Saturday, April 26, 2014

Journal of a Soul 52

The Courage to Leave the Orbit of Little Self or Ego Self

Imbalance: Going it Alone

Fast flowing stream, Marley Park, April, 2014
I finished my last post by saying that going it alone is always dicey.  Why?  Because the Soul or Self is a very fragile craft that can all too easily founder on the rocks of despair rather than taking to the open sea of promise and of life lived fully.  If any of you is a reader of this blog you will have read quite often in these pages that I say that the Self is a work in progress, never complete, but always on the way, as it were.  The development of Soul or Self is one that takes place through the interplay with other Selves (I mean other people essentially here, of course) who guide us and help us in that development.  Our identities, then, not alone have a personal psychological dimension but also a social and interpersonal one.

Balance: Being Lost and Being Found

Over the years I have always been fascinated with literature, and William Blake has been a luminary in my pantheon of poetic heroes.*  Why?  I suppose the simple answer is that not alone did I love the vivid imagery of his poems, but I was always truly moved by his balancing of opposites or polarities, and his ability somehow to sustain that tension all the way.  Hence, we have the title of one of his earlier books of poems, namely Songs of Innocence and Experience.  Notice the balance of opposites here, or the interplay of "antinomies" as William Butler Yeats would call it nearly 200 years later.  John Keats had a similar insight where he writes in his letters about "negative capability," that is where a great thinker is “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” A poet, then, has the power to bury self-consciousness, dwell in a state of openness to all experience, and identify with the object contemplated.  Lest I get lost by too many literary allusions and end up roaming the back lanes of my literary past, I will return immediately to my initial point about the balancing of opposites.  While Blake wrote the Songs of Innocence, he also wrote the Songs of Experience.  Therein, he wrote about little boys and girls who were lost, and balanced those poems with ones about those same little boys and girls being found. 

Journeying is quite like that, I suppose, sometimes we get lost, we have to ask directions, consult maps, take help, hitch lifts, find fellow travellers to journey with us to find the right road, even to accompany us part of the way.  Big question, that, the right road, that is.  What is the right road?  What direction should we be travelling in?  Maybe, we can only work that out together.  Education certainly helps us - all the knowledge and wisdom of the ages that are handed on culturally.  

Depression: The way Out  and the Journey Towards Healing
Love: always a sign of hope: Ardgillan Park, April, 2014

These thoughts were also inspired by my reading in one sitting today the autobiography of the Irish playwright, actor and novelist Michael Harding called Staring at Lakes.  As I will review this book over on my other blog, I shall not say too much about it here, save to say that it is a tour de force of deeply personal insight into the highs and lows of one human being's life.  However, that book, in my opinion, shows more of "the little boy lost" than it does "the little boy found," though towards the end  we realise that he is making great strides on the way to either finding himself, or being found, as it were.

To be lost is a dreadful state in which to be as anyone who has ever been so will testify.  However, for the sake of our mental health, none of us can remain lost for too long.  Otherwise, we will end up in "the Slough of Despond" (as the great John Bunyan put it in his Pilgrim's Progress) or the depths of depression, to put it in more contemporary terms. In the above named book, Harding admits he has been a sufferer from depression for most of his life, but really had never admitted it until more recent times, because like a brave soldier he felt obliged to tough his experiences out. There is much despondency in this book, though there is the light of hope at the end where he wishes to start anew.  We feel instinctively that he will find himself, that he is being found in the comforting arms of his family and others, and perhaps by the Source of Life itself,  by what we traditionally term God, if his image of that God has not been totally destroyed by the more negative theology and spirituality harshly promulgated by some reactionary strands in the Catholic Church in Ireland over the years.  And yet, he, a former priest, is a truly spiritual one, truly a real pilgrim on the way to Self-acceptance and Self-healing.

The Fear of Extinction in Death
Portrane Graveyard, July 2013

As I type this post a good friend of mine has just informed me that his mother is dying and that he has to go to her bedside.  That feeling of mortality is very close to the bone for me as my own mother died last July and my two brothers and I waited over twenty hours by her bedside until she breathed her final breath.  It was agony watching her, though we were informed that she could feel no pain.  I am very much with my friend in spirit as he goes through these final hours of his mother's life.  The wound of mortality is the one wound we can never heal.  It is the one great common denominator that makes us human, or rather our consciousness of it does, more to the point.   In short, this awareness of the brevity of life leads to the very heart of what philosophers call existentialism, namely, what the so-called founders of this amorphous and disparate school of thought described as the feeling of angst or anxiety. **

This is the very heart of the existential dilemma, that isthe fear or anxiety of the very nothingness of our existence. This fear, Kierkegaard tells us can never be objective at all, because effectively it is a subjective anxiety that everything that I hold dear, including myself, will in the end, sooner or later, crumble into nothingness. Death takes everything away and, ironically, the very uncertainty of when it will happen only adds to our anxiety or angst.  Such angst is at the very heart of Harding's book.

Transcending and Healing Our Fears

And yet we cannot afford to dwell at such depths of angst or anxiety for too long, because it is essentially a bedfellow of depression, possibly even its author for more susceptible and fragile souls.  Living, I believe, requires us, not so much to overcome in as many ways as possible that anxiety at our essential fragility, but rather to transcend it - paradoxically, by acknowledging its role in the task of living.  Such acknowledgement means seeing death and dying as part of the great cycle of life.  That's what I wrote about in the immediately preceding post to this one.  There is the upside as well as the downside to life, the upswing and the downswing, the rising and the falling, the growth and the decay - essentially, the great wheel of life (or Rotha Mór an tSaoil  as we call this in our native tongue), the great circle, the eternal cycle of things. However, an appreciation of the foregoing requires amazing humility, an objectivity that demands an uprooting of the great tap root of obsession with self, that is, with the ego-self.  Further, it requires great courage by demanding a perspective that entails a moving out from our puniness and littleness in the scheme of things, a moving away from being grossly preoccupied with our pride as crafters and shapers of our little lives.  Preoccupation with the ego-self is a loss of perspective that can lead to the depths of despair.  This moving out into the world of Greater-Self or True Self or Real Self is one of sheer humility before the awesome power of the Universe, one of sheer wonder at its beauty and terror The origins of the word "sublime" and all it denotes and connotes lie in that latter paradoxical contrast of beauty and terror.  And yet, the true voyager beyond the small orbit of the little self often instinctively knows or intuits a safety or safeness of being embraced by a greater more benign power.  Some dare call that an experience of God, the truth which like the Sun, we stare at to our peril.


* I have written about William Blake on many occasions.  A short essay I wrote about this startlingly original genius, artist and great pilgrim on life's spiritual way can be found here William Blake

**The theme of anxiety was at the very heart of existentialism from its very origins. This is a sense of anguish which can be defined as a sense of dread at the nothingness of human existence. This theme goes back as far as Kierkegaard in modern existentialism though it stretched way back further into ancient philosophy, too. In fact, anxiety as a theme pervades this philosopher’s work. Kierkegaard lived his relatively short life (1813-1855) in Denmark. The meaninglessness of his existence filled him with anxiety and despair and a sense of hopelessness and deep depression. At base his anxiety was a deep despair at the very nothingness of human existence. In the great universal scheme of things we are mere minuscule ants on a minuscule anthill called earth, lost in the infinity of space. How do we cope with the fact that we as thinking and feeling subjects will come to nothing in the end?Let’s hear Kierkegaard’s words: “I stick my finger into existence – it smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it that has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?” [Quoted Lavine (1984, p. 322)]

No comments:

Post a Comment