The Inner Nag vs. Inner Wisdom

In this post, I want to present another example of the associative workings of the unconscious mind. Years of strenuous psychotherapy and much “soul searching” have made me sensitive to the meaningful little clues and useful responses the unconscious scatters through our lives. We all have these experiences, but many of us, not understanding their potential value just shrug them off. I recorded this simple incident in one of my notebooks. To set the scene, I should mention that I was living the hermit’s life in a forest shack on the edge of the Canadian wilderness at the time.

Two Faced Man

The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)

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Simone de Beauvoir on Life’s Possibilities

Simone de Beauvoir believed that, “The programme laid down in our childhood allows us to do, know, and love only a limited number of things; when the programme is fulfilled and when we have come to the end of our possibilities, then death is accepted with indifference or even as a merciful release – it delivers us from that extreme boredom that the ancients called satietas vitae.” The notion that our childhood defines us is sound. Our genes (character, behaviour) interact with our environment, we form a sense of how the world works, and we build a set of values. The development of this unique set of emotionally important ideas lays down the foundation of what will or will not motivate us as adults.

Simone de Beauvoir at 60

Simone de Beauvoir thought our lives are programmed in childhood with a limited set of possibilities. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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The Ship as Metaphor for the Self

The authentic self comprises the unique set of our most potent and precious emotionally important ideas. We acquire the basics of these mental constructs as children when, through our behaviour, our genes interact with our physical and social environment. Their uniqueness is what makes us all natural individuals. (Yes, without even trying, if we can stay out of our own way.) Unless we make them conscious – and we can – these assorted emotionally important ideas live in the unconscious where they generate our true will. We are all born with the urge for self-realization and the capacities we want to fulfil are an integral part of the authentic self.

Square-rigged sailing vessel

Functional aspects of the authentic self may be compared to the working parts of an old-fashioned sailing ship. (Image freeclipartnow.com)

An old-fashioned sailboat or square-rigged ship makes a useful metaphor for illustrating the importance of our emotionally important ideas. (Or as some would say, subjectively formed guiding principles). Once we are aware of them, these ideas or principles give our “ship of self” a number of useful qualities:

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Doctrine Is Not the Only Alternative to Scepticism

“But still you must understand that knowledge is neither a tower nor a well, but a human habitation.” These inspiring words belong to French philosopher and spiritual writer, Antonin Sertillanges. He means we must not regard knowledge as something external to ourselves, something to which we refer or draw upon from time to time. Knowledge must be more personal than that, more intimate and immediate. We must embody what we know and literally live our day to day lives according to our own set of authentically preferred truths.

Anton Chekhov

A biographer has suggested that Chekhov had no world view and was thus free of illusions. But what is the cost? (Image: public domain)

For Sertillanges, having a philosophical frame of reference is essential. “It is undeniably useful to possess, as early as possible, even if at starting [one’s intellectual life] if it may be, a body of directive ideas forming a whole, and capable, like the magnet, of attracting and subordinating to itself all our knowledge. The man without some such equipment is, in the intellectual universe, like the traveller who easily falls into scepticism through getting to know many dissimilar civilizations and contradictory doctrines.

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Ego Must Vow Obedience to the Self

One of the most interesting aspects of religion is that, if you come at it from the right angle, much of it translates well into modern psychology. In “Exploring the Sufi Concept of Nafs,” I linked the Nafs with the psychological concept we call the false persona. Here, I will return to the work of Jungian analyst Helen M. Luke to examine her Catholic notion of the vow to obey God.

Templar Knight Swearing Fealty

For there to be peace in the psyche, ego must recognize its proper role and swear obedience to authentic will as a knight swears to obey his liege lord. (Image: public domain)

“The third vow of obedience [blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth] is a commitment to total response at whatever cost to the voice of the Holy Spirit within.” By the voice of the Holy Spirit, Luke means “the still small voice,” the voice of God within. However, the voice need not be still and small; the voice is really the prompting of one’s own true will, not the will of God. Those who know themselves well hear the voice very clearly.

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The Search for Personal Moral and Ethical Truth

German philosopher, mathematician and man of affairs (i.e. businessman), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz always said that he found no book so bad that he could get nothing from it. He was referring to serious works of non-fiction and meant that he could glean a few bits of worthwhile material from any book he read. There is a more powerful way to think about bad books. The fact that they are obviously wrong helps you to clarify your own thinking. (Perhaps Leibniz had this in mind as well.) You can view your own notions in the light of the wrong ideas in the bad book, make comparisons, and work out arguments to knock down what you are reading. I make a habit of reading books (not necessarily bad ones!) that present views opposed to my own.

Portrait of German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz

Philosophers such as Leibniz work out entire philosophical systems. Ordinary people settle for a set of personal values. (Image: wpclipart.com)

There is a vital clue to being an intellectual in this.

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