Schopenhauer on Living Your Life as a "Nurse Log"

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The other day I was introduced to the concept of the nurse log. A nurse log is a tree that's fallen down as it decays, and which continues to provide life for other young trees and all sorts of organisms. Accordingnurse_log to Wikipedia it offers young saplings "water, moss thickness, leaf litter, mycorrhizae, disease protection and nutrients". Apparently these nurse logs can last a very long time- up to hundreds of years- as the provider of life from its remains.

This notion of the nurse log reminded me of one my favorite passages from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, where he writes about what motivates the genius to act in the world. Although Schopenhauer is writing about a specific individual- the 'genius'- I think it can be applied to any life. It strikes me that the Schopenhauer passage below and the metaphor of the nurse log both speak nicely to a post-postmodern ethic of interconnectedness, of living one's life in communion with, and in service to, the whole. What would it look like to live our lives as nurse logs, nurse logs for our children, for humanity, for Spirit and the Earth? One of Schopenhauer's admirers, Friedrich Nietzsche, certainly lived his life as a nurse log. Hardly read in his lifetime, he famously wrote- "Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me. Some are born posthumously". And a lot of riches indeed grew off his body of work in the 20th century.  

The Schopenhauer passage comes from an essay entitled "Philosophy and the Intellect", from the text Essays and Aphorisms. It's a little long but I think it's worth it. May we live to one day see nurse logs spread all across schopenhauer02the Earth.

"Talent works for money and fame: the motive which moves genius to productivity is, on the other hand, less easy to determine. It isn't money, for genius seldom gets any. It isn't fame: fame is too uncertain and, more closely considered, of too little worth. Nor is it strictly for its own pleasure, for the great exertion involved almost outweighs the pleasure. It is rather an instinct of a unique sort by virtue of which the individual possessed of genius is impelled to express what he has seen and felt in enduring works without being conscious of any further motivation. It takes place, by and large, with the same sort of necessity that a tree brings forth fruit, and demands of the world no more than a soil on which the individual can flourish. More closely considered, it is as if in such an individual the will to live, as the spirit of the human species, had become conscious of having, by a rare accident, attained for a brief span of time to a greater clarity of intellect, and now endeavors to acquire the products of this clear thought and vision for the whole species, which indeed is the intrinsic being of the individual, so that their light may continue to illumine the darkness and stupor of the ordinary human consciousness. It is from this that there arises that instinct which impels genius to labor in solitude to complete its work without regard for reward, applause or sympathy, but neglectful rather even of its own well-being. To make its work, as a sacred trust and the true fruit of its existence, the property of mankind, laying it down for a posterity better able to appreciate it: this becomes for genius a goal more important than any other, a goal for which it wears the crown of thorns that shall one day blossom into a laurel wreath. Its striving to complete and safeguard its work is just as resolute as that of the insect to safeguard its eggs and provide for the brood it will never live to see: it deposits its eggs where it knows they will find life and nourishment, and dies contented".

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  • Comment Link Olen Gunnlaugson Friday, 09 December 2011 19:03 posted by Olen Gunnlaugson

    Br. Trevor, you've nailed it with this piece. The imagery of the nurse log is also this fallen state of the world right now.

    Clearly this is much needed wisdom for living in a historical period of transition with its declining systems and life conditions as we're all doing right now.

    This piece reminds me of Br. Berg's sharing Bucky's trim tab metaphor. We so need this language, powerful in its profoundly unassuming subtlety, of where the human journey needs to be redirecting its attention & awareness in the days and years ahead.

    Anyone reading this, the next time you go on a hike and discover a nurse log, stop and spend some time with it. My sense is there's a deep teaching in the humble and broken beauty and intelligence of the nurse log.

    much appreciation & love,

    Br. Olen

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 11 December 2011 19:01 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Br. Olen, thanks so much, very helpful to hear that the metaphor resonated for you too.

    And your idea to spend time with a nurse log- :). Brilliant. I'm going to do it soon. A little hands on biomimicry. Or as the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari might put it- "becoming-nurse-log". love it, cheers.

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