My first introduction to naturalism, 13 years ago, coincided with the introduction to the discipline of autonomy. Both approaches to living life met with a mixture of joy, wonder, and denial. The denial was trying to eliminate the idea of possessing an invisible self. This invisible self felt like it existed, a real and viable thing inside of me, directing my every move, thought and action. This “inner being” justified all reactions and set itself apart from everyone and everything else. This disconnect with humanity produced anxiety, disturbance and a sense of aloneness. I experienced joy as I began to understand how the concept of naturalism provided for connection to everyone and everything. The very idea of being completely connected to the natural world, fully caused with no free will, leaves no room for an invisible self. It is a continual learning process of writing, listening, reading and engaging in the conversation towards autonomy to assimilate naturalism into my thought process and life perspective. The naturalist perspective and taking responsibility for who I am - living autonomously - is truly what I do think, believe and attempt to live.
There is a great deal of existential freedom that becomes part of my real, practical life when I realize how connected with the entire natural world I am. I had long ago given up on the idea of a god being in control of my life and running the universe. I discovered in being connected with everything, I am not superior, demanding or expecting more from anyone else, including my self. I now experience freedom from societal imposed standards and expectations of living a “Perfect” life. Science provides the answers regarding our role in the natural evolution of life, but what about the human spirit?
I had foundered in Catholicism, struck with humanity’s inhumane treatment of one another and wondering what is the purpose of living and being. Who are we anyway? How could we be made in the image of a supernatural, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving god then live with so much disrespect, disregard, antagonism, and rivalry? My thinking was skewed in trying to adjust living a “good” life with describing what a “good” life meant in terms other than materialism and individualism. In naturalism I discovered that without free will, already being fully caused yet still accountable for our actions, addresses this conflict in my thinking regarding human behavior. I learned to adjust my expectations of my self and other people because there is no little self, no modicum of free will to direct us. We are at the mercy of our biology, history, culture, education and vocabulary.
I have discovered through thinking, acting, speaking, listening, reading and writing that the essence of naturalism answers my quest for understanding and connection with humanity. The Center for Naturalism selects three words to describe the essence of naturalism, “connection, compassion, and control.” Egoism and individualism become lost in this world view and in the discipline of autonomy. I finally feel a sense of freedom and ultimate authority over who I am and how I engage the world. I am limited in my creation of who I am only by how I am already made, fully caused. I am very fortunate to have a brain that is open to the conversation of understanding who we are, recognizing our connections and our ability to create our own authority on how we will live in this world. I experience a profound sense of humility and gratitude to be alive; operating with a brain that is curious, intelligent and open to the exploration of what it means to be a human being.
In my personal relationships there is less of a need to prove myself, speak self-righteously or live in fear and intimidation of others. We are all on equal footing. We have evolved from the same beginning. Yes, some of us have more advantages than others, intellectually, socially or financially but as human beings we all feel, think and respond to life from the same basis. We all have a demand to get beyond our basic antagonism, rivalry and resentment. Our quest is for happiness and equanimity. I remain grateful that I was born into this era with this brain that is capable of engaging in the creative flow of intelligence beyond the practical day to day life that we become completed immersed in, as if that is who we are.
It is this very idea of realizing we are caused through no action on our part that provides a tremendous amount of relief and freedom. Guilt, shame and blame have been greatly reduced in my life for my self and towards others. Human beings live through their emotions, mimicking what has been taught with little curiosity for understanding who we are and how we relate to everything else. It is amazing how the idea of not having free will immediately releases the tension and reduces the anxiety for me. People can not ultimately be held responsible for their way of being in the world. Human beings do have brains capable of processing language and certain aptitudes. People can make choices that direct their lives either positively or negatively. Living with this philosophy has enabled me to generate compassion, humility, generosity, and gratitude towards others. The notion of gratifying my own ego is slowly eroding. There is no room for egoism in any form when I recognize who we are.
My lifestyle reflects compassion for animals. I practice vegetarian eating, making alternative purchase choices, and try to live a more sustainable, eco-friendly life. I make it point to practice energy conservation, recycle, and realize that whatever efforts I attempt have global implications. It is not imagining my self as grand but as a small aspect of humanity, taking responsibility for my role in life, how I will make my contribution.
I now experience a freedom to create my self in a way that expresses that connection and love with all of humanity. I understand the practical demands of making a living but no longer make it the driving force in my life. The biggest challenge is not to fall back in habitual patterns of behavior, mimicking those around me. The wonder of life, how we co-exist, how to manage our selves in day-to-day circumstances has taken on new meaning for me. I know my self now not as an American individual, named, identified and fulfilling specific roles in life. I recognize my self as another instance of humanity, connected to everything, creating my self anew in word and action the moment I awake. This is freedom, joy, and equanimity.
– Peg Keeler