Nature, Nurture and the Flickering Flame

We’re all born into circumstances and for our entire lives our experience is thwarted or facilitated by those circumstances.

The twin influences of nature and nurture (what we were born with and what we receive after that) both contribute to the ways that we experience our lives: determining how our minds work, whether we feel integrated in our bodies, whether as adults we feel our childhood has prepared us for a fulfilling life or has left us trying to recover from it; whether friendships come easy or we feel isolated on the fringes of the human world. We may feel that we do not have a place in the age in which we have been born; or we may find opportunities in our society for constructing a fulfilling life. And there are those who just have to scratch out a few morsels of human contact in a world that remains alien and closed to them.

When it comes to how we feel in the flow of our lives, the phrase “Nature or Nurture” captures something about our karmic inheritance. Whether we feel we started life with advantages or had to overcome our beginnings in order to discover potential in ourselves, these twin influences certainly have sociological and psychological relevance. However there remains something even more fundamental in how we experience this life, which we may miss if we exclusively view everything as it strikes us as an individual.

The concepts of Nature and Nurture also refer to the larger realm in which as individuals we make our way. Nature is not just a word that describes the inherited characteristics with which an individual is born into the world; we are part of something greater and nurture is what occurs when we live in harmony with the natural world.

When we shift our focus from what has conditioned our individual existence to the whole in which our lives are playing out, then a different kind of perspective becomes available. We still feel regret, remorse and fear, but now our challenges are not just our own. Now they resonate within a growing understanding of the human condition.

Now we can understand that we have not been singled out unjustly for the suffering that accompanies our lot in life. We have a voice in a requiem that includes the sad longing of minor chords, each struggling to return to the light that stirs before the dawn; when the spirit of celebration, aspiration and joy seems to be buried in the cold ground. In response, we may seek solace in the flow of the music itself.

If we distrust that sad longing, we are in good company.

If we prefer to get out of bed and start our day very early, instead of lying there in hopes of falling back to sleep; if we choose the experience of being embodied in the flow of intentions and activities, we are not alone.

We may think that loss and disappointment are too great a price to pay for the widening perspective that they sometimes bring; but we can do worse than to keep wondering if there is a realm in which such losses allow us to see more deeply into the nature of our lives. And if so, are we able to fathom those depths through the circumstances of our present lives, exactly as they are now unfolding?

I find myself continuing many of my long-standing activities; and I am trying out some new ones. The new ones tend to feel like borrowed clothes—as if I have grabbed a raincoat in a sudden downpour which I intend to give back once the sun is out again.

I have been sampling several supports in the past half year: there’s a counselor who has training in psychology with knowledge of the brain who is helping me understand Jon’s decision to end his life; there’s a man trained in “Tibetan Cranial Massage” who is confrontational and raises issues about my failures to support my family; there are the Survivor of Suicide support groups with their melancholy dirges, in which I get to warm up in the orchestra pit several times a month; there are family, friends and acquaintances; there are tasks, projects, and calls to action. There is the irrepressible flow of time, without which nothing could arise: bright or dark, harmonious or discordant, hopeful or despairing.

There is a world arising each morning that provides a steady stream of circumstances, natural, nurturing or barren; they offer in every moment an opportunity to dive in or hold back; connect or shrink away; venture forth or retreat. These moments provide circumstantial evidence of the music of the spheres, of an eternal melody played on whatever instruments are at hand, which gives our minds an opportunity to experience clarity and our hearts the energy to swell with rhythms that know nothing of separation, isolation or loss.

“We want to be able to use our minds without distractions, and without being overwhelmed by the thinking of others or by our own negativity.” Caring, page 242.

I am slowly realizing that I can never receive a complete understanding of the purpose of my own life from any one external source. There is no conclusive meaning outside of my own beating heart. I will not find some final resting place outside of myself; I will not assuage my longings for understanding in anything I can borrow from anyone else: not in the SOS meetings; not in my cherished family and friends; not through some insight provided by my western counselor or stimulated by the confrontational questions of the Eastern massage therapist; not in Buddhism or in the Time, Space, Knowledge vision. These gifts of deeper understanding are like Earth, Air, Water and Fire; they are like Love, Compassion, Joy and Balance: as fundamental as breath in the unfolding of my days. But if I don’t notice them, don’t welcome their presence and appreciate that the flickering flame of my own awareness is one with these fundamental energies, then I am little more than a dying dream disappearing the instant it appears.

There will always be the music of the spheres; infinite, eternal and reverberating in every thought and feeling. But like a whitecap breaking on the face of the sea, miles from shore, all of this only comes alive for me when I settle into the ordinary life that arises every morning when I open my eyes once again.

2 comments to “Nature, Nurture and the Flickering Flame”
  1. Michael:

    This is an exquisite piece!!

    “Diving in or holding back”, “Connecting or shrinking away”, “Venturing forth or retreating” all address the self’s connection, but does not challenge its solidity.

    Can we add “open or close”?

    Perhaps freedom allows the self to open to the wholeness and fullness of its nature.

  2. This is an exquisite piece!!

    “Diving in or holding back”, “Connecting or shrinking away”, “Venturing forth or retreating” all address the self’s connection, but does not challenge its solidity.

    Can we add “open or close”?

    Perhaps freedom allows the self to open to the wholeness and fullness of its nature.

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