Both the religiously inclined and secular types strive to acquire a splendid false self. Between the two groups, the terminology may differ, but the game remains the same.
The case of C. S. Lewis reveals that the desire for a splendid false self leads to self-alienation. (Photo: public domain)
English author and academic C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) experienced a sudden religious conversion while still a young man. He went on to become one of the 20th century’s best-known religious writers at a time when faith – in Europe, at least – was decidedly on the wane. Whatever one might say about his beliefs, Lewis is a superb example of how a skilled writer can win a following and find substantial success by going against the dominant trend. Conservative writers take note.
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)
I have written several posts about authentic will and illuminated its roots in the psyche. As a way of discovering what you will, I have put forward the idea of employing resonance. That is, look around for those things that stir feelings of joy, delight, bliss or enchantment and there you will find what you truly want (will). This is so, because what you see or experience is resonating with (stimulating) your emotionally important ideas, the origin of will. Notice that, while your will comes from within, what I am suggesting relies on external objects, situations, activities, and so on. Personally, I like the realistic aspects of this approach. I am a big believer in actualities.
Imagination can illuminate buried, forgotten, or neglected sources of joy and energize your life by putting will back into the picture. (Photo: public domain)
In prior posts, I have dealt with the importance of having a personal philosophy of writing. The elements of any writing philosophy must stand above a general preference for particular kinds of ideas for short stories and novels. More important, those elements should transcend considerations of writing technique such as plot, setting, characterization, style, and so on. All writers need an integrated package of powerful ideas geared towards such practical considerations as establishing productive work habits, maintaining standards, dealing with “writers block,” taming the inner critic, and just plain coping with the unforeseen.
Patience prospers the creative process. Impatience can cripple it. (Image: public domain)
In this post, I want to supplement my earlier ideas by putting forward some thoughts on how to deal with the problem of impatience.
For decades, I have loved reading sophisticated literary biographies and the personal diaries of famous writers and painters. This post outlines some thoughts prompted by reading, in close proximity, a biography of Edgar Allan Poe and C. S. Lewis’ diary. However, not everything I read is so substantial. During the sixteen-years I lived as a hermit on the edge of the Great Canadian Wilderness, I also acquired a taste for books written by people living in out of the way places. One of England’s great cat-lovers, Derek Tangye, became a surprise favourite. Tangye, an ex-newspaperman writes simple charming accounts of his life in Cornwall. He and his wife Jeannie lived in “Minack,” an ancient stone cottage perched atop a cliff on Cornwall’s south coast. They grew flowers for the London markets – and kept cats.
Edgar Allan Poe could not put his troubled past behind him and move on. (photo: Wikipedia)
When Scottish physician and writer Arthur Conan Doyle created his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, he gave the immortal sleuth some character traits not considered virtues. Foremost among these dubious qualities would be Holmes’ chronic problem with boredom. Another negative behaviour, his cocaine habit, stems directly from this noteworthy inability to stay afloat in unstimulating situations. Doyle wished us to see that Holmes’ mind was so powerful it required huge amounts of intellectual “fuel” to keep it from stalling.
Arthur Conan Doyle used his famous character, Sherlock Holmes, to exemplify the perils of boredom for those with powerful intellects. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In reality, anyone with a decent mind faces the same situation. We know that all human beings tend towards “psychic entropy” when alone – the least stimulating situation a person can be in. It is less obvious that persons of greater intelligence may suffer the same fate even when among others if the milieu in which they travel is of insufficient sophistication. The danger is, as it was with Holmes, boredom followed by sudden descents into severe depression.
When Christianity was strong in the West, the concept of God answered both the need for external physical protection and the interior need for something to account for that sense of the numinous most of us sense now and then. That is, God was, at the same time powerfully immanent in the cosmos and the comforting “God within our bosoms.” One could say that God was continuous across a boundary of objective outer and subjective inner life. People quite naturally felt a greater kinship with the world – or even the cosmos, if one included the crude conceptualization of the heavens extant at the time. Everything, including the human race was part of God’s Creation. The concept of the individual was not particularly well-developed.
God once provided both physical security and inner comfort. Now our needs are divided between the state and psychology. (Photo: public domain)
Austrian doctor and pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler made the inferiority complex central to his thinking. He believed that, “When the individual does not find a proper concrete goal of superiority, an inferiority complex results. The inferiority complex leads to a desire for escape and this desire for escape is expressed in a superiority complex, which is nothing more than a goal on the useless and vain side of life offering the satisfaction of false success.”
Pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler recognized our innate need to feel superior in some legitimate way. (Photo: public domain)
Adler’s “concrete goal of superiority” is a shorthand way of describing the authentic struggle for self-discovery and self-realization, which always plays out as a determined quest for various life goals. Failure to pursue self-realization (what life is all about) results in self-alienation. I can personally testify that this mental state does lead inevitably to feelings of gross inadequacy and inferiority. These negative feelings in turn prompt the formation of a monstrous vain and supercilious false persona, Adler’s “goal on the useless and vain side of life offering the satisfaction of false success.” Builders of false personas chase ego-enhancing goals with little in the way of usefulness, substance, or relevance to their authentic selves. Empty flash and glitter triumph over meaningfulness and emotional gratification.
In my earlier post, “Outrunning the Hound of Heaven,” I described how repressed material in the unconscious mind might drive the religious impulse. I used (among others) the English writer C. S. Lewis as an example. Today I want to present the idea that religious conversion may be an evasion, a way of avoiding the psychologically rigorous journey of self-discovery. I have drawn the material from my diary. To show what an individuation diary can look like, I have left the entry in its original form and appended a more recent commentary to elaborate on the ideas.
Sudden religious conversion may be a way of avoiding the much more rigorous process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. (Image: Wikipedia)
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)