Paradise Lost

The book of Genesis describes a delightful Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve to inhabit up until they were expelled from paradise as punishment for eating from the forbidden “tree of knowledge” and noticed that they were naked – a beautiful metaphor for the budding human consciousness when the new part of our brain, the neo cortex, had evolved beyond animal instinct.
At that level human awareness had expanded beyond the animalistic need to sustain life. We had begun to think, but (as the story goes) we were doomed to suffer through the power of the mind. Paradise was lost when we became aware of our existence – we saw that we were exposed and vulnerable, at the mercy of unfathomable powers, which were to remain veiled. Our newly acquired consciousness came at a high price - blissful innocence was lost forever. Present-moment awareness became fickle. Enter reasoning, ambivalence, and confusion. Ashamed of our weakness, we wished to hide our flaws. We tried to remember and imagine a better way, but shame, remorse, regret, and fear had begun to penetrate our consciousness. What to do?
Childbirth came to be experienced as a painful event. Adam’s son Cain who killed his brother Able was condemned to wander the earth – a story about envy, murder, and the tragedy of acting out on aggressive impulses. We are told that a moral standard of conduct is of the essence in order to live comfortably with ourselves and each other, lest we are expelled from the community that sustains life. Migrations to unknown places in search of greener pastures would, by their very nature, engender hardships and grave dangers, while farming was brutal work where weather remained unreliable and famines came about when the crop was diseased.
Anthropology sets the advent of Homo Sapiens at the time when we began to bury our dead, suggesting the beginning of abstract thinking, a thought process beyond basic instinctual needs, cooperation with the clan, and the idea of a soul that might live on – potentially leading to thoughts of mysterious Divine forces, which might await us in afterlife – a scientific version of the paradise-lost scenario. We began to project our newly acquired consciousness to abstract concepts like good or bad – and began to wonder about the cause-and-effect relationship between actions and destiny. A need arose for knowledge – in trying to master the reality around us, we sought to connect with the powers beyond our understanding for good fortune – influence fate and ensure the absence of hunger, pain, and suffering.
From then on we were no longer defined and limited by the fight-or-flight response. We began to string a narrative of life experiences, including remembered things from the past, and beyond, the experiences of others. Dreams, wishes, fantasies came about in the process of telling our stories, sometimes including things that were not there… Thinking about scary situations could evoke fear (even without any present danger), anger, and resentments, just like that. We speculated about the ultimate nature of things, but reliable knowledge was hard to come by. We sought to understand fate as a consequence of our actions rather than random occurrences, we tried to explain bad luck as punishment for things we had done – and reduce the discomfort of the emerging and troubling uncertainty via dedication to the mysterious laws of existence. Through communication with a Higher Power in prayer we expressed a desire to influence the spirit world and avert hardship.
My cats on the other hand… they dwell in paradise - in the eternal now, never disquieted by fictitious threats, blissfully unaware of potential dangers. Their discomfort ceases quickly in response to momentary stimulations. Their minds can’t project to anything beyond their immediate physical being, and so… they are free to relax and purr in the absence of clear and present danger.
Spiritual masters advise to dive into present-moment awareness and set anchor via deliberate breathing into the paradisal state of peace, BUT for us humans it requires practice. They say it’s worthwhile…