A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Wherein Does Our Finchness Lie?

What are the things we think of as essential in our lives? The answers could be: our children, a daily walk in the park, a good stiff drink, the reading of books, a job, a vacation, a baseball team, a cigarette, or love. And yet life has a way of making us rethink. Our children move away from home, we move away from our favourite park, the doctor forbids us to drink or smoke, we lose our eyesight, we get fired, there's no time or money to take a vacation, our baseball team sucks, our heart is broken. At such times our picture of the world hangs crookedly on the wall. Then, if we can manage it, we adapt. And what this shows us is that essence is something deeper than any of that, it's the thing that gets us through. The 12 separate varieties of finches that Charles Darwin found on the Galápagos Islands had all made local adaptations, but when the ornithologist John Gould examined Darwin's specimens in 1837, he could see that these were not different birds, but 12 variations of the same bird. In spite of random mutation and natural selection, their finchness, their essence, was intact.
As individuals, as communities, as nations, we are the constant adapters of ourselves, and must constantly ask ourselves the question wherein does our finchness lie: what are the things we cannot ever give up unless we wish to cease to be ourselves?
Salman Rushdie writing about adaptation in The Guardian Review, Saturday 28 February 2009.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Upon reflection, I think this is as deep a question as can be asked—perhaps THE deepest. If not to the collective—as group, community, or nation—then certainly of an individual. The collective answer might be easier because it doesn't cut into the absolute core, the very private heart; the personal which defines and constitutes the "me" rather than the "we."

It wouldn't be an object or place, a routine or hobby, a preference, job, habit, or so many of those things which we might first imagine—at least I don't think so. For life has a way of taking so much away, forcing change; our lives turn in a different direction unimaginable the year before. Yet we adapt…at least enough so we're still recognizable as ourselves.

However, there is that point…

The Weaver of Grass said...

Very clever and real food for thought Robert. I think some of us adapt better than others - it all has to do with what the Chinese call Fan Shen I think. Some people attain a degree of inner peace and can then adapt to whatever the situation demands. Do you agree? Some of the religious mystics etc. seemed to have this skill. Sometimes having to adapt makes us better people.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think it's definitely true that those who have attained some kind of deep tranquillity and inner peace seem to adapt more easily to what life throws at them, to altered circumstances however drastic. Those who can see things philosophically rather than purely emotionally.

Buddhism teaches us about the fluidity of the persona, the fleetingness of things we kid ourselves are permanent - and to take life day by day, not to cling desperately to things (whether people, objects, dwellling places, emotions) because they all fade or die or pass or change, and we are left with our naked selves, until it's time for us to do the same.

I've always thought I was rather good at being adaptable; however, I don't suppose I've yet been sorely tested like some. Nevertheless, I feel I perhaps have the facility (in some small measure) to break away quite easily from the habitual milieu and make a 'home' on the road, in other countries, quickly to make friends with strangers, to feel comfortable with new experiences.

When I think about it, 'essence' for me, the things I'd consider 'me' and that I'd consider 'essential' to hang onto even if the outward trappings of my life disappear, are abstract qualities such as curiosity, a sense of joy, a sense of wonder, empathy, pity, the need for intellectual stimulation and so on.

Alan Sloman said...

Thank you, everyoe for the comments and the post. I am just coming to terms with a dramatic change in my life that, at the time, seemed totally impossible for me to cope with.

At the time I could not see any way out of the complete chaos of my disintegrating life, but... coming to terms with who 'I' am has helped me enormously. It has given me glimmers of hope that I can get through this.

Inspirational blog - as always - Thanks.

I 'am' worth it!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

The essence of giraffe?!

I've been pondering your post since reading it earlier and am thinking of it from another angle too: instead of thinking of what would one's essence be if things were taken away - what about if things were added?

I guess an important part of my essence is a sense of wonder. Wonder at trees, the light around plants, the taste of plums and the sound of the housemartens burbling as they build under the eaves.

Val said...

Thank you for posting this. It is really, really good food for thought...

I am quite in line with what Griz, and Weaver wrote and especially with your last line:

"the things I'd consider 'me' and that I'd consider 'essential' to hang onto even if the outward trappings of my life disappear, are abstract qualities such as curiosity, a sense of joy, a sense of wonder, empathy, pity, the need for intellectual stimulation and so on."