Monday, August 06, 2007
Putting The Pieces Together
Looking back over the last 49 and a half years I have spent on this wonderful, if at times most painful, planet it seems to me that I have as it were been involved in shaping some character who is turning into “me.” We are made up, I contend, of all the encounters we have had with other beings, both human and animal; our struggles with the material world; the education we have received both formally and informally; our struggle to succeed; the accidents that have befallen us and how we have coped with these; how we have integrated all the foregoing with our innate abilities and capabilities and how in the very end we accept the picture or pattern or integrity of the person it has been our overriding task to shape and to form.
An analogy (analogy 1) I think would be that of doing a rather complex jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there as outlined in words above. Our project for life is to put the picture together. Working with this analogy, I think many of us only succeed to a limited extent in getting a full picture of who we are or of what our project in life is. I suppose the more mentally ill among us, or the less mentally whole or the less mentally integrated among us have the pieces scattered all over the place. I believe also, that it should be axiomatic that no one ever gets the whole jigsaw done as that implies complete integration.
I have referred to my favourite psychiatrist in these pages before – that is, Anthony Storr. I probably should have added him as one of the characters I should like to meet in my last post, but as I said there I think if I were to mention all the deceased people that have impacted upon me over the years I should never have done writing. Anyway, one of my favourite books by Storr is The Integrity of the Personality. When I read this book it really blew my mind away, if I may be permitted a rather stupid pun, as to what personality really is and as to how it is shaped. It confirmed most of my own beliefs, consolidated old facts, enlightened me of new ones, but most of all gave me a handle on my goal as a person. My goal as a person is to integrate as far as possible all those shadowy aspects of my unconscious, all those complexes which Jung alluded to or, if you like, all those sub-personalities into a whole integrated unity of a being called me. I will return to the lessons learnt from this marvellous gem of a book later if I get the time. However, his overriding idea is, for my purposes here, in keeping with my analogy of jigsaw making. Remember, it’s only an analogy, only a metaphor (I count similes as metaphor in the strict philosophical sense of the type of language used) – hence there is no fundamentalism allowed!
When we look back on our lives we are rather like hikers or mountaineers (analogy 2) who are now looking back on our rather interesting if arduous ascent to where we are at on the mountain (= in our live) at this moment in time. We can now, from our vantage point, discern a path or a pattern in what to a great extent has been a mixture of chance with some free choice. Human beings love patterns – we see patterns in our past and indeed patterns in our future. Whether these patterns are there objectively or not is beside the point. Philosophically we see things as we are, rather than as they are phenomenologically in themselves. Anyway, we see a shape, a form, a pattern, a plan and then we make others to continue on from these perceived patterns. Early in life, our plans may be something like: be a great civil engineer, having been captivated by those wonderful suspension bridges; be a teacher because you are enthralled by the beauty of sharing knowledge; be an artist because of the beauty of those paintings by van Gogh; be a bus driver because of your fascination with buses and means of transport, or be a carpenter or plumber to make and shape things that are useful in daily living. And so we plan and shape our little lives.
Later we add other more human and spiritual aspects to our plan like spouse and family and service to the local community. Others add more lofty cultural and ethical aspects to their project – they become workers for international peace and justice and fight for human rights under the umbrella of some organization or other. The bolder among us found our own organizations like John O’ Shea of Goal.
Along the way we meet obstacles which buffet and sometimes even wreck the small brittle ship of self (analogy 3) we have been laboriously building. There will have been accidents, illnesses, arguments, petty jealousies, failures and deaths and all of these have the capacity to run our little ship aground and even for some wreck it on the jagged rocks of calamity. We have to, if we are to survive with some authenticity and equanimity, assimilate all these things into our character and personality. This takes courage and strength and a willingness to accept help from others in our hour of need.
And then, there are those awful dreams and nightmares that hit us from time to time; old problems and even traumas that we have never coped successfully with, that we had suppressed into our unconscious because we could not deal with them when we were younger; the more disliked aspects of the self that we could not accept years earlier; our faults and failings, even our sheer greed and selfishness – maybe even our disloyalty to a friend or partner; or our sheer infidelity – all of these have to be integrated if we are to be whole. Otherwise, we are shattered or dis-integated or even de-vast-ated – scattered to the four winds and have lost any centre of gravity that would make us an integrated unity or personality.
As I look on my beautiful demented, disintegrating and de-vast-ated mother I look on the breakdown of her wholeness and unity. I look on the scattering of the pieces of jigsaw that she so laboriously constructed. But that is all right, too, because that is nature’s way. She has had a long life and has had the opportunity to construct her jigsaw as she saw fit unlike so many poor others that either don’t get or don’t take the chance.
The beauty of life is in the constructing of the personality, the shaping of it, the painstaking putting together and shaping of it. Indeed, I believe therein lies life’s very meaning if it has any. We need our dreams. We need to construct our very own unique, if brittle ship, to sail the seas of destiny. We cannot afford to believe in chaos or nihilism because within that scheme or lack of scheme of things no dream ship of individuality can hope to be launched onto the seas of fate.
Sometimes after all that thinking you just need to forget and enjoy a good and delicious cocktail. The Gin Palace, Dublin, July 2007, The Oldest Swinger in Town!