|Self in Calabria recently|
I write these lines from the South of Italy under blue skies. I am almost a different person here – a different Soul, a different Self. People speak about getting away from it all, going on holiday, getting a break from the dull monotony of routine. Here I am in Isca Marina, a little town some 10 kilometres south of the more major town of Soverato. I have just been with my neighbours at the swimming pool in our little compound of apartments called Isca Calabretta. It is around 34 degrees Celsius and I am burnt from the sun. No matter how often I promise myself that I shan’t get burnt, I always end up being so despite whatever precautions I take.
Having been reading a little light philosophy and a rather well written novel I am even more reflective. These posts are just as I have said a journal of a soul; a journal in pursuit of identity; a way of expressing whatever my grasp is on my elusive Self. The Scottish philosopher and empiricist David Hume doubted if there was even such an entity as the “Self.” He was wont to say, and indeed express on paper, that we humans were no more than a bundle of perceptions. And strangely he never seemed to be disturbed by the thought of who it was that was sorting these perceptions into bundles anyway. Maybe he had no need to be disturbed as he had never ever embraced such a question.
Anyway, as I sit here so far away from my routine of school teaching which is a very intense job these days, I feel that I am on retreat from the world, in a different space where I am meeting myself [my Self] anew, at a different level, at a very much deeper level indeed. I have just returned to the quiet shade and strong security of my apartment where I am typing these few lines.
As I age I marvel at where all the passing years have gone. Am I the little Tim Quinlan that sat fearful and shy as a six year-old boy in a new and strange primary school in Dublin, Ireland in 1964? Am I the little scared boy the old nun Sister Lucy shook because I could not read any Irish? Am I the little boy who was taught so well and nurtured so well educationally by the wonderful old balding teacher Mr Murray? What a wonderfully good teacher that old man was despite being so near retirement! I did so well under his care that he sent me on to a higher class.
Am I the same Self that transferred into the frighteningly huge world of secondary school where there were over 1,000 pupils? Or the same Soul that entered college at 18? Or the same Self who became a teacher, entered Religious Life for three years, did further study, and taught in four different schools, had this or that relationship, strangely mostly with girls called Ann(e), a name that features prominently in my personal history?
You know, philosophers seem to have a problem with how, as it were, that Self endures or perdures over time. Indeed, some seem to think that while I may be the same human being, with the same identity, there really may have been several differing persons. My consciousness, now, say when teaching or lecturing, that I am a knowing and knowledgeable professional in my field of Special Education, able to speak at Plenary Sessions of various conferences, chair debates and lectures, I have attended over the years, is apparently not the same consciousness as that of the scared little six year old boy who was brought to Dublin, a strange and huge city, from a very small midland country town called Roscrea in the County of Tipperary. And yet, I dispute this on a matter-of-fact basis that I can remember being that little boy, just a tiny bit.
That philosophers, and highly intelligent ones at that, can doubt this continuity over time is an interesting fact. As I promised that these musings will not be philosophical or psychological in any academic sense, I shall desist from either arguing for or against this conclusion. Anyway, I’m not overly sure I have understood their arguments one way or another. Thankfully, I will, therefore, neither need to display my knowledge nor my ignorance to the good reader.
And yet this Self that I am wants to put structure on its being, wants to gather together the different strands that go to make it up as it were. This Self is a male, some 54 years old, with greying hair, has lost some 4 teeth in those years, has a somewhat reducing pot-belly (called una pancia down here in Italy), loves Italian food and wine, can speak three languages, two like a native - Gaelic and English – and a third, Italian with a somewhat increasing facility. Add to this rather strange recipe that I suffer from High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol and Clinical Depression and you get possibly a more rounded picture of the Self that I am. I write poems mostly in Gaelic though I have written some in English. I also have written a book on meditation, a practice which I engage in daily for at least 20 minutes to keep sane. I ascribe my ability to keep afloat to my periods of centring myself (my Self) in meditation. That I have lived without any relapses into depression for the past fourteen years, albeit with the help of medication, I attribute mostly to my writing and my practice of meditation. They keep me together. They somehow set boundaries, as it were, to Hume’s annoying theory of the self as a bundle of perceptions. The poet in me refuses to be called a mere bundle or stack of sense impressions. I am no automaton registering impressions from the world out there on some virtual hard disc within me.
I spent seven long weeks in a psychiatric hospital when I was 40 years of age which was at once both frightening and healing. The journey of the Soul or Self into self-knowledge and especially self-acceptance is a slow and painful one, and probably necessarily so. Wisdom can never come cheaply. And so as I sit and write these lines, I am setting boundaries to my Self; describing it, looking at where it has come from; perusing the stops it has made along the road; marvelling at its continuity over time, despite what those philosophers have said; rejoicing in all those significant others it has met over time which has helped form, shape and mould it; praising its great teachers who were unstinting in their help; being thankful for all those good books which have helped so much in easing the passage onward; thankful always for the presence of good friends and family who have helped it carry its burden.
And, then, dear reader, as I bring a close to these summer thoughts, I praise the Soul which shapes them. And strange, too, dear reader, is it not to speak of the Self in the Third Person, in a more objective and yet so powerful way?
This old Body-Soul or Soul-Body, with its aches and pains, [and indeed I am not looking for sympathy here – just stating the facts of the matter as I would not trade my personal pains for the world as they have bought me whatever wisdom has been my reward] is unmindful now of what fate lies in store for it. All it must do is learn to trust itself [its Self] and deeper trust for “every tatter of its mortal dress” as our greatest national poet W.B. Yeats once put it.
A presto, amici,