Embrace your Complexity

It is so easy to underestimate us, humans. It is easy to see the negative impacts we have had in this world as a sign of lack or that there is something intrinsic evil in us. It is easy to fall for the existentialist trap of believing our lives to be ultimately meaningless. Sure, we don’t fully understand why we are alive, nor will we ever understand things beyond our senses or their extensions (technology). It is hard to accept that meaning is an exclusive human need. It is a true bummer to realize our environment gives 0 fucks about us or our need for meaning and purpose. But that’s not a bad thing. We are fascinating beings.

Like a tree or any other animal, you are the condensation of thousands of years of evolution. Your biology holds lessons that our shared humanity has been learning for ages. The vast majority of your behaviors, your autonomic processes (eating, sleeping, breathing), your intuitions and perceptions are all products of whatever it is that makes you human. And we keep refining and transmitting all those with every generation. When you see the cliched Instagram quote: “you are not your thoughts.” It is a fundamental truth. You and your life go way beyond your conscious awareness and your thoughts. Like a tree or any other animal, you are but one of the most recent nodes of a vast lineage of awesome. Nothing less and nothing more.

Put your moral asides for a second, be grateful for your immense complexity, and be proud of what you are.

Why does any of this matter? Because we are often so caught up in our thoughts, and we underestimate ourselves and our complexity so much that we end up banging our heads inside a minuscule cubicle of our own creation. Sometimes that cubicle is an authentic material one. Sometimes is metaphorical, but in either case, it leads to suffering.

I see this often with my nutrition clients. Often we fail to embrace the remarkable complexity and beauty of our bodies in their present form. I am not talking about beauty as attractiveness to others. I mean beauty in the most profound sense of awe and admiration for the complex reality of our biological entities. I am aware of disease and sickness, and I am aware of aging and infirmity. Even in those situations there is space and benefit in embracing and appreciating our beauty in its full force.

Because we don’t embrace that beauty and the pride of being us, we put our hopes somewhere in the future. We think that happiness will be waiting for us if we lose weight, gain muscle, or regularize blood sugar and lipid profile levels. We keep postponing appreciating our bodies and our existence till a particular imaginary goal is achieved. “If I get A, then B happens.” It is a case of linear thinking in a context that is anything but. And this linear thinking gets passed on to our beliefs and behaviors. Then you spend your days thinking that if you get that promotion, exercise more, eat less, drink eight glasses of water a day, or any other similar formulaic proposition, you will get you out of the hole. But you won’t.

What’s worse, if we don’t embrace and appreciate our humanity, we will always fail to appreciate the humanity in others, and that leads to nowhere good.

We are complex dynamic systems. I don’t mean that in a shallow way. I am not choosing cool-sounding adjectives to make a hyperbole. I mean that in the most formal way possible. Any physicist can back me up here. We humans are:

▶  Non-linear systems. The same inputs have very different outputs depending on context. The same ice cream will be processed differently by your body, depending on a great manifold of variables, including your thoughts about the damn ice cream.

▶ Open systems. We are far from energetic equilibrium. We are in a continuous flux with radically interesting synergistics. This is why managing sleep, eat, and movement is such a complicated problem.

 Systems with memory. This happens at the conscious level and at the physiological level. Previous states in part determine the present state. You can never truly go back to your previous state. A computer program can go back to stage 1 as many times as needed. We can’t.

▶ Nested Systems. We are a convoluted system of systems. What is most interesting is that we cannot exist if not part of the environment that contains us, which is another complex system.

▶ Adaptive Systems. We have the capacity for change and learning from experience. We can change ourselves.

Those are just some of the features that make us a complex system. We are the effing shit! We are a lot more complex and exciting than the device you are using to read this. On the same token, being an awesome human is a far more complicated problem than getting to Mars or developing quantum computers.

Embrace your complexity!

Pause for a second today and rejoice on the fact that you are you and that you are alive. Life is a gift. Just be grateful for your existence, and then after that, go and lift some heavy weights in the gym. I bet you my mustache that you will kill it. Let me know how it goes!

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