By Anne A. Wilson
“In a good lord there must be first a good animal, at least to the extent of yielding the incomparable advantage of animal spirits.”1 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Modern humans are not good animals.
We awake in Sleep Number® beds in air conditioned apartments to iPhone alarms and programmed coffee machines.
We chew on processed nutrition bars, swallow packets of supplements, and sip on protein shakes, while opening our car service app to schedule our pick-up and delivery to work.
We sit hunched in cubes under fluorescent lighting for the next twelve hours, eyes glued to a screen, powering through lunch with a sandwich from a vending machine, taking the occasional fifty-foot walk to the restroom or conference room.
We hit the gym on the way home, twenty minutes on the treadmill, because our exercise watch that tracks our sleep, weight, and fitness level tells us to. Even there, we cannot escape the screen. It’s affixed to the treadmill, ten inches from our face, along with multiple big-screen monitors that hang from the ceiling, ensuring we remain plugged in.
We throw our dinners into microwave ovens and plop back in front of our screens to immerse ourselves in whatever social media platforms we fancy or to stream the latest episode of The Walking Dead.
And these are the “lucky” people. The ones living in first world countries who hold jobs and make enough money to buy said vending machine lunches.
Really? Is this what it has come to? Is this progress?
Is this what it means to be human?
The “good lord” Mr. Emerson refers to is not “lord,” as in deity, but “lord,” as in a man’s title. In his essay, Mr. Emerson goes on to describe the qualities that make a good lord, but first on that list is the ability to connect with one’s inner animal.
That is, to tap into the being that sweats, grunts, breathes, moves . . . and lives.
Were Mr. Emerson alive today, I suspect he would suggest something like the following:
Close your screen, push away from your desk, leave your phone, walk past your latest make-life-easier gadget, open your front door, and step outside.
Walk around the block.
Pick up a leaf.
Soak in the sunrise.
Take in the clouds.
Close your eyes, inhale deeply, and pull in the scent of orange blossoms and damp moss.
Revel in the breeze as it tickles your cheeks and blows strands of hair across your face.
Unplug. Be outside. Be first an animal.
The creators of The Matrix understood this. I’m a huge fan of the trilogy, a story set in a dystopian world where humans are bred as batteries to power sentient machines.
In movie number two, The Matrix Reloaded, the creators deliver a powerful scene called The Zion Party. In it, free humans who live underground engage in a primal dance that captures the essence of what it is to be human—to be physical, to sweat, to yearn, to love.
To exert. To struggle. To strain.
To be an animal.
An imperative to be human.
And yet, our society spends the vast majority of its intellectual capacity and resources devising conveniences that strive for exactly the opposite.
“Advances” that make our lives “easier.”
That chip away at our humanness.
But this “progress” will not stop. There’s too much money to be made. And since money is the driver, greed our navigator, I sincerely doubt this will change.
But within this context, within this reality, we still have choices.
We can feed the animal.
We can give it walks. Let it play in the rain. Give it permission to stomp in that puddle. Get wet. Get muddy. Let it smile and laugh and squint in the sun.
Because at the end of our days, we won’t remember that newest version of the iPhone from twenty years earlier. But we will remember the sunrise, the tomato we plucked from the garden we tended on hands and knees, and the smile we engendered after sending a hand-written note.
Our inner animal will remember living.
1. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3 (Essays. Second Series)** http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1833#Emerson_1236_03_102 **Vol. 3 of the 12 volume Fireside edition of the works of Emerson. The second series of essays was originally published in 1844.
Anne A. Wilson is the author of Hover and Clear to Lift. She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a degree in ocean engineering. She served nine years active duty as a navy helicopter pilot, including three years flying search and rescue, where she specialized in high-altitude technical mountain rescue. Following her military service, she worked for four years in the semiconductor industry. Currently, she and her husband own a triathlon coaching company, Camelback Coaching. Anne lives in Fountain Hills, AZ, with her husband and two sons. To learn more, visit www.anneawilson.com.
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