Do You Know What You Really Want?

Have you become discouraged in life? Has it occurred to you to question what you are doing, or where you are going? Does the nagging feeling that “there must be more to life than this” eat away at you? Worse, have you entered the “midlife crisis” or had a full-blown psychological breakdown? All these things are distressing to one degree or another, and all, even the less pressing, require a remedy. They all stem from a loss of personal vision. That loss has come about because of an inner conflict, a conflict that probably remains below the threshold of conscious awareness.

Silhouette of depressed man

Not knowing what you want can cause debilitating depression. There is a remedy, and you are already carrying it around with you. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures)

Existential (or psychological) crises call for a psychological response. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung specialized in cases like those I have sketched in the opening paragraph. He developed many of his ideas about the process he called individuation while working with conflicted patients who had lost their way in life. Then one of the great analyst’s patients mentioned that what helped him most was repeatedly asking the question, “What do I really want?” Jung was always open to fresh ideas, and after reviewing the case decided that, by querying himself, the fellow had made a great deal of progress, perhaps more than that brought about by the psychoanalysis. While continually answering the question, the patient had moved past his difficulties and set out on a new course in life. He had not so much resolved his inner conflict as rendered it irrelevant. He had found what Jung came to call the “third thing.” In doing so, he had made manifest Jung’s famous “transcendent function,” the process of finding that third thing. The implication was obvious. People were capable of healing themselves, if they just knew how to go about it.

Repeatedly asking, “What do I really want?” is the key strategy in the self-healing process. What you are doing when you constantly ask this question is embarking on a quest for self-understanding and self-realization. You are trying to get past the things society has taught you to want and for which to strive. You are trying to uncover the things that you want, the things for which you would like to strive. The difference between these two sets of things can be sizable, and the larger the discrepancy, the more serious the existential crisis.

Without a doubt, the question has power. Using it to discover your own genuine will (what you truly want is what you will) and make it conscious is step one in a two-step process. The second step is dealing with the issue of responsibility always raised by will. One of the most common reasons for burying your will is the perception – fear even – that what you want is irresponsible. This may or may not be true, but you must make your will conscious before you can examine the issue of conscience.

If what you want does seem irresponsible, does this mean you are back to square one? No: by making your will conscious, you have already won half the battle. Everything is now out in the open and in play. Your genuine will has engaged life. As a result, life will already seem much more worthwhile. Human beings are accustomed to struggling for the things that matter to them, and at a profound level, relish the fight. First, ask yourself if your sense of responsibility is realistic. Surprisingly often, a conscience can be nothing more than the unquestioned assumption that what society has taught you is automatically better than your own ideas and values. This is far from always being the case. If your sense of responsibility is realistic, then you have to find a way to get where you want to go in a responsible fashion. Again, human beings enjoy working towards those things they genuinely will. You do not actually have to be there to be happy. The journey is everything.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

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