Will the Real Human Nature Please Stand Up?

I was in the jungle for 3 years before I saw what was right before my eyes. That the children never argued with each others. Not just that they didn’t fight. They never had a disagreement. I think of how we see children here…“Boys will be boys…”

We meet the expectations of our elders. We have created an anti-social population by our expectations.

Why do we have locks on our doors? Why do we have armies? It’s not just America–it’s all of Western culture. We have a grotesque idea of what it is to be human, and we are replicating that idea with our expectations, generation after generation.

These women have been taking care of babies since they were three or four years old. Children that age can remember very well what it was like to be a baby. They know what to do. By the time they have children of their own, it is deeply part of their nature. I would have been embarrassed to explain to these mothers that where I come from [NYC], women don’t know how to take care of children until they read an instruction manual written by a man.

From the minute a baby is born, we declare war upon her. We poke things in her orifices. We weigh and measure her. Then the baby is hungry, and we say “no, it’s got to be 4 hours between feedings.” We call it “colic” when these children can’t keep their food down. They’re so upset by what we do to them that they can’t digest their food. This is normal here in the West. It’s unheard of in these people we call “primitive”.

— Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept

Nonviolence? C’mon…get real!

I was swimming in a lake in the Philadelphia suburbs, as is my wont on a summer afternoon. Out in the middle, I saw an insect floating, and I identified with his struggle. I lifted him out of the water and he tried to fly, but his wings were too waterlogged, and he fell right down. So I lifted him onto my finger and held that hand out of the water while I swam sidestroke for awhile. He dried in the sun for about a minute, then picked himself up and flew somewhat further before falling back down in the water. I thought he really needed to dry out for longer, so I swam breast stroke, pushing him on a water wave ahead of me until we got close to the shore, where there was a fallen tree in the water, and I lifted him onto a branch. There I said good-bye, and swam off, hoping he might dry off thoroughly enough that he could fly to the shore and safety.

All the while, I was thinking what a Buddhist thing I was doing. Or maybe Jainist. Or maybe I am just taking the idea to extremes, that all life is worthy of our reverence. It was only after I swam off that I became curious about the taxonomy of the creature whom I had helped.

Delta wings with an orange underbelly…

As I realized that I had rescued a lantern fly, I was flooded with a whole different set of feelings. Here I thought I was experiencing a tiny connection across a wide genetic gulf. But at the same time, I was putting myself at odds with my neighbors, who are on a campaign to exterminate lantern flies. I thought about C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters, in which Satan’s advice on how to capture souls was to: “Make sure he loves mankind but can’t stand his mother in law.”

Am I a deeply empathetic person who carries non-violence to the point of catching mice in have-a-heart traps and carefully shephering wasps out the window? Or am I so accustomed to virtue-signaling that I do it even when there’s no one around to signal? Maybe both?

And what about lantern flies? I truly think that the campaign to kill every last lantern fly in Pennsylvania is doomed to failure. They are a new reality that the ecology is just going to have to adjust to, as they fill their niche and attract predators that will keep their numbers in check. But I also realize that this belief separates me from my neighbors who are doing their part with backyard lantern fly traps. It’s making me lonely.

Why have I spent so much of my life being morally superior and lonely?


The poet who commits to fourteen lines
Finds focus and a certain inspiration,
While words that don’t conduce his destination
Can have no place in sonnet’s strict confines.

A marriage, or a pledge made to a child
Can focus life, as poems focus art
A parent pares all that cannot be part
Of life that son and daughter have beguiled

He feels he’s both the finder and the found;
His yoke is tight, but surely it is his.
He bucks and starts, acknowledging what is
His lot and manifest, to which he’s bound.

The sum of his creation stands or falls
On what transpires within these prison walls.

— JJM = #60 in the I Ching Sonnet Project


Biology is not Physics

You’ve found the spark that makes the sun burn bright
and tracked the orbits of the distant stars.
You’ve harnessed energy for planes and cars—
success convinces you you’ve got it right.

You think the rule of physics must be strict,
yet only in the aggregate do maths
apply to living things. Their single paths
take twists and turns that you cannot predict.

Man’s thirst for knowledge never can be quenched
while minds refuse to grant the role of mind
that regulates the quantum. You won’t find
broad truth while narrow physics is entrenched.

What sort of physics would it take to know
how neurons fire, hearts beat, and grasses grow?

— sonnet by JJM (not part of the I Ching)

Jia = Family

Your isolation, not inborn, was taught
To you. You had to learn to feel apart.
Contracted and alone within your heart,
Connection is the soul of all you’ve sought.

Pursuing one who’s worthy of your love,
You’ve known great blessing, calling her your wife.
And then this child, whom you love more than life
Has taught you lessons you never dreamed of.

That love is not a thing one can deserve
That will-to-power yields to will-to-serve.
Your family is a microcosm where
You need not pose or try to prove you care.
All roles are tried here, dreams and visions nursed
And to the end, your family will come first.

— JJM = #37 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

37. Chia Jen / The Family [The Clan] | I Ching Community

Shed the Should

With great and persistent effort have I campaigned to abolish “shoulds” from my psyche, to free myself from the judging voice of the superego, and unconstrained by shaming.  This wasn’t easy, but I did it because, deep within me, I knew it’s what I should do.

Now I have succeeded.  What should I do next?


What Happened to Google's Effort to Scan Millions of University Library Books?

Kan, the Deluge

Arising torrent sweeps away the past.
The cleansing of some ways is overdue,
But must inspired beauty perish, too?
You’ve known that nothing physical can last
Forever, yet you mourn the senseless loss,
The indiscrim’nate dissolution of
Your culture, nature, people that you love
Along with the corruption, lies, the dross
Of institutions that outlived their use.

There’s no resisting any tide so strong.
But is your substance pure enough to be
The water that diffuses and renews?
If not, then you, too, must be swept along
Recycled into new reality…
It may not be your place to choose.

— JJM = #29 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

29. K'an – Abysmal (Water) | I-Ching Ponderings from a Modern ManSonnet + One


Art by Denise Weaver Ross


Obstruction seems as real as it can be.
Your forward path is blocked, and no retreat
Is left to you; you sense certain defeat
Awaits, in all directions you can see.
The obstacles are physical and real
Enough, beyond your power to surmount.
Yet externalities cannot account
For desperate emotions that you feel.

You turn within—you have no other choice
Since outward acts have no remaining scope.
You contemplate the feelings in your gut
Without belief or expectation, but,
From whence you cannot tell, a voice
Arises, past all reason, offering hope.

— JJM = #39 in the I Ching Sonnet Project


Violence and cruelty are part of God’s world. I embrace and I celebrate God’s world, in all its complexity.

I withdraw from the realm of good and evil, and judge not right or wrong.

I choose not to participate in violence or cruelty, directly or by proxy.


I do not blame the cat who torments mice
Nor scold the child who overturns his food.
I cradle both without e’en thinking twice
And deem this love a cause for gratitude.

But me—I mark my blameless days long gone.
I dare not dream of innocence regained
While daily nightmares dwell on tasks undone.
My frank facade I know is frankly feigned.

Why not expand the compass of my ruth
Beyond the years which men excuse by youth?
Is universal innocence a truth
That’s viable and worthy of acclaim?
To view all souls about me without blame
And in the end to lift my veil of shame.

— JJM = #15 in the I Ching Sonnet Project