I’ve been watching this squirrel outside my bedroom window Sunday afternoon as he gathers food to prepare for the coming winter months.
He scurries around on the ground, looking for nuts worth collecting. Once he finds another prize, he rushes back to a tree and climbs to another larger tree nearby. He disappears into the thick branches and leaves — so I can’t see exactly where his hiding place is — but I can picture it filling up with nuts like the one you see here.
He’s cautious. When he hears a noise, he freezes until he’s sure the danger’s gone. Then he goes back to work.
Watching this squirrel gather food for the winter — something I’ve seen squirrels do ever since I was old enough to pay attention to them — leaves me thinking again about how every part of nature has instincts about what it ought to do and be. But how do they know what to do?
How does the squirrel know that winter is coming? How does he know that the plentiful food available now will become scarce? How does he know to collect food to be prepared for those months?
Squirrels don’t go to school to be educated in life skills. They don’t have libraries with the collected knowledge of the squirrel world from which to learn. They don’t get lectures from parents who who made mistakes. It’s far simpler for them.
They just listen to a gut instinct — a voice in Nature which allows them to live as they were intended to live.
Every animal does this. Every plant does it, too. They’re not conscious of us, but they wouldn’t question it if they could. They just do what they were created to do.
This leaves me wondering — not for the first time — why humans are the only creatures on the planet who have learned to set aside that voice of instinct. And it makes me wonder what we’ve lost by learning to listen to friends and parents and teachers and media instead. What have we lost as we’ve stopped listening to our instincts?
We’re so sophisticated that we have narratives to explain why the squirrels and birds and trees do what they’re programmed to do. We pat ourselves on the back for understanding that evolution has rewarded the plants and animals which happen to do the right things. We’re so proud for understanding that this instinct is just the result of pure dumb luck of descending from creatures who happened to do the right thing.
We think we’re so sophisticated that our reason and our culture override that voice. We ignore the inner voice that tells us what we need. We eventually forget it’s even there. In time, we’re pretty much deaf to it.
We listen to media tell us what we need. Advertising tells us what’s wrong with us and what we need to fix about our looks. It tells us what products we need to buy to signal to others what sort of people we are. We listen to our friends and family about what we ought to value.
But for some reason, society is getting sicker. Individuals are more unhappy and more disconnected, despite attaining more and more of what the media tells us to attain. People kill themselves at alarming rates, because they no longer want to live in this culture of plenty. They have money and possessions, but they feel empty inside — and they don’t know why.
What if this squirrel is smarter than you and I are? What if he’s happy and satisfied listening to what his instinct tells him to be — when you and I are so concerned about everything else that we’ve forgotten to listen to our own inner voice?
You do the things you do every day because your culture has trained you, not because it serves your real needs. We all do things we don’t want to do — and ignore our real needs — because we’re listening to culture instead of our inner voice.
Your inner voice knows what you need. It tells you who you need, what love you need, what really matters. Same for me. On some level, we know what we ought to be and what we ought to be doing and who we ought to be with.
I’m glad I’m not a squirrel. I appreciate the ability to think abstractly and question everything. I’m thankful we’re smart enough to build homes and provide ourselves with heat and air conditioning. There’s a lot that our ability to think has brought us.
But I fear we’ve lost a lot, too. I fear we’ve lost the ability to follow what matters most to our ultimate success. I know that inner voice is still there, though. We can learn to hear it again if we’ll open our hearts and really listen.