Wednesday, 10 February 2010

732 - The Natural-Living Test

This is an exercise at the back of Geoffrey Miller's book, Spent, which I heartily recommend. I suspect the exercise has been developed by Miller, but it draws on ideas I've found in other articles and books, so much of the knowledge will be in the public domain. It's not easily traceable on Google (I've not managed, anyway). All of which, and because Miller seems a thoroughly decent chap, and because he's motivated by a desire to get the knowledge out there, and because I'm happy to remove the test if he and/or other authors wish, and because it's a brilliant tool for meditating on, and because this blog's as much an aide memoire for me as anything I expect anyone else to read, and because I want to raise a question at the end, means I'm going to stick it up here in full. Here on in, till indicated, the text is as in Spent (pp.331-2):

This quantifies how closely your life matches that of our happier ancestors. Write down honestly how many times in the past month you have had each of the experiences below:
  • Rocked a newborn baby to sleep
  • Made up a story and told it to a child
  • Felt the sunrise warm your face
  • Satisfied a genuine hunger by eating ripe fruit
  • Satisfied a genuine thirst by drinking cool water
  • Shown courage in protecting a child from danger
  • Shown leadership and resourcefulness in an emergency
  • Shared a meal with parents, siblings, or other close relatives
  • Gossiped with an old friend
  • Made a new friend
  • Made something beautiful and gave it to someone
  • Repaired something that was broken
  • Improved a skill through diligent practice
  • Learned something new about a plant or animal that lives near you
  • Changed your mind about something important on the basis of new evidence
  • Followed good advice from someone older
  • Taught a useful skill, charming art, or interesting fact to someone younger
  • Petted a furry animal such as a dog, cat or monkey
  • Worked with earth, clay, stone, wood or fiber
  • Comforted someone dying
  • Walked over a hill and across a stream
  • Identified a bird by its song
  • Played a significant role in a local ritual, festival, drama or party
  • Played a team sport
  • Made a physical effort to achieve a collective goal with others
  • Sustained silent eye contact with someone to show affection
  • Shamed someone who was behaving badly, for the greater good
  • Resolved a serious argument using humour, emotional self-control, and social empathy
  • Sang, danced, or played instruments with a group of friends
  • Made friends laugh out loud
  • Reached a world-melting mutual orgasm with a sexual partner
  • Experienced sublime beauty that made your hair stand on end
  • Experienced an oceanic sense of oneness with the cosmos that made you think, This is how church should feel
  • Applied the Golden Rule by helping someone in need
  • Warmed yourself by an open fire under stars
Now, add up all the numbers that you wrote for each item above. If your total score is lower than 100 and you do not feel as happy as you would like, write a five-hundred-word essay explaining why you expect your life to be happy or meaningful if you are not doing anything meaningful for others or feeding your brain any of the natural experiences that it evolved to value and to find meaningful.

[End of text]

My only quibble with this checklist is that whilst all these experiences do, I can see, amount to a very happy life, I'd want to see something about the experience of encountering pain, incomprehension, or the thwarting of a plan or desire. I can accept that we've evolved to cope in such situations, and even thrive, and I can also interpret some of the items on the list as if they addressed such a situation - the repair of something broken; the improvement of a skill through practice; the changing of one's mind, for example. I do, however, feel that peace in the face of rejection is a state one experiences throughout life - ultimate comfort in the face of death - and it isn't referred to here.

As I understand it, it's related to the role of the shaman, who may have had a psychotic episode precipitated by excessive openness, as suggested in Spent (pp.219-221), or who may have experienced at the limits of his or her being a light indistinguishable from eternity, or both, but who is certainly present in early hunter-gatherer communities, with something to offer. Is this simply the sense of oneness with the cosmos referred to on the list? I've experienced that, I think, but I've not yet interrogated my experiences fully. So this is where I must ask myself some tough questions, which I'll do in my next post.

And it certainly is not to detract from the great value of the Natural-Living Test as it stands.

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