I have been in psychotherapy for a very long time and have acquired a philosophical interest in some of the ideas behind the various psychological schools of thought. Inherent in them all is the concept of “liberating” the patient or client. I am sure no professional would ever put it this way, but psychologists are like the Allies storming ashore in Normandy to liberate Europe from the tyrant’s grip and restore democracy.
Psychotherapy seeks to liberate the sufferer from emotional pain thus restoring greater freedom of action. (Photo: Wikipedia)
No matter how one conceptualizes it, liberation implies some kind of oppressive situation from which the sufferer would like to be freed. Right away, we have a two-part scenario: the source of the oppression and the subject who suffers yet is not able (either from ignorance or incapacity) to do anything about the painful situation.
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.
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)
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:
Sartre had an exaggerated need for freedom, which may have come from his experiences in Nazi-occupied France. (Photo: WPClipart)
Sartre proposed that “nothing” is both the ground of human existence and what makes human existence possible. Unfortunately, this strange reality also generates an anxiety so unbearable that we all yearn to fill the nothing with something. From the psychological perspective, arbitrarily filling the nothing with something is an attempt to falsify ourselves and become what we are not. The something with which we choose (using our freedom) to replace the nothing is the foundation of our personal inauthenticity. In other words, there is nothing within us so we must “fill the vacuum,” so to speak, with an artificially constructed sense of self. Sartre’s motive for taking this unusual line is his desire to eliminate the old notion of dualism and replace it with a new monistic vision. To eliminate the perceived inside versus outside duality of the human being, he had to propose a situation where there was but one thing.
In her Diary of Vowels, Jungian analyst Helen M. Luke describes a type of person she refers to as “the Zen man.” According to Luke, “He is … one who does everything with his whole heart, with complete commitment and devotion – or, in Jung’s words, one who lives his hypothesis to the bitter end, to the death if need be.”
It is a mistake to compare Buddhism’s wholeheartedness with Jung’s idea of authenticity. (Image: public domain.)
The concept of wholeheartedness in Zen Buddhism refers to complete sincerity and commitment. Many in the West, including Luke, have tried to equate Zen wholeheartedness with Jung’s notion of wholeness and authenticity. Jung himself may have made the comparison, as Luke seems to suggest.
When feelings such as loneliness, loss, and placelessness assail them, people often get into serious emotional trouble. It is interesting to note that, when some people experience such feelings, they do not turn inward for an explanation of their own emotions. They do not even turn to psychology or philosophy, external knowledge bases which would give them some inkling of what is happening to them and are therefore relevant to their condition. Instead, they turn to spiritual belief systems. With Christianity, the West’s traditional religion, now fallen from favour, troubled individuals feel they must look elsewhere for spiritual comfort and understanding. With increasing regularity, they turn to godless belief systems such as Buddhism and Taoism. The absence of any moralizing god and the possibility of solitary spiritual practice are powerful attractions. That is, people prefer a godless belief system with no churches or temples and no organized religious service. We might call this, “do it yourself” spirituality.
The authentic self is real, constant, and stable. Once found and accepted, it can provide a centre, still point, and anchor in life. (Image: public domain.)