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)
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:
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)
Jungian analyst and author, Helen M. Luke, wrote a number of volumes of insightful literary criticism and numerous philosophical essays with a strong spiritual aspect. In the collection titled simply, Old Age, she writes about growing old wisely. Her work is always worth reading. However, as she grew old herself she became something of a defeatist, and as have so many others in the West, seems to have fallen under the influence of Buddhism. She nihilistically exhorts us, as we grow old, to “let go of much that has been central even to our inner lives.” She proposes abandoning “the wisdom and grace which have come to us through the active years of our lives.”
While much else may have fallen away, wisdom and strengthening inner resources are the just rewards of a long life. Make sure you preserve them.
For decades now, many in the West have suffered from a peculiar kind of spiritual anorexia. This disease of the spirit, extremely widespread, stems from our anti-introspection and anti-intellectual attitude. We favour extraversion over introversion and regard the pursuit of knowledge (as opposed to mere information) as the work of boring nerds and eccentric geeks. However, such wilful myopia comes at a cost. When we turn our backs on genuine understanding, we turn our backs on wisdom. But wisdom is the nourishing food of the spirit. Therefore, on the spiritual plane we are like anorexic girls — we refuse to “eat.”
Hard-won personal wisdom is the only cure for spiritual hunger. (Image: public domain.)
The best way to understand anything complex is to view it from more than one angle. Assimilating different perspectives provides insights not attainable in any other fashion. In that spirit, I offer a concise attempt to understand human psychology from the perspective of the creativity and human cognition researchers. I have positioned everything around the key concept of emotional cognitive structures, the brain’s way of storing its data in emotionally related clusters.
It can be useful to view psychology from the more concrete perspectives of creativity research and recent investigations into brain function and human cognition. (Image: public domain)
Concepts, abstract or general ideas, are a veil that hides reality from our eyes. Without our knowing it, they create a powerful illusion. Anyone who unquestioningly accepts their society’s consensus worldview is suffering from cultural hypnosis. Most of us are affected. We sleepwalk through our lives never understanding that much of what we assume to be true simply is not. We are not even aware that concepts can have this effect.
Many of us sleepwalk through our lives in a muddled state of cultural hypnosis. (Image: public domain)
To dispel the illusion, we must peer past preconceived concepts at the raw data of experience. There is a hidden reality, but it is not on some astral plane or stashed in some mystical “beyond.” The hidden reality is all around us, firmly rooted in this world, yet invisible to eyes blinded by consensus notions of what we are seeing. The hunger that cries, “There must be more to life than this” is, in part, the hunger to experience what lies behind the obscuring veil of concepts. Many sense its presence, as indeed they must, but immediately fall into the very trap they need to escape. They conceptualize the nature of this hidden reality in bizarre and obscure ways, thus trading a consensual illusion for another, even more unrealistic, one.