Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection is elegant. Sometimes individuals mistakenly assume that evolution moves only in one direction only – as if for change to be valid it must be ‘progressive’ in a non-stop trajectory of development. The reality is something quite different. In fact, evolution occurs just as much by ‘regression’ as it does by ‘progression’ - such is the random nature of its unfolding. The human big-toe, for example, is actually a ‘deformed’ thumb similar that found on the human-hand today. At one time in human development, an early version of ‘us’ could climb trees and hold onto branches with the minimum of effort early in our development – similar to chimpanzees and other extant monkeys. However, when early humans took to pedal walking upright (along the ground), the thumbs on the ‘lower hands’ quite literally ‘devolved’ into a far more rigid ‘toe’ to aid balance and stability whilst standing, walking and running on two legs. This development ‘freed’ the human-hands to develop all kinds of dextrous activities which resulted in tool-making and the beginnings of the transformation of the environment.
Positive developments within human evolutionary development, therefore, are not always ‘progressive’, and yet such ‘negative’ changes make way for some quite stunning improvements in human-activity and thought-processing, etc. This observation can be applied to the individual with regards self-cultivation. Not every change in life is ‘positive’ or necessarily ‘conducive’ to well-being or progression, and yet if used in an appropriate manner, can be adapted to advance our psycho-physical developments outside of our perceived safety zones. Sometimes, for human-beings to develop more completely, it is the ‘uncomfortable’ and the ‘unthinkable’ that must be embraced and treated like a long-lost friend. To achieve this, as individuals we must bravely advance into situations that usually we would possess no possible reason to be associated with.
Many people, living in the modern world, are trained from birth to prefer those situations that confuse them least. Inherently, this also means that we tend to choose to live in situations that challenge us least. In a very subtle manner, we avoid the very challenges and conditions that would develop us the most, if only we allowed ourselves to manifest within them. Fear of failure, fear of suffering and fear of ridicule often keeps us from bravely exposing us to situations whereby we would not ‘voluntarily’ venture. Perhaps it is helping a homeless person covered in lice, urine and excreta, or assisting a disabled person with no social skills. It could be less obvious than this – such as mingling with those who hold intolerable ideological or political ideas. It could be an atheist mixing with a religionists – or a Socialist with a fascist, etc. My point is that sometimes, we must not artificially shut ourselves off from various realities just because we do not ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ them. Compassion and loving kindness work best when applied in situations and circumstance where neither of these attributes are thought to exist.
If we firmly understand whatever spiritual, political or social reality we subscribe to, then our reasoning and logic should be so strong that exposure to contradictory ideas and situations should not ‘weaken’ but only ‘strengthen’ our resolve. Difference, although very real and tangible, should not be considered as an excuse for walling ourselves off from expressing a greater love for humanity whilst cultivating an insight into the spiritual essence of all reality. The Daoist sage Zhuangzi once said that a truly enlightened being must be indifferent to praise or blame – surely the only way to test this is to voluntarily enter into situations where we would usually never choose to enter. We must bring ‘light’ to the darkest corners of the Earth through such undertakings!