Over the past few years it’s been easy enough for me to notice how eager and energetic infants and toddlers are to know just about everything. What they don’t seek out themselves by clumsy curiosity, they are given and eventually take up in their own way, with guidance.

At the same time, it’s been all too easy to contrast this with how non-curious adults are for new knowledge, or challenges of any kind to their beliefs. Sometimes it seems that if many of us hadn’t learned to lift our heads yet, we wouldn’t bother trying.

But that is too easy a judgment by far. I’ve never understood the passages in poets ancient and modern where the supposed simplicity animals is romanticized; and similarly I’ve never understood the words of Jesus, contrasting human vanity and aspirations with flowers that “do not labor or spin.” Certainly the verse preceding this makes more sense (“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”), but the person who doesn’t labor or spin in some way or other isn’t a person at all. Life seems to be about little else than finding meaning in all the laboring and spinning we inevitably must do.

So that, while personally I’m closer than ever to a desire to worship and respect nature, it seems that it’s precisely because we have a different consciousness than animals or plants that we are human at all. And, those of us who are old enough to read words like these are no longer infants or children.

Because what would any of us do if put in the position of a newborn again, whose only responsibility is to eat, sleep, and mess the diaper? It’s no wonder they’re curious, since they’ve nothing else to do: the most practical thing they can do is look around in wonder. They don’t even have the awareness that it might be nice for their parents if they sleep through the night, or if during the day they delayed the announcement of their hunger so that one of the adults in their lives can finish a blog post.

But almost immediately responsibilities crowd around us: how we should act and treat others, or as adults how we’ll pay the bills and care for those we love, or how we will or won’t eventually find a better job to do all of these things with a calmer mind. These are real and quite literally crushing things, and so I don’t blame most of the people who get off work and don’t much have the energy to remain curious, or to challenge themselves, to go to a play, to eat something new, to drive somewhere they’ve never been.

Yet we have to try. As America’s last election cycle shows, not trying means that millions on all sides would rather find the certainty of enemies to blame and personalities to latch onto, rather than challenge themselves with a murkier and more inexact reality. If the only answers to our problems (to over-simplify the already simplistic) are either nationalism or constant harping over national guilt, there’s hardly a reason to continue talking.

Surely there is a middle way between the demands of life, the safety we find in old certainties, and our ability to try (as we must) to challenge those certainties even a few minutes every day, no matter where they might lead?



4 thoughts on “Consider the Lilies That We Aren’t

  1. Excellent post. I have been reading the Tao Te Ching recently, and one of the things it says is “not knowing is true knowledge” and “When they think they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know they don’t knw, people can find their own way.” These concepts, abstract as they are, resonate strongly with what you’re saying here. It is the uncertainty of toddlers and children that we, as adults, need to recapture. Uncertainty not as a threat but as an opportunity. Too often we feel, especially in this age of social media, that we have to hold a position and that position must be immutable because if it is not then we are wrong. Perhaps we need to embrace the value of being wrong, because the flexibility to acknowledge it and adjust our position, to flex and learn, is true strength. We seem to be worshipping at the alter of false certainty and false strength right now. Which is, in itself, an opportunity to learn and do better.

  2. The more I read Jesus’ words separated from Christianity, the more evident it becomes the core of his teachings were taken from the Buddha. Buddhism also emphasizes the ideal of not craving, worrying, wanting; accepting the present and being contented with what we have; not toiling, as Jesus is quoted. I believe Jesus was a mystic who taught profound concepts of inner peace, and like Buddha, was made into a God, with his teachings becoming a major religion. So it’s not at all confusing that he taught we should model ourselves after the ‘lilies of the field’. It was a concept of contemplation, perhaps not an actual way to live one’s life.

  3. Hi Tim,

    Well-written as always and of interest to many, as we all, at one time or another considered these same problems.

    And yet, problems are nothing more than opportunities — for solutions waiting to be discovered in the same way the old Indian totem pole carvers said that the sculpture that they carved was always and already there, it merely took the artist (the carver) to reveal it.

    Every picture tells a story and every picture has its own problems therein, what makes human beings better than the animals (or the lilies) is that we are (purportedly) intelligent enough to a) clearly define a problem b) investigate solutions to the problem c) gather the necessary consensus to arrive at a unified and agreeable solution d) gather the materials and tools to solve the problem e) gather the social momentum so that a to d aren’t all done in vain and f) solve the problem.

    The plant life on the planet is 100% subject to the environment, alone the plants can do nothing.

    The animal life on the planet live by the law of the jungle — eat or be eaten. Which, in the final analysis is called; Win-Lose thinking ability — no, they’re not to bright, but bright enough to stay alive.

    The human life on this planet, up until the beginning of this new millennium weren’t doing much better than the animals, living the Win-Lose lifestyle. But in recent years, it has begun to dawn on some enlightened people that perhaps human beings can be more than animals with technology.

    I know it might be seen as a radical concept in some quarters (and some countries are going backwards on this at present) but some of us think that human beings can aspire to Win-Win thinking, 100% of the time.

    If we are smart enough, the 2000-2020 timeframe will be seen by people in the future as the ‘moment in time’ that humans left the Law of the Jungle behind and began thinking and acting like advanced beings.

    I’m saying there are only three levels of intelligences on this planet:
    1) Plant intelligence — smart enough to blossom and reproduce. (The Lilies)
    2) Animal intelligence — smart enough to ‘blossom’, reproduce and defend their territory. (The Animal Kingdom)
    3) Human intelligence — smart enough to ‘blossom’, reproduce, defend their territory and by using Win-Win thinking, not only solve problems but to preclude problems from occurring — and even more than that, to ‘begin with the end result in mind’.

    We are now intelligent enough to take ANY problem, no matter how difficult and start with a clean sheet of paper to design the best possible outcome. As opposed to continually putting out fires, we could decide what end result we wanted, and then reverse engineer it, so that we obtain that result.

    Flat-Earther’s won’t understand this for another 50-years. I get that.

    But the rest of us do. Therefore, let those of us that understand become all that we can and should be.

    Always a pleasure to read your fine posts — you do get me thinking!

    Cheers, JBS

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