I’m interested in the confluence of philosophy, self-development and autobiography and have written a paper about it. My thoughts revolve around certain particular questions and I think it important that a questioning person identify just those questions which captivate them. There is something about those questions which are particularly yours and, when stated precisly, they pertain to your unique life situation. Some may say that this would lead to idiosyncratic egocentricity, but there is another way of looking at it, stated by Emerson, that by delving deeply into your deepest subjectivity you can express something universal. I’m drawn to reading, mostly philosophical texts, and part of my search is to understand what it is I’m looking for. What need am I trying to satisfy? Who do I need to become?
There are different paths of self-development. There are experiential paths that use mysticism and various psychotherapies. There are intellectual paths of study. After approximately 20 years of looking I’ve honed a path that includes some of all three. The use of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha, psychoanalytic psychotherapy for recovering and altering my life outlook and process, and reading philosophy.
Upon reading what I just wrote it feels like I’m giving the impression that I’ve arrived somewhere and now, at least, know the tools of my path. But in actuality most of the time I feel hopeless about ever gaining satisfaction in life. Oddly though, if what I described is an accurate description of my situation – that I have settled on my favored methods – then I should regard that as a positive and hopeful situation. Yet I don’t experience it that way and simply use these techniques in order to survive and try to make things better. I’m so immersed in a hopeless view of things that the aspects of my life that could inject some positivity into it cannot be remembered and incorporated into a happier life outlook. A friend of mine said, You have a wonderful wife and you have a nice house, aren’t those signs of progress in life and your process? I said, Yes it is, but day to day, moment to moment my internal world is not constructed with those positive things as a backdrop. I can imagine some person, born materially deprived, who became a success, having a fundamental appreciation in life. I’m the opposite. Whether good occurrences in life do form a positive backdrop to one’s ongoing experience could have to do with whether the things gotten or accomplished are valued by the person as what’s valuable in life. The poor child who struggles to make it and experiences that struggle as the fundamentally important task in his life will, if he does make it, feel that life has treated him well and that it is a good thing. I think I, because of my psychic makeup, do not value the right things. Or do not value what my friend brought up as signs of my progress. I value, centrally, becoming a somebody. Correspondingly, I fear and am trying to lift myself out of being a nobody.
The specter of being a nobody haunts me. As the days of my life pass I feel that my chance at being a somebody is slipping away and a desperation descends. The somebody-nobody struggle is pervasive and intricately interwoven into my ongoing experience. And I don’t need to become just any somebody, it has to be a certain kind of somebody. My therapist asked, Is Katie Couric a somebody? I grimaced and said "Nooo". To be a somebody by my standards requires the creation of a brilliant and original piece of intellectual work that is recognized by respected peers and gives one a place in society as the creator of this great thing.
I imagine two reactions to this somebody-nobody struggle. One reaction is recoiling at the superficiality and narrowness of it. And when I look at it from a healthier viewpoint it does seem quite pitiful. I can take that viewpoint and see how limited a view of life that is, neglecting relationships, pleasures, new experiences, meaningful work and doing good works; yet I can’t make that stance my lived experience. It doesn’t alter its grip upon my consciousness. The other view is that wanting to create something valuable and be recognized is an ok need to have. And I can understand that reaction too. The issue is how large a role does this occupy in a persons’ psychic economy? For me nothing else is really important.
So, if it’s that important why not just put all my energy into making it happen? If I fail, I will then have to move on. If I succeed I’ll see whether it’s all it’s cracked up to be. A reasonable sounding solution, but it neglects the countervailing forces at play which struggle within me for a different life and which couldn’t stand to fail at this greatest of tasks. A friend of mine is an aficionado of the subtle manifestations of narcissism and he made an interesting observation about me. He said that my narcissism is that of the 19 year old, still in college, who thinks that his possibilities are limitless because he hasn’t confronted the realities of the world. Melville had tacked to his writing desk, so that he could be reminded of it everyday, “Keep true to the dreams of thy youth”. It’s a good maxim to follow to avoid living a compromised life. But I seem to have mangled this maxim into “Keep dreaming that you have the possibilities of your youth”. I’m continually trying to keep these possibilities alive because, I guess, losing them would be too crushing. And so I can still maintain the fiction that I could be great. Anything to avoid being a permanent nobody and wasting my one chance at life.