Saturday, March 06, 2010

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 7



Freedom and Inner Strength is the title of Rollo May's fifth chapter.  There can be no more important fundamental value for the human being than his freedom.  May begins his chapter with a parable of what happens to the human person when his total freedom to be autonomous is taken away.  In the parable this representative of humankind is gradually reduced to an unthinking animal and then he becomes insane.  In our society we believe that taking away a person's freedom is the ultimate sanction we have against those who transgress the values we as a society hold dear.  And indeed, no one likes his/her freedom to be restricted, never mind taken away.  I remember years ago reading that famous, erudite and ground-breakingly brave and original theologian Hans Kung who declared that freedom for was more important for us human beings than freedom from.  Indeed, Kung was particularly perspicacious in this observation.

We all desire to be free from oppressions of all kinds be they political, social or monetary.  Who wants to sweat under the jackboot of the oppressor?  However, a far more importrant insight into freedom, Kung argued was our very freedom for - our freedom to be creative, to compose literature and music, our very freedom to procreate, to look after others in love and compassion, our very freedom to break the chains that bind others.  And, then, perhaps, a further freedom to break the chains of delusion that bind our very selves.

To my mind, May is very much at one with Kung's positive understanding and framing of what freedom really is.  Let me return to the succinct words of Rollo May:
Freedom is man's capacity to take a hand in his own development.  It is our capacity to mold ourselves.  Freedom is the other side of consciousness of self: if we were not able to be aware of ourselves, we would be pushed along by instinct or the automatic march of history, like bees or mastadons....Consciousness of self gives us the power to stand outside the rigid chain of stimulus and response, to pause....That consciousness of self and freedom go together is shown in the fact that the less self-awareness a person has the more he is unfree.  That is to say, the more he is controlled by inhibitions, repressions,chidhood conditionings...the more he is pushed by forces over which he has no control....They (persons) are unfree - that is, bound and pushed by unconscious patterns.  (May, op.cit., p.119)
The circle image:

Images are always far more potent than mere words. They capture a lot.  May uses the image of a circle when referring to the powerful concept of self.  He avers that every successive exercise of real freedom - that is ijn the sense of freedom for in Kung's language - enlarges the circumference of the circle of the Self.

Freedom as a Going With not a Fighting Against:

There is a lot of wisdom in the heading above.  Let me start with a piece of wisdom I learnt from a judo coach and friend Alan Martin.  He once told me that if someone is attacking you with considerable power or strength you don't tackle him head on as his power will certainly injure you.  No, what you do is try to intervene from the side as it were and use the aggressor's power against him.  In short, your defense is in fact a way of fighting against the enemy using the enemy's own energy.  Now, that's what I mean by "going with" not "fighting against."  I can still fight the aggressor by going with his power than by directly opposing it.  In like manner, I believe that this is the most effective way we should fight our illnesses - we go with them, atatck them from the side as it were.  In other words, we fight our illnesses not by denial of them, but by a firm acceptance of them, and then we use some of the energy in them to disempower them to some extent.  In other words we grow as persons, enlarge the circumference of our |real Self and in this growing self-awareness we disarm our diseases to a great extent.  Now, please note that, with May, I am not saying that we cure ourselves or anything of the kind.  What we do, in fact, is heal ourselves, and healing is a far more enriching reality than cure.

To this extent, then, we can really delve into the depths of wisdom of the likes of Meister Eckhart, Kierkegaard, Epictetus and Nietzsche.  Let's look at some of their collective wisdom as recounted here by May.  We can now understand the depths of the wisdom of this phrase from Eckhart: "When you are thwarted, it is your attitude that is out of order."  Or again we can appreciate the truth of Kierkegaard's contention that the man who is devoted to freedom does not waste time fighting reality, instead he "extols reality."  Or indeed, we can further accept the contention of the ancient philosopher and Stoic, Epictetus (who was born a slave and had no easy life by all accounts) that people are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.  And then finally, we will absorb the wisdom of Nietzsche's saying that freedom is the capacity "to become what we truly are." (See May pp. 121-122)

To be continued.

Above a photograph I took of the latest book I bought on Nietzsche

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