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A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force



Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton

We often learn Newton's first law of motion in the context of billiard balls on pool tables. But the same law is readily observed in "man as machine". I tend to react to men in the same, limited manner in which I tended to react to my own father. I will continue to do so until something awakens me to what I am doing, enables me to see alternatives, and assists me in establishing those alternatives as part of a new, less restrictive pattern.

But human beings are rather more complex than billiard balls; much is required to overcome the force of habit or the trend of history. Consider dieting as one example of attempting to overcome an addiction (or any other deep pattern) via self-improvement. The mind idealistically embraces the idea of losing weight, usually rallying itself around some new technique for doing that; but the body remains a distinct voice and force all the while. The mind may rule for a period; but, come that moment in front of the chocolate shop, when the delicious smell comes wafting out
the body instantly initiates a coup d'etat, seizing the throne and commencing a food binge that may last days, weeks, or months. When the mind "comes to", it generally is perplexed about the failure of its program. It vastly underestimated (and never was actually in a position to overcome) the force and depth of the pattern it was attempting to address.

A more apt metaphor for "man as machine" than the passive billiard ball is "man as homeostatic system": a pattern of activity which, even when acted on by an outside force, will exert a counter-force, in order to perpetuate the present pattern. It's as though the billiard ball had developed little "legs" that dug into the pool table surface when it sees another pool ball coming, in order to resist the oncoming "hit"; or as though the ball could dodge the oncoming ball. Not so easy to knock that ball in a desired direction any longer, even with an outside force!

Thermostats are examples of systems consciously designed to be homeostatic. They are built to keep the house at a certain temperature homeostatically; a fall below that temperature turns the heater on, while a restoration to the status quo temperature turns the heater off. Just so, upon persisting at a certain weight for a sufficient length of time, the human body establishes that weight as a "set point" which it vigorously works to restore should body weight go lower (or higher).

On the basis of similar observations, thinkers as diverse as Montaigne, Pavlov, Gurdjieff, and Hubert Benoit, concluded that what is possible through self-improvement, or even improvement with the help of other human beings more or less like ourselves, is severely limited.

Necessarily, the help we need for radical change or spiritual maturity, on the one hand must overwhelm our homeostatic system in the manner of a great "Outside Force"; and yet, on the other hand, it must also pull the rug out from beneath deep patterns in the manner of Something at an even greater depth (in accord with the principles of depth psychology). The "Grace of God" is a good name for help which both overwhelms from without and undermines from within.

 

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