An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 13, 2017
Issued from Rancho Regenesis near Ek Balam ruins 20kms north of Valladolid, Yucat√°n, Mexico

FABRE'S THE LIFE OF THE SPIDER

I've been rereading J. Henri Fabre's classic The Life of the Spider, first published 1913, and accessible for free at http://www.efabre.net/fabre/electronictexts/the-life-spider

Throughout the book Fabre expresses his astonishment at how consistently spiders display complex and sophisticated behavior, yet are grotesquely dumb.

For example, a spider constructs an ingenious egg sac, attaches it to spinnerets at her rear end, and sets about dragging the sac after her for what may be months as she searches for prey and passes into and out of her burrow innumerable times, until the sac hatches. One is amazed at her dedication to the sac. Yet, snip the silken threads holding the sac in place, remove the sac, and offer the mother a piece of cork of the sac's size, and the mother eagerly attaches the cork, and continues her career of dragging it about. Another spider of a different species forms an egg sac, but in the process is disturbed, misses her nest as she lays here eggs, but when time comes to cover the nest, the poor creature can't look at her empty nest and understand that there's no sense to continuing her work; She finishes every last detail, wasting considerable time and energy.

Fabre's stories reminded me how I felt years ago when I learned that if a Song Sparrow is prevented from hearing the song of its species during all of its upbringing, it will nonetheless grow up to sing in a way that most birders would say is a little rough, but recognizably a Song Sparrow song. Similarly, when a female Canvasback duck is about a year old and builds her first nest, that nest is exactly like all other Canvasback nests, even if she has been kept in isolation, and couldn't have learned Canvasback nest-building design from another duck.

Learning this, I had to wonder: If information encoded in DNA can put a specific song, and a specific kind of nest, into a little bird, then what can such information encoded in my own DNA be doing to me?

For decades I wondered about that, and as my learning and experience increased I realized that less and less of my own behavior, thinking and feeling was free of dispositions rooted in programming encoded in my DNA. Nowadays, if I had to say how much of my everyday behavior is completely free of my genetic programming, I'd say that it's less than 0.1% -- that 99.9% of my behavior springs from programming in my genes.

During the years of thinking about the issue, however, I've never been able to explain why it was even worth thinking about the matter. After all, even if humans and all other living things are just robots obeying programming in our genes, what good does knowing about it do us? Our experience as humans on Earth will continue as always, plus there's not much we can do about the situation, anyway.

But, this week, thanks to Fabre nudging me to think on the matter once again with his spider stories, I've ended up glimpsing an answer to the above question of "Why even think about it?"

It's because, once you settle on a number like 99.9%, the next step is to wonder about the remaining 0.1% -- that tiny part of my being that still seems to me to be completely independent of my DNA's programming.

And this week as I've done that, I've been surprised to recognize this: That an important reason I persist in believing that at least a little of "me" is something beyond programming, is because of something first experienced many years ago when I was studying meditation.

During meditation, when I and many others go deep inside ourselves, we find something that, though indescribable, could be cartoonized as a glowing presence with undefined borders, suspended in nothingness. It's just a profound is-ness.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that this glowing presence within must be the same in everyone who has found it -- not just identical, but the very same presence -- because it's our attachment point, a kind of umbilicus, with the One Thing spoken of in recent Newsletters.

On this side of the radiant is-ness, there's a Universe of birth and death, predator and prey, male and female, and all the programmed rest, including 99.9% of human being, thinking and feeling. However, that remaining 0.1% of our doing, thinking and feeling is that part of us transcending everyday life, the part inspired by the One Thing glowing within each of us.

That insight achieved, the spiritual task becomes to learn to identify that inspired 0.1% of our lives and to nurture it, maybe to the point of expanding it to 0.2%.