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Nature, Nurture and Now

The three influencers

Little boy paddling in the ocean
The richness of this moment

A new entrant has joined the ongoing debate over whether Nature or Nurture has the most influence over us. It also starts with ‘N’. It’s called Now.

Nature, Nurture and Now. Out of these three, which one is influencing you the most? And, more importantly, can you have a say in it?


I’m going to tell you a dark secret. There’s been a skeleton hiding in my family closet for the past 163 years, and it’s just tumbled out and scared us all. His name is James Peter Western, and he was Convict #4357.

Great-great-Grandpa was transported to the Swan River Colony in Western Australia in 1857 for attempting to kill William Connibeer with an iron hook when Connibeer caught him stealing a bag of wheat. Western hit Connibeer in the head eight times and left him for dead with a 15cm long gash cutting through to the bone.

Not a nice man. And I’ve just found out I carry some of his genes. They’ve been diluted, of course, but maybe that criminal tendency has filtered down. Let’s hope Nature doesn’t carry the upper hand in my life.


I grew up in a working-class family. Dad was a truck driver and lay preacher. Mum cleaned houses. Dad was steady and quiet, carrying the reserved trait of the Scottish people from the Outer Hebrides. Mum was a proud housewife who made all our clothes, cooked on a wood stove, polished the floor on her knees and longed to live in the sort of houses she cleaned. My two sisters and I knew we were loved, but hugs were few (I can’t recall any hugs, actually). We felt safe at home and were tirelessly taught that Christ was going to return in 1975.

Hmm. I guess Nurture gets a tick, except that last bit about Christ. And the absence of hugs is a worry. The latest research says we need at least eight a day, so I’m way behind.


So, we’ve arrived at the part that doesn’t involve me pointing the finger at dead family members (Nature) and past events (Nurture). This is where I examine myself (Now).

New discoveries in the field of epigenetics reveal we can control our genes. We can change them. Switch them off or on. It’s a complex subject which I’m not qualified to write about, but that’s the gist. We’re not locked into our genes. Our life path isn’t set in stone.

We're not locked into our genes

Bruce Lipton wrote in the Uplift article ‘Embracing the immaterial universe’:

The fundamental difference between the old DNA genetic code and the new epigenetics is that the former notion endorses genetic determinism–the belief that genes predetermine and control our physiological and behavioral traits–while epigenetics recognizes that our perceptions of the environment, including our consciousness, actively control our genes.

Moshe Szyf, a geneticist whose main research interest is epigenetics gave a TEDx talk on what was learned from experimenting with rats and cocaine addiction:

Our DNA is really combined of two components – two layers of information. One layer of information is old – evolved from millions of years of evolution. It is fixed and very hard to change. The other level of information is the epigenetic layer, which is open and dynamic and sets up a narrative that is interactive. So, even though we are determined by our genes we have a degree of freedom that can set up our life to a life of responsibility.

Living with mindfulness

The latest science supports ancient and modern spiritual teachings.

Behaviour happens in the Now. Our behaviour can modify our genes. DNA is not just a sequence of information. DNA is dynamic. It's not a script we have to perform. We can ad-lib and reset them.

Living in the Now is all about giving conscious attention to what is happening each moment, and not getting caught up in habitual emotional responses to it. I can’t change the old, fixed, evolutionary information locked into my DNA and I can’t change the past. But, if I want to, I can live consciously, moment by moment.

What I think, do and feel can change the epigenetic layer of my DNA. I can choose to live my life differently. I can change me.

I don’t have to steal or be violent. I don’t have to be taciturn, resent the rich, withhold hugs or continue having pointless beliefs.

By changing how I am Now, I can change my physical and mental structures to a degree it wasn’t thought possible before, and I can change my emotional patterns permanently.

Now is where things happen. Now is where, if I wish to, I can change Nature and let go of Nurture.

I can change me.

You can change you.

With love, Marlane

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