Higher Living Reflections

Escaping Inertia

Henry David Thoreau calls them “ruts of tradition.” Joseph Campbell talks about being “stuck in the metaphor.” Yogi Berra famously phrased it as “déjà vu all over again.”

The same old, same old.

Evolution comes from evolvere, Latin meaning to unroll. In itself, evolution/unrolling is a neutral concept. We tend, though, to think of evolution in its Darwinian context. “Natural selection”: Those best able to adapt to their environment will survive and pass their genes on to their progeny. As one AP biology teacher told her students: “Adapt, migrate, or go extinct.”

Evolution implies, then, advancement to a higher state, which presents a problem with our penchant to keep doing something because “it has always been this way.” Since Nature is in a constant state of unrolling or unfolding, that flies in the face of evolution, whether in a neutral context – unrolling – or developmental.

Tradition is a human concept. Nature is unfamiliar with it. She doesn’t repeat or recreate the past such as replacing dinosaurs after the Great Extinction with a new-and-improved version. She came up with something new: Mammals, which we are ostensibly at the top of. Given our destructive environmental history, the jury remains out as to whether we’re an improvement over reptiles.

One snarky aphorism declares idiocy is doing something over and over – repeating the same old, same old – and expecting different results. But studies show that we overwhelmingly rehash the same thoughts day to day. Wonder why you feel bored or in a rut?  Hmm…

In “Is Reincarnation Actually Real?” Deepak Chopra posits, “Nature exhibits evolution through three linked processes: memory, creativity, and imagination. Memory keeps the past intact, allowing older forms to contribute to new ones. Creativity allows for novelty so that recycling isn’t mere repetition of the same forms over and over. Imagination allows for invisible possibilities to take shape, either in the mind or the physical world.”

Perhaps, Thoreau is a bit harsh equating tradition with ruts. After all, memory, which is the parent of tradition, is critical. Those in constant search for their keys or reading glasses can attest to that. Memory is a survival mechanism as well as a stabilizing, reassuring element for the species, both for the individual and our tribes: family, community, nation, global. Thus, Thoreau’s point is not that all tradition is bad; it becomes deleterious when one enslaves her/himself by living out her/his life within strict confines.

Tradition, thus, can be stultifying and stifling, lethal to the mind and spirit. Routine is the parent of drudgery and monotony, which comes from the Greek monotonos meaning mon- + tonos: one tone. Imagine a one-note melody.

Growth eschews memory and tradition. It is fueled by the individual’s imagination to use his/her innate creativity, which is contingent upon his/her willingness to push him/herself to go beyond one’s cultural stasis.

Correlated to all that for many is a grounding of their creative and imaginative spirit after this yearlong isolation. I am dubbing it “psychic lethargy” or PL for short.

There are those who operate quite well within a cloistered setting and produce authentic original works. Alexander Solzhenitsyn comes to mind with his epic work, The Gulag Archipelago. Writers like me, however, while needing quiet, alone time and space to create their work, are dependent upon and fueled by outside interactions, social relationships. Much I learn from listening to others becomes fodder for these essays.  

As with any syndrome, the first step is to recognize PL. Then to address it so to escape its gravitational pull, the individual needs to light a fire to his or her booster rockets by getting out, doing, and feeling anew the exhilaration of renewed imagination and creativity. It’s a lesson we can learn from Ma Nature.

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  • Becky Cook
    April 27, 2021 at 12:49 pm

    As usual… much food for thought.
    Obviously it depends on the routines and traditions whether they’re stifling or not. I get comfort/clarity from my daily routines of walking in the woods, spending time with my animals and my partner, preparing food….
    Thanks, Jerry for prompting me to step back and realize this… with gratitude.

  • Dawn Janov
    April 27, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    Hi Jerry,
    You are so good with words and thoughts that open the readers mind!

  • Laurel McHargue
    April 27, 2021 at 8:49 pm

    YesYesYesYesYes!
    How do you keep the Easter Egg Hunt tradition (an expectation our grown sons may never outgrow!) from becoming stultifying? Well, that requires imagination! Routines can be comforting or tedious depending on your attitude. “The Power of Now” comes to mind.
    And whether we’re an improvement over reptiles or not, they’ll be the first ones to emerge from the ooze after our planet hits the reboot button!