Our basic instincts are animal like
“Man is by nature a social animal” said Aristotle, more than two thousand years ago. A lot of attention has been given to the “social” aspect of humans’ nature while a bit less to the “animal” one. Instead, we have been taught about human’s superiority over all other beings on Earth, maybe to justify our right to dominate over and use them to satisfy our growing needs, many times to the detriment of any other beings. To the point that the animal part of our nature has been pushed down, hidden, exiled.
But the truth is that we have a lot in common with animals: our emotions are rooted into the animal instincts because we share with the animals that part of the brain that govern our emotions “The most primitive part, the part that is already online when we are born, is the ancient animal brain, often called the reptilian brain (…) Right above the reptilian brain is the limbic system. Its also known as the mammalian brain, because all animals that live in groups and nurture young possess one (…) Taken together the reptilian brain and limbic system make up what I’Il call the “emotional brain” (Bessel van der Kolk). Our basic needs for survival are govern by the “animal”, that primitive brain, as well. “The reptilian brain is responsible for everything that newborn babies can do: eat, sleep, wake, cry, breathe; feel temperature, hunger, weatness and pain; and rid the body of toxins”.(Bessel van der Kolk).
Therefore our natural instincts – including the basic one – the survival instinct, are not polite or civilized, because are not impacted by our education. Given the fact that it is already formed by the time we are born, the primitive brain changes least during our development years.
Caged animals are ferocious!
Trying to deny such animal instincts is just covering the truth under a façade of good will, loving intentions and politically correct behavior, but it will not make it go away. Nor do we need to get rid of it because our animal instinct have a role and the most important one is that of keeping us alive. The mind with its dichotomy will divide our instincts and needs into wrong and right ones, good and bad, sinful and virtuous ones and it will trying hard to hide away everything it judges as wrong, bad, sinful. It will use all our life energy to repress or cover up all those shameful instincts and go as far as denying that part of ourselves that it does not like. Its greatest fear is the fear of being exposed, or revealing to the world that part of us that we don’t like and feel ashamed about.
The problem is that when we try to deny and send into exile parts of ourselves, we disconnect from our emotions, we disconnect from the animal within us. The mind will try everything to force the animal into obedience, threaten that it will make it lose everything it enjoys now, attacking, caging it under a facade of politeness, amiability and good intentions. Or untamed, caged animals can be ferocious when they escape, as it happens when emotionally hijacked! The more disconnected from our emotions the more the danger of losing control over our lives because either we don’t have access to our emotions or simply we don’t know how to deal with them. “Emotional hijackings occur when our limbic system receives the information first and responds with an emergency alert. This sends our body into panic mode and makes it more difficult for our neocortex to control the actions we take based on our emotional impulses”. (Daniel Goldman). Our intelligent brain no longer controls our action, but the animal one does.
Higher consciousness is what separate us from primates and other mammals
Although proportionally human brain is three times larger than those of our closest relatives – the chimpanzees’ brain, the most developed primates have the same brain structure as humans – includes a cortex, which is linked to awareness and thinking. That means chimpanzees have awareness and capability to think, to memorize and understand situations. However, being human takes much more than that.
I had recently watched a documentary “Project Nim” where scientists undertake an experiment and raise a chimp as a human, in a human household, to see if he could be conditioned to communicate; therefore conditioned be become human like. Although he assumingly learnt several American Signs Language (ASL) signs, the chimp became uncontrollable, in particular when it became an adult and the scientists could not arrange for his basic needs – sexual ones – to be satisfied. Despite of being raised as human, the chimp could never understand the complex rules of human societies. Because it takes a higher level of consciousness, in particular the quality of empathy to be able to know when you are hurting another peer. It is that higher consciousness that separates us from chimpanzees and other primates and from that level we may start taming the animal.
Honoring the animal and the divine within us!
Our nature is both animal like or Earthly and Spiritual or higher consciousness and both need to be allowed to take expression within us, at all times in order for us to be complete. Both our natures may live in harmony within us when the two are given equal space and permission to be. One can only do that by bringing awareness to everything we are doing, making sure that none takes too much space at the expense of the other. That also means feeding the animal, attending to its needs, take care of our body with full acceptance of its needs and full awareness “If you are not aware of what the body needs, you can’t take care of it. If you don’t feel hunger, you can’t nourish yourself. If you mistake anxiety for hunger, you may eat too much. And if you can’t feel when you’re satisfied, you’ll keep eating”. It is that awareness that guides the animal within to eat the right food for it, at the right times and stops it from going promiscuous or having too many offspring; it is that presence that guides us to share the food rather than hoard everything for ourselves and fight everyone that tries to steal it from us.
We need to accept them both for what they are, understand that they are both part of ourselves although having different functions. Only from that place of acceptance and non-judgement can we start and tame the animal inside. From there we can learn how to tend and feed the animal, without shame or guilt, without blame. Otherwise, it will rebel and may ravage our lives. It will fight the mind until we lose our mind. We cannot win against the animal inside us because none of these perspectives are happy ones.
Both men and women have basic needs that crave fulfillment!
Although men and women are slightly biologically different, because of the dominant hormones governing our instincts, both women and men have basic instincts and needs that need to be fulfilled in order to have a balanced life. Due to testosterone hormone, men tend to have stronger sexual instincts while for female the nurturing instinct may be stronger, therefore the needs for stability and protection. However, even this division is not necessarily clear-cut; there are women to tend to have stronger sex needs and men who tend to have more nurturing needs. Its all natural and needs no be judged. That does not mean satisfaction of our needs at all costs, but conscious acceptance and fulfillment of the body’s needs because “One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves in anchored in the vital connection with our bodies. We do not truly know ourselves unless we can feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life” (Bessel van der Kolk).