Survival, Redefined

Those of us fortunate enough to live above the poverty level in developed societies are no longer concerned with our physical survival. Most of our basic needs are accounted for.

But what we’re learning is that meeting our basic needs alone doesn’t constitute survival. The other side of that coin is our mind. We learned how to take care of our physical needs. We are still green on how to make our inner being survive.

We humans are animals to begin with, so our mind normally comes pre-loaded with a few basic scripts: desire to live, desire for companionship, desire to explore, and so on. But then life happens. Countless experiences. Myriads of emotions. The mind has to process all these. It takes energy. It takes rest (as in sleeping, among other things).

I don’t mean to glorify the old days, but I imagine we had less information, less sensory overload back then. The world was smaller. Your choices were more limited. Experiences and emotions intertwine a lot with your expectations and pre-conceived beliefs. Even just a few decades ago, those were pretty set in stone. There wasn’t as big a difference between surviving physically vs. mentally. There was a difference, but not as big as there is now.

Today, our world is a lot more overwhelming. More information than any one mind can process. Our bodies are less challenged, even though they are better nourished. Our jobs require specialization in a narrow range of fields. Which can contain a lot of repetitive tasks.

In these environments, it’s easier for our mind to become off-balance, in contrast to how well our bodies are taken care of. Ironically, when your survival is guaranteed your will to live becomes lax. A healthy body may be host to a deeply unwell mind.

It’s not enough to just take care of our physical body. Or rather, there is a component to our being that we aren’t taken care of, while we got busy building cultures, societies and infrastructures optimized to make survival easier for everyone. We are no longer survival-of-the-fittest species, or so we thought. It still may be so, when you consider how many of us in the better-off societies struggle with mental issues.

Our mind and body are not separate, they are one and the same, albeit with two sides. The side you can see and the side you can’t. We learned how to take care of one but now we need to learn how to take care of the whole. If we had known that the objective was to protect the whole to begin with, we may not have allowed mentally-challenging practices like assembly-lines to propagate so much. It’s an efficient approach that maximizes profit but reduces human beings to more inhumane, robot-like roles that perform machinistic, repetitive tasks. Such work can be very taxing to our minds. It is better than starving and dying, sure, but if the mind gets numb from boredom that’ll wreak havoc on your body, too. Not all personalities are suited for that lifestyle. It doesn’t matter that they pay for your food and shelter, if the wrong kind mind gets stuck living a straining lifestyle, stress can build up. And stress can kill a person.

Hind sight is 20/20. We didn’t realize that building efficiencies around our physical bodies would lead to compromising our minds. When we were busy trying to figure out how to ensure our physical survival, our mental survival was rightfully lower in priority.

But the time to learn the lesson is now. We may be living longer but so many of us are still struggling to survive, because we haven’t developed practices for protecting and caring for our minds. Arts, such as music, are like what food is to our stomach. But it’s still considered optional. It isn’t. It is necessary for the well-being of the whole person.

When you realize that survival means meeting the needs of both your mind and body, you’ll start to realize which of our practices help you truly survive, while others take care of the body at the cost of the mind. Now is a good time to start learning, and start changing.