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Black Elk

Feeding the Flame: Strengthening the Unselfish Gene

Published by Philip Carr-Gomm

Our instincts are powerful motivators and the cause of much human behaviour and misbehaviour. When outer circumstances become difficult we have a tendency to regress to instinctual behaviour. A classic example is the way in which communities of different ethnic groups live peacefully side by side until war comes and suddenly neighbour starts fighting neighbour.

Traditionally psychologists have talked about ‘The Four Effs’: feeding, fighting, fleeing and reproducing, but I believe there is a fifth instinct which, to keep to the mnemonic, we can name the ‘flame within’ that longs to help, heal, nurture and protect, or ‘fostering’ which longs to nourish and serve. Some might see it as a feminine instinct – and the flame that of the goddess Brighid.

Although most of the stories emerging out of war-torn regions are of conflict, we also hear of certain people who don’t respond in that way – who act not out of fear or aggression but out of love and a desire to make the world a better place. They are operating from the Fifth Instinct – the desire to serve, to be of use, to give to the world.

Why do so many people want to be healers? Why do so many people pay huge sums to become Reiki Masters or therapists? We can be cynical and say it is their ego that wants feeding, or that they are misguidedly trying to find healing themselves (‘Physician Heal Thyself’) but I believe the deepest reason is that they have awoken to this Fifth Instinct – they want to give, to be of service.

This is why most religions place an emphasis on service, expressed as ‘charity’ in Christianity, and as ‘seva’ in the Dharmic religions. A spirituality’s job is to help us feed this fifth instinct – to fan this flame within.

Philip Carr-Gomm