Tag Archives: Intentional Life

What is our role in defining our experience and do we recognize and leverage it constructively?

The relationships that define functioning biological systems exist on a spectrum ranging from vital, mutually beneficial relationships at one end to parasitic and predatory ones at the other. Vital relationships are when the parts within a system are essential to each other such as the vital organs in our body. After vital relationships are those that produce adaptive value but are not vital, such as arms or legs. On the negative side of the spectrum are parasitic and predatory relationships that act to disrupt these cooperative networks. Overall, a certain threshold of cooperative, mutually nourishing and-or defensive relationships is essential for coherent biological systems to exist.

The fact that destructive agents exist requires coherent systems to devote a certain portion of energy to contend with antagonists. Our immune systems are an example of this expression. Adaptive value is measured relative to a particular system. For example; predators nourish themselves at the expense of prey. From the predator’s perspective, this is an adaptive trait. From the prey’s perspective, it is destructive. Getting away more effectively or otherwise defending against the predator is adaptive to the prey.

This spectrum of relationships is expressed on many scales; on small scales within and between organisms, on larger scales in local environments and ecosystems. Out of this “relationship economy” come living monuments to the necessities of being. Complex adaptive systems that nourish and or defend coherence are what we see embedded in biology’s perceptions and responses. Each organism is tuned to this purpose. System properties that more effectively contend with the necessities of being over time are “selected” over those that do not.

The environment is the primary influence in defining the relationship properties of the systems that exist within it. Desert ecosystems tend to express a more defensive posture than do lush tropical ecosystems. All ecosystems have relationship elements from across the spectrum but the local emphasis is influenced by the necessities dictated by the environment.

Once behaviors get established, they tend to have their own “nourish and defend” aspects to them. This means behaviors that were once relevant to survive in one environmental circumstance can be carried over and adaptively misapplied in other settings. Renegotiating environmental variables is a necessary part of navigating over time in a changing environment. The impact of organisms can become part of that change agency. Ultimately nature manifests signals experienced by organisms as pain or pleasure to communicate when behaviors lose or gain value but there is an “echo from the past” aspect to these signal patterns. Not everything that worked to get us here is relevant to take us forward. This means we have to undergo sacrificial “pain” to give up established patterns that are no longer adaptive.

The same spectrum of relationships in physical biological systems exists in our human social relationships. The emphasis we express is built on environmental influence factors. An individual raised in a climate characterized heavily by parasitic and predatory relationship behaviors will develop a more defensive profile. The same influence factors apply at cultural levels. How we relate has a certain momentum that tends to make what has already happened more likely to happen again. This is especially true of large or long practiced behaviors. This can make pulling out of maladaptive behavior cycles difficult.

Insights into our behaviors can be applied constructively or destructively. We can apply our understanding toward the vital mutually nourishing end of the spectrum that strengthens the community of relationships we live in and depend on or toward the parasitic and predatory destructive end that diminishes vitality. This application influences our experience.

Understanding and applying this information is the oar we have at our disposal to intentionally influence what we experience. In the absence of this applied understanding, we ride on the experiential whims of ignorance and happenstance. We are defined by the environmental womb that formed us, with no voice in the choir that determines our experience.
There are a variety of opportunities available to us. Some of those within our reach can lay untapped until they are employed. Others are lost unless cultivated during limited windows of opportunity. Seeds out of geographic place or out of season for example.

Social systems, like all coherent systems, require a certain threshold of vital and beneficial cooperative relationship opportunities to be realized to service the integrity of the social group. Beyond this minimum necessity are the opportunities we can cultivate to make our lives more vibrant. Parasitic and predatory behaviors within this cooperative “matrix of necessity” can create a local benefit but diminishes and-or destroys the fabric of necessary cooperative networks. If a system is taxed beyond the threshold of its ability to cope with destructive agents its integrity collapses.

Behaviors at the destructive end of the spectrum demand more devotion of energy to defense. More energy to defense shifts energy away from the cultivation of cooperative opportunities. When our immune system activates, for instance, it shuts down energy devoted to growth, maintenance, digestion processes, and so on. This is to redirect those energies to the negotiation of the perceived stress. This realignment of energy is true within our body but also within and between species, within and between cultures, and between our species and the environment. This is the relationship economy that defines our experience operates.

We can become agents of our poverty on the altar of short-sighted gains or we can nourish our potential depending on whether or not we cultivate our opportunities. Having said that; it is not an easy proposition to overcome the momentum of parasitic, predatory and-or maladaptive behaviors that may be embedded in our nature. These events influence our perception and response profile and shape our experience. This does not mean to suggest opening the floodgates of trust. Extending unwarranted trust to each other is a danger when destructive agents exist in the social economy. Finding the place where we can realize the maximum opportunities that can authentically move forward is the only way we can effectively make progress happen.

If this analysis is correct, or at least useful as a lens to more clearly understand the role we play in experience, what are some ideas on how would we begin disciplining ourselves to strengthen the bonds of integrity we depend on and improve our experience? What would this look like?

A Creative and Meaningful Life


Biology is built on the model of the seed. The collection of relationships that define each variety of biological life is housed in the seed and echoed through the generations. Anything novel added to the collection of relationships that also adds value is first embraced, then replicated. Over time, only that which contributes to being able to relate successfully to the environment is remembered and practiced. That which does not offer sustained value, eventually, and sometimes suddenly, fades to extinction. Sometimes extinction carries a whole community of relationships, that was otherwise valuable, to destruction.

If we define “creative” as something both new and useful; something that enables a valuable insight or behavior, that was not possible before, we can then use this working definition to see biology as a mechanism for the capture and preservation of creativity. The relationships that define biology as it stands today are a living chronicle of the collected acts of adaptive creativity. They are those collections of relationships that enable us to successfully navigate the shifting tides of environment.

Some of the values of these creative relationships are emerging, some fading from disuse because they no longer serve. Still others are being morphed or built upon to increase our capacity to sustainably navigate the environment. The value of individual traits stems from well they contribute to the whole community of relationships.

Acting as a contributor to the community of relationships that nourishes and sustains life is the definition of a creative and meaningful life. To cultivate some valuable behavior, insight or experience and share it with the whole community of life is the means by which we leave a lasting impression in the wake of our passing. This is the way we can sow lasting seeds.

This is the principle of the seed – the same way we can count the seeds in an apple but we cannot count the apples in a seed, we can count the actions we take to contribute to life, but we cannot count the life in our actions when they offer something of lasting value.

The Key to an Intentional Life


There is a fungus that infects ants and manipulates their thought and behavior patterns.1 Infected ants are rewired by the fungus to change their basic behavioral nature. The rewiring shifts the ants behavior from a role that supports the sustainability of the ant community they depend on for life to instead devote their lives to ideas planted in their head by the fungus. They are now compelled to go on a journey into the forest in search of a place that best serves the purposes of the fungus.

The fungus overlord that has taken over the life of the ant drives them to find a spot suited perfectly to itself under a leaf at an appropriate level off the forest floor. The ant is then driven to attach itself to a major vein on the underside of that leaf where it starves and dies as it is slowly devoured by the fungus it served and sacrificed its life for. The fungus then pops a fruiting body out of the ants dead skull to litter the forest floor with more spores to spread itself to other ants.

The notions that we encounter in our lives that inform us who we are can be a powerful current that steers us much like the fungus steers the life of the ant. Some of these notions come from the inside – who we are without outside influences – what we might aspire or want to be. Some are from the outside – roles that others have planted into us by virtue of whatever prejudicial arrows they happen to carry in their behavioral quiver. Can we forge an intentional live in the midst of currents such as these? It can be difficult. Like the fungus, ideas installed from the outside in can seem like they are our own. Some of us hold ideas about money or other cultural institutions that we will sacrifice our lives for – not because we believe in them, but because we have been infected by them.

One of the necessary ingredients to forge an intentional life is a healthy bit of skepticism about the ideas we hold as our own. These things we think about our self – who we are – may be installed from the outside in, not born from the inside out. Sifting through the pile can be a difficult task. We develop momentum in terms of identity. What we become accustomed to thinking about ourselves becomes harder to see from a different perspective. The longer we hold on to ideas and behave as if these notions are our own, the more we see them as who we are.

Searching oneself honestly and then choosing to be aligned with being the person we choose to be, rather than quietly accepting the roles cast on us by social pressures can be quite a challenge. But it is a necessary one if we don’t want to to be driven to go where the cultural winds take us and end up under whatever leaf it decides is our fate. There is a Lebanese proverb that says; “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” Each of us must decide if we’re going to be part of the caravan that moves on – making things happen, of one of the dogs that barks out commentary about those happenings.


Ophiocordyceps unilateralis