheetah is to run. The full potential of a life form is the full spectrum of the behavior that is possible with its tools. For example, the full potential of a cheetah is to run up to 75 mph.
In nature, all life forms live their full potential. All adult cheetahs can run 68-75 mph. There is no adult cheetah that can only run, say, 25 mph. If there were one, he would quickly die for he would not be able to catch his prey.
Likewise, the potential of a human is defined by a human’s tools. The specifically human tool is the mind. In the book “Consciousness: Its Nature, Purpose, and How to Use It” I explain why the mind is what distinguishes humans from all other life forms on this planet and I explain the mind’s purpose.
Biologically we are apes. The mind enables us to behave different than an ape. Therefore, the human potential is simply to behave different than an ape.
Obviously we humans do this, for we don’t live in the woods anymore as all the other apes do. We also learned to use fire as a tool, which no other life form can do. And we created all the tools that are unique for humankind.
What is the full potential of a human? What is the full spectrum of behavior that is possible with our mind?
As I argue in detail in the book “Consciousness”, there are no limits to the behavior we can perform, not even what we consider the laws of physics. Therefore, the full potential of a human is to have not limits – limitlessness.
If a cheetah had a mind, and would thus be limitless, he would not be content with being able to run 75 mph. He would try to find ways to run faster, either through training or by creating tools. If one day he would reach a limit that he cannot transcend, such as a (bio)physical limit, he would try to go beyond other personal limits, such as learning to swim faster, trying to fly, etc. But a cheetah has no mind and thus he is content with life simply by living his full potential as a cheetah.
The full potential of a human is limitlessness. To live limitlessness means to permanently transcend what we regard or experience as limits.
photo by Lobomirkin on unsplash.com
We are hungry for food.
We are hungry for sensorimotor experiences, ie for perceiving the world with our senses and moving in it.
And we are hungry for comprehending the world and creating in it, ie changing it. This third type of hunger is mental hunger – curiosity.
The purpose of hunger is to let us grow. The purpose of mental hunger (curiosity) is to let us grow mentally to living our full potential as humans.
Natural mental hunger can be seen in children. Children are passionately curious and permanently explore the world. They ask the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?’ in uncountable many ways with all senses in order to receive answers. We call this “play.” Answers are mental food. A child whose biological needs are fulfilled and thus can explore the world in its play experiences joy, fulfillment, and a deep contentment with life because it lives its full potential.
Imagine a child named Peter. Peter is totally absorbed by his play. It is noon and a parent calls him for a meal. Peter says that he is not hungry. But he has to obey. He has to stop his play and eat.
Peter indeed is not hungry for physical food. If we passionately engage in something, we are not hungry for food. We are hungry for what we do and we feed from what we do. An image of Picasso dropping his brush and palette because his wife calls him for a meal is preposterous.
Peter must not satisfy his mental hunger with mental food. Instead, he must eat physical food although he is not physically hungry. Therefore, Peter is trained to try to use eating as a substitute channel for mental hunger. He learns to substitute-curiously explore the fridge instead of true-curiously explore the world. The problem with this is that it does not work. Physical food cannot satisfy mental hunger.
As we grow up we learn to try to use also other substitute channels for our mental hunger, which don’t work either. I described them in my (German language) book “Neugier: Der geistige Hunger des Menschen” (“Curiosity: The Mental Hunger of Humans”).
Diverting the power of mental hunger (true curiosity) into substitute channels developed as a “mental heritage” over countless generations of humans. We learned it from our parents, our children learn it from us. This heritage prevents us from living our full potential.
Since we unlearned to satisfy our natural mental hunger properly, we remain mentally hungry, ie we are permanently mentally unsatisfied. This shows as a yearning. None of what we learned as substitute methods stops this yearning. This keeps us in a loop of trying to find satisfaction. The search for happiness is one of those. In truth, we just yearn for living our full potential (see my blog post “The Other Story of the Eagle in the Chicken Coop”.) The key for living our full potential is the true passionate curiosity from our childhood.
There are only few adults who at least partly escaped the programming of the diversion of the power of mental hunger and thus could live a much greater portion of their potential. Examples are Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Nikola Tesla.
Everybody can become truly curious again as a key to live their full potential. This requires to become free from the programs that we received when we grew up.
photo by Colin Maynard on unsplash.com
I spent years exploring the origins of our behavior. It is brought forth by the rules that we permanently learn knowingly and unknowingly by living and having social contacts. Every encounter, every movie, every book, every sentence that we hear or read, every behavior that we perceive, everything changes us. Everything contributes to who we are, how we behave, what decisions we make, and thus influences our future life.
We can visualize these rules as boxes we are in. One of my boxes is the “Austrian food habit” box, in which I am because I grew up in Austria. If I would have been moved to Japan as a baby, I now would be in a “Japanese food habit” box instead. Until my mid-twenties I was in the “always eat breakfast” box. I started each day with a breakfast without ever asking myself if I was hungry. Then I read a book about how healthy fasting is. The book explained that the breakfast is but the breaking of the nightly fast and that by skipping breakfast one extends the nightly fast by a few hours, which was argued to be healthy. This argument convinced me, so I left the “always eat breakfast” box for the “never eat breakfast” box, which, clearly, is just as limiting. I also found countless social behavior boxes. My father was a gentleman – a gentle man – and the rules/boxes that evolved from this contribute to how I treat women.
During more than four years of intensively exploring my behavior and human behavior in general I found countless boxes in all areas of life. We behave how we have learned to behave. There are boxes all humans are in. There are boxes that create cultural, ethnic, national, and religious characteristics. There are boxes that create family traits. And so on. I am unique because of my personal mix of boxes.
We were born with only biological needs and no boxes. As long as these needs (such as for food) were fulfilled, we experienced true contentment with life. But then we inevitably started to copy the behavior of the people around us – just like in “The Other Story of the Eagle in the Chicken Coop” the baby eagle copies the behavior of all other birds. We inherit not just the genes. We inherit also the boxes. The genes come from our parents. The boxes come from everybody and everything we encounter in the real world or in virtual (media) worlds. We also take on the boxes of fictitious people from TV, cinema, internet, computer games, and books. “Infection” happens through perception and there is nothing we can do about it. Our parents received their boxes from their parents and peers. And so on. Our boxes represent thousands of generations of human lives and the fantasies of authors, filmmakers, computer game producers, advertising people, and so on.
Our contentment with life got lost as these boxes emerged. Now we are busy following the boxes/rules and trying to satisfy the mental needs that arise from them. (More about this in my next article.)
But the memory of how we felt during early childhood exists and creates a yearning: a yearning for a life without boxes. This yearning makes us experience the boxes as a prison. What does this do to us?
Since, biologically, we are animals, our behavior is rooted in animal behavior. Therefore, we need to ask: How does an animal react to imprisonment? It uses aggression to break free.
Our boxes cause subliminal aggression. This aggression accumulates over time and, eventually, a small cause can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The result can be outbursts or “inbursts”, ie the aggression can turn outwards or inwards. Outward aggression shows as violence anywhere between banging one’s fist on the table and running amok. Inward aggression shows as accidents or diseases anywhere between a flu, psychic disorders, burn out, and cancer.
In order to reexperience the true contentment with life that we yearn for, there is only one path: Become free from the boxes.
One could argue that without boxes/rules there would be chaos and people would start killing each other. But this is only partially true.
Consider a group of small children, who still are largely free from boxes. They just would have fun playing together. They would never start killing each other. Only when they see such behavior, they start copying it.
According to our evolutionary genealogy, we carry both a chimpanzee and a bonobo in us. Genetically, they are our closest relatives. (More about this in a future article.) Chimps are aggressive and beat, rape, and kill each other. Bonobos are friendly and play together. The boxes bring out the chimp in us. Without the boxes we could live a bonobo style life. But this transition can only happen if people have to courage to become free from their boxes. This cannot be achieved collectively. This can only be achieved individually. I explored and experienced this during more than four years.
I described the mechanisms behind the boxes in the book “Consciousness : Its Purpose, Nature, and How to Use It” and I wrote about the boxes in my German language book “Neugier : Der geistige Hunger des Menschen”.
Copyright (c) Bernhard Kutzler
Photo by Hannes Kutzler.