Russian Dolls 2
Every human living today has personally travelled through 300 million years of evolution.
The journey took place in the womb. In the nine months from conception to birth, every fetus will have followed, step by step, the trail blazed by evolution as it developed.
Consequently, as you would expect in such circumstances, we have been born with bits and pieces that come straight from ancient ancestors.
For example, since we evolved from reptiles, the bone structure of our hands and arms is remarkably similar to that in the front legs of crocodiles.
And we still carry with us the reptilian brain. We know it as the brain stem, home to instincts. It has been encased within the later-developing mammalian brain which, in turn, has been encased in the brain that we developed still later as humans.
These evolutionary links are fascinating, because they lead inescapably to the question: « What else has been carried over from the deep past? What else has been written into the human genetic code? »
Nowhere is the question more absorbing than in the field of behaviour. Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud concluded that we have inherited « archetypes » from our evolutionary past. However, they didn’t know how the archetypes were technically encoded on the brain and, they disagreed on their nature and their role.
To quote Ken Wilber in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2nd ed. 2000, $39.95 in paperback), the archetypes, for Jung, « arise from the common, day-to-day, normal and typical experiences of men and women everywhere…. (T)he ‘imprints’ of these (experiences) over the millenia became engraved on the brain, so to speak. »
This explains the similarities from culture to culture of gods and goddesses. It’s not their actual images that are passed on, he points out, but their traits. Thus, in ancient Greece, Aphrodite represented the archetype sensuality, Artemis, strength and independence, and Hestia, steadiness and patience.
If instincts can be passed on through the reptilian portion for our brains. And if archetypes can somehow be coded into our awareness, what about relationships between humans and nature? And more specifically, between humans and wildness?
Except for a hairsbreadth of the six million years that we have been evolving as hominids, we have lived in the wild. What has been engraved on our brains as a result normal and typical experiences in the wild?
Why shouldn’t we have genetic coding that says the lapping of water on a shore will bring relief from tension? Or that the deep woods will return calmness and perspective? That’s what people report. That’s what thousands of years of literature, in differing cultures around the world, have been saying.
If we refuse to listen to the message, should we be surprised if we become irritable, and erratic, and depressed?
If we destroy the deep woods, and if the scream of machinery obliterates the sound of the waves, should we be surprised if we find ourselves becoming frantic. Even crazy?
When we deny a need, or destroy the means of fulfilling it, we throw ourselves out of joint. We fall apart. We become neurotic.
I’m not suggesting that we need to return to the past. However, I am suggesting that we need to integrate who we are with what we do.
When we do, the doors to potential are flung wide open. When we don’t integrate, we cripple ourselves, and the societies in which we live turn sour.