I'm sitting by a tree in the park, meditating.
Everything is quiet. The sun is out, but the wind makes no trace, leaving the trees undisturbed.
I noticed a dog owner walking near me as I continue to sit. Then, he unhooks his dog's leash.
His dog responds with fury. He fires across the grassy field, exploding with new found freedom. And after running in circles for a few moments, he throws himself onto the grass, rolling around in what I can only imagine to be pure joy.
Watching this scene unfold, I find myself thinking about the dominant societal narrative of survival.
Survival, we are told, is the purpose for everything we do.
Even something that feels pure, like making love, is actually just our desire to reproduce and for our genes to replicate.
This dog running around in circles and rolling on the grass was actually a calculated survival maneuver. We may not know how exactly it contributed to the dog's survival, but because we know survival is our primary purpose, we know it must somehow (circular logic).
This narrative, not often explicitly mentioned, is found in most of mainstream science. From the theory of evolution to economics, "survival" is seen as the purpose of life.
I can't help but wonder what the affects of the narrative are on our psyche. How does it cause people to view each other? How does it cause us to view animals or plants?
Do we begin to see ourselves in competition instead of cooperation? Fighting, when there should be collaborating?
This narrative of survival is not just something we believe. It is a lens through which we see then see the world. It colors all of our experience.
Proponents of this narrative will defend by saying, "well, it's the truth! And we cannot hide from the truth". But what is not acknowledged is how by believing this narrative, it then becomes true.
If I believe that life is about survival, then I'm very likely to act in a selfish way that enhances my survival.
This behavior then reinforces to myself and others that the narrative of survival must be true. Which then leads to further selfish, survival based behavior.
In other words, we create our reality.
But knowing that we create our reality, we must be mindful of what narratives we collectively choose and how they affect us.
How does the narrative of survival serve? And how might it be limiting us?
In this time of turbulent political strife, it seems obvious to me how this narrative is limiting us. We have an economic system, born of competition and artificial scarcity, that is generating massive inequalities. We've become so obsessed with survival that it's going to tear us apart.
"But what if it's true?" someone protests. "We must be realistic about how selfish people are".
Actually, there is much new science revealing itself to support the idea that survival as our primary purpose is mistaken. Competition is out, cooperation is in.
But I think we can do better than just that.
If one believes in some sort of God or infinite, benevolent intelligence, then survival as primary becomes quite a strange narrative to believe at all.
It would suggest this infinite, all-loving being created all of life, all of its creatures, just to watch them do battle. Just so they would spend their time fighting for their existence.
It would suggest that God is some sort of glorified UFC fan.
Can we not see how silly this is?
And yet, survival remains a tempting narrative to believe. For many scientifically minded people, there may be laws and order to the universe, but there's certainly no inherent benevolent intelligence directing things. Such a thing could not be measured or proven and therefore is not seriously considered.
What makes me disbelieve the narrative of survival more than anything is not the new science coming out. It is experiences like watching the dog roll on the grass. It is experiences of deep intimacy and connection that transcend any rational explanation. It is the presence of beauty.
Beauty plays a crucial role in unraveling of the narrative (shall we call it myth at this point?) of survival. Beauty, despite our attempts to calculate how it may increase our chances of survival, refuses to comply.
There is no reason a sunset has to be as beautiful as it is.
And isn't that exactly what makes it so beautiful in the first place?
What if there was underlying survival agenda to the beauty of a sunset? Would that not suck the beauty out of it the moment we recognized it?
Beauty simply exists for its own sake. For the experience of it.
Pieces of art or nature or relationships that display beauty are what truly move us. We can sense that it's more beautiful than it has to be.
It is without obligation or requirement. It comes from within and it opens our hearts.
From this place, we know that survival cannot be the primary purpose of life.
For life is too beautiful for that.