Food for thought: A Slave of Instincts

Old Hindu Man in contemplation By James Rattray, via Wikimedia Commons

Every now and then I need to stop and think about life. To reassess my plans and priorities. To change. To adjust to shortcomings or pick a new strategy to overcome them. But any change is hard, because as a human I have  biological reactions to ‘change’ in my brain called feelings and emotions and also the inbuilt instructions called instincts. Talk about free will after that.

Instinct is something we share with other animals. Our old brain notices everything connected to food, sex and danger, because the instincts of survival (food and safety) and reproduction are are the product of long evolution and fundamental for our success as an individual unit of biological species.

Some species including ours have evolved as societies, so we have a social instinct, we seek company, and, though some individuals may become hermits, a complete social isolation, especially when it is against person’s will,  is incredibly hard to bear.  This has been explored well by scientists and writers (in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, in Chess by Stefan Zweig). While religious people often used seclusion as a mean for spiritual enlightenment, the enforced isolation was used as a punishment in many cultures. Prolonged solitude can cause clinical depression and even insanity.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – By User:Factoryjoe (Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.svg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Instinctual behavior reflects our most important needs, which form basal levels of Maslow’s pyramid. As you can see on the figure, the needs you can’t live without are physiological. According to Maslow, you can’t care much about the next level of needs until you fulfill this one. Of course, there are few possibilities the way this pyramid may look. For instance, collective and individualistic societies will have different two upper levels of the pyramid. If self-actualization is very important in the West, then in the collectivist societies it could be striving to contribute as much as you can to the greater good of the community. Though in the latter case the society can be oppressive to an individual, for it can favor social parasitism and its common form – totalitarianism.

Back to Needs and Instinct.  A biological way to express our needs and desires is emotion. Emotions are a universal language people understand subconsciously. They are manifestations of our feelings.  They are instinctive too.

Often I see people are completely governed by their feelings and emotions, which can undermine their success as individuals. For instance, fear can destroy our lives by making us passive, ruining our confidence and stopping us from actively pursuing our dreams. Feelings and emotions are cues we can interpret and analyze with our reason to improve our well-being. They don’t exist just to bring us joy or misery. We often forget about that.

When things go badly you and I react with negative emotions. We suffer.  This suffering can provoke all kinds of unproductive and destructive behavior, which can make the situation worse. How do I fight the instinct and go over suffering? Why should I bother at all? The last question is very common in the minds of frustrated people, as sadness and frustration often kill motivation.

Like everyone else, I had and still have my share of frustrations and I often thought about how to cope with that.  I thought I should embrace both joy and suffering as they are ingredients of everybody’s lives.  I shouldn’t   fear bad things to happen, because the worst one is death, it’s inevitable and therefore I am not afraid of it, like one is not afraid of growing up. I attempted to govern my life with reason, to use emotions as cues and not to let them back-stab me.

But then you can ask, if I could find fortitude not to be a slave of emotions, to choose not to want things badly, what is the point of such a life? How can I really work hard without emotional investment and without desperately wanting something?  Why can I just sit and age quietly?

On another angle you may ask – what if this is just a pose, a forced demeanor, and one day my self-control would crumble under pressure, because I’m a human being and not a machine?

These are fair questions.  A human life is a paradox.  If we stop wanting things badly – life loses its taste, if we don’t – we suffer.  I’m in favor of balance. And this balance requires a new attitude. We should accept the fact hat bad things can and will happen in our lives, and we need to learn how to cope with them and fight the temptation of coloring the whole world in black.

My way to do it is to try staying positive come what may.  And when it’s hard I just wait, I try not to make rushed decisions or act stupidly. I think about good things and learn from bad things (as banal as it may sound).  I remind myself of my own mortality and try to accept my life as it is. I pretend that life is like a motion picture. Like a dream. Like a game.

This way it’s much easier to follow my dreams. I guess everyone have their own tricks. What’s yours?

P.S. If you like reading books on electronic devices other than Kindle you may be interested in the news about my novellas, Usher Syndrome and the follow-up story Pumpkin Day. They’re now available in every format you like on Smashwords.com.

To subscribe to my weekly blogposts, just submit your e-mail address in the right upper corner of the post page (at the top of the sidebar).

 

Share

Your brilliant thoughts

comments

  • Tahlia Newland

    Ah, Maslow’s heirachy, it’s a while since I’ve seen that – teacher training stuff from years ago – I’ve always thought it good, as a simple schemata. I agree that acceptance is important. If we are busy rejecting our experience, we can’t really act effectively. I think we can be passionate about things if we are aware of our passions. It’s like stepping back a bit so you can see that you’re desiring or hating, but you aren’t taking that desire seriously. You know it’s just a desire. That way you aren’t caught up in it. If we stop our emotions, we become hard and unfeeling, the important thing is to not get emeshed in them. Let them flow through you like a river.

    I downloaded your book.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

      Thank you for thoughtful comment, Tahlia. It’s a tricky business dealing with emotions, isn’t it? I hope you enjoy reading my book :)