Following Your Nature Doesn’t Justify All Behaviors

I was reading some Taoist lines (more about my understanding of Taoism here) and, the notion of following one’s nature emerged repeatedly. It prompted me to reflect on the idea that while following your nature can be enlightening, it doesn’t inherently justify all your behaviors. If your natural inclination leans toward harm, it becomes essential to address these impulses and redirect them towards positive actions.

I thought about people I’ve known who might assert, “That’s just who I am” or “Take me as I am!” These individuals believe that simply because their perceived nature dictates certain behaviors, they should be exempt from any judgment or responsibility for their actions.

I’ve written a long article on following one’s “Heroic Journey” or following your intuition here. It has a different take than this article that may be enjoyable too.

In my pursuit of contributing to well-being, I firmly believe that following one’s nature generally leads to contentment. However, as I mentioned earlier, my caveat is that we must not yield to our nature when it leads us down a negative path.

When I feel my nature pulling me towards “the dark side,” I employ two methods to guide me away from it. First, I listen closely to my inner self, asking, “Will this action enhance my well-being or that of others?” The challenging part lies in being honest with myself, but the answer typically becomes evident. The second technique I rely on involves applying some fundamental principles of Buddhism, notably the primary tenet of “do no harm.” Running an impulse through this clear filter often clarifies decisions, though they may not always be straightforward.

Whether faced with a consequential decision or a minor one, I find meditation to be a valuable tool for examining my inclinations. By observing desires or questions in a meditative manner, I attempt to pinpoint where these feelings originate and how they affect me. I allow these thoughts to circulate, evaluating their compatibility with well-being. Was the desire a fleeting impulse? Did a closer inspection reveal that it would undoubtedly harm well-being?

The question arises: Is my natural path predetermined from birth?

Is our path predetermined? Free will?

I would say, both yes and no. I hold the belief that we lack free will, a complex topic for discussion beyond the scope of this article. In essence, it revolves around the principle of cause and effect. Every action has a cause, and an extensive chain of causes has led me to type these very words— it’s not a matter of choice! However, our “nature” isn’t something we are born with but rather an amalgamation of nature (our DNA) and environment. As I’ve grown older, it seems that my nature has evolved and remains changeable. So, how do we follow a constantly changing nature? I think the key lies in listening to that deep, honest part of ourselves to consider, “Am I on my natural path?” When I manage to align with the flow of my nature, I find myself at ease. I become a more pleasant person, and the well-being of those around me improves.

Now that I am a parent, I am learning to understand the nature of my children. I recognize the need to be attuned to their nature without imposing my own upon them. The best moments occur when our natures harmonize and flow together. At a superficial level, my philosophy influences my actions as I strive to embrace the Taoist flow while incorporating Buddhist principles.

I perceive following my nature in the following ways:

  1. Embracing our true nature is akin to tapping into an evolutionary gift — a sixth sense we often refer to as intuition.
  2. Elements of our core nature tend to be ingrained in us and persist throughout our lives.
  3. By introspectively filtering our nature through meditation and a Buddhist lens, we can align it with well-being and compassion for all living beings.

Listening to the silent voice

listening to intuition

While exploring the depths of my mind, I’ve noticed that trusting that sixth sense, intuition, becomes more challenging with age. During my youth, following my nature felt like second nature itself! It was easy to act on what felt right. I observe my children and realize they are unburdened by societal norms. While some level of impulse control is valuable, I’m referring to the act of following what feels right to you. For instance, a child spontaneously dancing to music in front of an audience while adults merely tap their feet, despite secretly wanting to join in.

With age, we’ve buried that primal, intuitive voice beneath layers of societal expectations. I’m not suggesting that we should act on every childish impulse, but we could certainly listen more attentively and follow some of them more often than we currently do.

Childhood dreams may be dormant but not extinguished.

Recently, I’ve examined what truly brings me joy and what I genuinely enjoy doing. To my surprise, many of these activities align with my earliest memories. Even though I’ve pushed these joys aside or shelved them for years, they tend to resurface. For instance, my passion for creative pursuits, particularly writing, as well as my sensitivity to music, dance, and other arts, have been with me for as long as I can remember. I held onto these facets of my core nature through college (I majored in Music Composition and Theory and later studied Ethnomusicology). However, at some point, the desire for financial stability won out, and I conformed to societal expectations.

My understanding of my nature has gained nuance, but my innate desires have largely remained consistent with my earliest intuitions. Perhaps the impermanence of one’s nature lies in the realization that we don’t have to blindly follow all our impulses. Instead, all the intuitions that truly matter may manifest at different stages of our lives. I began writing stories at the age of six, picked up music at eleven, and only delved into mindfulness and Buddhism at the age of thirty-five. Each of these impulses surfaced at different times, illustrating the fluidity of our nature. We change, our desires change, and impermanence— a core concept of Buddhism— holds true here. Instead of claiming, “My nature is who I am,” we should acknowledge that “My nature is who I am right now.” It serves as our best predictor of what will hold meaning for us in the future, albeit with a certain level of uncertainty.

Inward Reflection, Outward Alignment

Inward reflection, outward alignment

We rely on our instincts shaped by evolution and our environment to define our “nature.” However, in this third step, we extend our gaze beyond ourselves to encompass Nature as a whole, ensuring that our inner nature aligns with the well-being of all. This is indeed a lofty and aspirational goal! Despite the benefits of following our nature, I believe we must approach this path with compassion for all living beings. Do our desires and actions cause harm? If they do, then it’s crucial to reassess what we consider our nature to be. A prime example is the desire to consume meat, which unquestionably inflicts harm. Some might declare, “I’m a meat eater! It’s in my nature,” but this highlights the danger of blindly following every natural impulse. We must adapt our nature to prioritize the well-being of animals and the planet.

Buddha frequently addresses “sensual desires.” I interpret “sensual” not solely as “sexual” but as anything perceived by the senses. Buddha advises against attachment to such sensory desires, including beauty, luxury, and food. He also advocates for the Middle Way—moderation in desires as opposed to excessive indulgence. The boundary between reasonable and excessive desires may be elusive, but having a moral compass for our nature is vital. We need to continually evaluate and filter our nature through these questions:

  1. Does the behavior cause harm to myself, others, animals, or the planet?
  2. Is the desired action rooted in reasonable desire or is it excessive?
  3. Does the action deepen my attachment to a sensory desire?
  4. Does the action align with my intuition and my (current) core nature?

If I can answer “no” to causing harm, “reasonable” to desire, “no” to deepening attachment, and “yes” to aligning with my intuition and current core nature, then I am typically on the right path towards greater well-being.

Thank you for reading!

If I may, I’d like to point you to my music: