The Self

Beltane                                   New Moon

In theology and philosophy an anthropology reveals how the system views the human.  The Cartesian split between body and mind is an anthropology as is Freud’s id-ego-superego.  A familiar medieval anthropology is the body-mind-soul, a tripartite division.  From just these three examples you can see that anthropologies often get layered one upon the other rather than displacing each other.  We assume the Cartesian anthropology when we cannot imagine mind moving or directly affecting anything in the material world, but we might also believe in the medieval body-mind-soul division when it comes to the afterlife.  We may also, in our daily lives, use Freud’s work to analyze our own motivations and dilemmas.

One of the valuable lessons seminary taught me was that we each have our own theology, our own psychology, our own metaphysic, our own philosophy, our own anthropology.  That is, we all have conclusions, though they may be unformed and unsystematic, about the nature of the sacred, the operations of the human mind, the way the universe is really put together, our own views on beauty, truth and justice.  We each, too, have our own anthropology, gleaned from our years of experience as an example of the kind as well as our years of observation of others of our kind.

Here’s my anthropology in summary.  We are unique, solitary and complete within ourselves, yet each of us yearns for the other, some contact, some intimacy that suggests our unique and solitary nature does not condemn us to life alone.  This tension between our isolated existence and our yearning for connection is unresolvable, creating a great deal of suffering, though also creating the purest joy most of us ever know.

We live our lives, when we live them most richly and well, with what I call the Self constantly with us.  The Self is not a perfect you, nor a successful you, rather the Self is the you that can contribute your individual gift(s) to others.  This means that the authentic life, the life lived toward the fullest expression of the Self, is, ironically, the one lived most fully for the other.

Stripping away cultural roles, parental expectations, linguistic and moral customs, seeking the you that calls you forward into richness and toward harmony with the whole of creation is our only real task in this life.  It is not easy, in fact it is hard, and prone to manipulation and deception both from within and without.

If you can, however, pare away the not-you, get down to the core, the place where the seeds of your true Self are, you can nurture those seeds until they grow strong, bloom, bear fruit.  It will be a rare fruit, a strange fruit, a fruit with a flavor and a vitality only you can bring to it.  This journey, the ancient trail inscribed over the temple to Apollo at Delphi, Know Thyself, is the only path that leads to solid ground.  Until you come to know  yourself, you stand on sand that can shift under you.

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