We as human beings have a need for control. It’s in our biology and it’s part of our survival. Maturana and Varela, described the biological pattern of survival under the rather grandiose (and self created term), autopoiesis. An unavoidable pattern of survival that dictates the behaviour of every living system, based around the basic rules of evolutionary biology. The essential core of which is the question: How in a constantly changing world full of threat can we manage our change in such a way that we are able to maintain our identity and survive? Our choices are it turns out relatively simple:
Destroy the threat if it is too challenging to our identity and existence
Adapt to the change but control it
When faced with a new path, the unknown, peril, it’s perfectly natural for us to immediately cocoon ourselves in the patterns of our lives that we already know. Those ways of doing have, after all, got us thus far in life. We’ve survived and even excelled at existing because of them. But unfortunately there’s a flaw in this plan. Explained by another simple rule of biology, one we’re all familiar with, Darwin’s survival of the fittest, which along with suggesting that life has no purpose beyond perpetuating its own survival, also claims that that which fails to adapt to its environment will ultimately not survive.
Over millennia of human existence we have developed a plethora of techniques, skills and practices that allow us in subtle and brutal ways to control our environment and ourselves. We strive everyday to take hold of the impossible that is the rugged, infinite possibility of the world and sculpt it into something smooth and safe. And in doing so we make our lives and our worlds fit into the baskets that we want to carry. No more, but certainly often much less than we are able.
For me there are two questions here, and they’re not inseparable. Firstly when facing change how do we balance the needs for adaptation against the threat of extermination? How far can we push before the system retreats, or even destroys us (the threat)? And secondly, a more humanistic question around the way in which we, each one of us, live our lives.
In seeking to control we loose so much. In assuaging our fears, living the same rules, the same ways, we don’t experience the dance that is our potential. We don’t dance with the waves of life. These waves of life that in their undulating relentlessness, power and their tendrils spiraling beneath the surface, the drops of spray dancing in the air, hold all that is possible. Instead we sit on the shore and long for the sea, resigned that it will never be ours. Believing in our perceived powerlessness that change is in fact impossible. And so we sit and in our longing we slowly begin to die.