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.
The human mind has two aspects, one of which can be a nag and the other a source of great wisdom. (Image: Gutenberg)
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 thought our lives are programmed in childhood with a limited set of possibilities. (Photo: Wikipedia)
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.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
Philosophers such as Leibniz work out entire philosophical systems. Ordinary people settle for a set of personal values. (Image: wpclipart.com)