It’s a big subject, what it means to be human. We ask it in science, and in art, in literature.
We get some answers. Neuroscience and anthropology have identified many facts about our species. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the mysteries of human nature lately.
Like: what’s up with music? Why do we make it? Why is music a thing that is so important to us?
And dancing? A completely unproductive expenditure of energy.
Yet we love it. It’s ubiquitous.
Perhaps just as mysteriously, why do we gravitate to bodies of water? Particularly to moving water, like waterfalls, the ocean, large lakes with tidal effects? Yes, we must certainly have evolved in places that had water, but…what leads parades of cars to the beach or the river today? There is something innate in us which draws us to these places. Something hard-wired.
That, and fire.
Light a fire—even in the day—and people will congregate around it. At night, it becomes a virtually impossible to refuse magnet for humans. The smell of smoke, the taste of flame-cooked food…it’s all a complex of something very old in us that says where the fire is, there is home. Safety. Food.
I wonder about these things because I don’t think there is any way to construct an experiment that will test them. They are true, but their causalities lay buried in our genetics. Mysterious. ancestral memories.
I’m accustomed to the fact that we are creatures of impulse. I see it in myself, dozens of times every day. The hungers: Water. Protein. Fats. Sugars. Sex. Sleep.
Atheopaganism is about living a life that recognizes and feeds these hungers: to go to the places of beauty. To gather in community about the fire, make music and dance. To celebrate the pleasures of life instead of feeling guilty about them. And to serve the principle that this world and its joys are the birthright of all of us.
It’s about living in accordance with those deep-seated qualities that make us not only animals, but human animals, in all the special and unique ways that is so…and the responsibilities that derive from being, as we are, these particularly powerful and aware beings.
It’s hot today. Perhaps I’ll go to the beach.
Photo: Me at the Sonoma Coast, California.