All too often, we misunderstand and fail to accept that we are bodies-with-minds, not (at least, for all that we can know scientifically) souls temporarily inhabiting bodily vehicles.

On the Hong Kong Trail (Dragon's Back)

On the Hong Kong Trail (Dragon’s Back): Notice how even our physical practices often are, or become, about things other than the body. Good looks (according to social conventions), physical self-mastery, exploration and adventure,…

It isn’t only a way we are not ‘at home’ that we misunderstand our bodily being/being bodies, however.

Strangely, at the same time at which we seem to overemphasize the mind, we also tend not to be quite ‘at home’ with our peculiar, human, mental faculties and consciousness.

We often give in to urges and comfort and assume that we are – and can only be – as we have come to be. Nothing to do about it.

In fact, it is often presented as a good thing, not least after only too many ideologies wanted to create (what they considered) the perfect human being (and subject to the ideology); it had come to be the pinnacle suggested by self-realization: “Just be yourself!”

As human beings, however, we can be more, do good, and become better – or at the very least, we are free to try for better.

In a world that mainly runs on instinct and urges, we alone are conscious to such an extent that we can aim higher.

Of course, we usually misunderstand and even refuse to learn about the ways our conscious minds are wont to be tricked and trick themselves in a myriad ways, just because that rejection of the truth feels better.

We are likely to believe that we have understood and approached perfection, or at least become sufficiently good and also fixed in our psychology, so that there isn’t much to be done – or indeed, that needs doing – anymore.

Language learning materialsOr we believe that we weren’t all that good at the learning we had to do at school, and promptly think that we don’t have anything more that we could and would want to learn.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” even codifies the idea into some kind of folk wisdom. It is not great wisdom, however, so much as it is a cop-out.

It is all the more lame an excuse if you look at neurobiological research, which is making it pretty clear that we are constantly learning; our brains are changing with every experience we have, making new memories, strengthening old – or new – habits, increasing the store of knowledge we have.

So, we can still learn more – including about the ways we often get tricked and trick ourselves, the ways we feel good about learning but don’t learn quite as effectively as we could, and so much more.
And, staying mentally active like that has even been shown to keep some of the deterioration that may come with age at bay, at least somewhat. (And being physically active also helps.)

We can learn to know more and be better human beings – and we do not even need to go for the world-changing success that finds so much popularity nowadays (in yet another instance of the #1 way we’re not “at home,” Seeing and Seeking Only the Outstanding), but we can do quite enough just aiming to become better at being human:

Get yourself into new situations, and if you are not totally closed off to new experiences and ways of seeing things, you will learn something new.

Even just (just?!) reading a novel can expand your sense of self – let you “Becom[e] a Vampire Without Being Bitten” – and get you to consider new perspectives; in books and with blogs and videos, there would be a lot to learn – first of all, perhaps, to deal with all the distractions that prey on our monkey minds for their own purposes and to use the ‘social media life’ for our growth instead.

Beijing's China National Library

There are lots of other possibilities for learning and growing, too.

As with all adventure, what it takes mainly is the attitude to go and do… and if it’s not learning you want to do, do something for others, and you can also learn and be more than just the bodily self and its urges.

Approach life with a humanist attitude, thinking that you can learn more and become a better person, and you probably can.

You are more than you are, anyways, in all the different roles you play ecologically and socially, but don’t just stay there, passively…

You are a human being. Live like it.