This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Alan Parry, Ph.D. In chaos and his song is a consolation. It is the music of the mass of meaning. Wallace Stevens Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas I In these postmodern times a host of forces are throwing into question not only the central importance of the self as the primary source of our actions, but of its very existence as an entity occupying a space inside us. The modernist self was already fragmenting, a victim of its own attempts to be free of all social constraints. It was finding itself divided between desire and responsibility, identifying itself with the first while endlessly finding reasons for suspecting the second. The postmodern self could not even enjoy its own desires, deconstructing these into the internalization of its own subjugation (Foucault), a mere example of the metaphysics of presence (Derrida) or not even one's own but the desire of the Other (Lacan). Research findings in the cognitive sciences (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Wegner & Wheatley, 1999; Kirsch & Lynn, 1999; Gollwitzer, 1999), leaves little role for an intentional self, investing almost all problem-solving ability in the cognitive unconscious. Chaos and complexity theory (Butz, 1997; Butz, Chamberlain & McCown, 1996; Kauffman, 1995; Prigogine & Stengers, 1984) offers evidence that, left alone, disorder is a more reliable guide to adaptation than the cumbersome orderings of intentionality. For Ludwig Wittgenstein (1965, 1969) anything we call a separate self is merely the product of a language-game wherein we try to explain rather than describe our actions. In the face of all of this I propose that the idea of the self as defining our personal identity has become so problematic that it is time to return to the traditional term soul. There are resources in ourselves which, through feedback, correct and selforganize our and actions such that intentionality plays only a secondary role. This capacity of the psyche makes soul a more fitting word than self to use to understand this constellation for it is simply the English translation of the perhaps more neutral word psyche. I also will show that when we understand ourselves primarily as souls rather than as conscious selves a fresh way of taking charge of our lives is brought about that overcomes modernist fragmentation and postmodern deconstruction by unifying conscious and unconscious processes according to the spirit which animates our words and actions.
II The subject matter of cognitive science, Lakoff and Johnson (1999) point out, includes All aspects of thought and language, conscious or unconscious including mental imagery, emotions, and motor operations (p. 11). They go on to say: "Conscious thought is the tip of an enormous iceberg. It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95% of all thought--and that may be a serious understatement. Moreover, the 95% below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought" (p. 13). Bargh and Chartrand (1999) conclude that, while conscious self-regulatory processes tend to be slow and effortful, what they refer to as nonconscious or automatic processes are unintended, fast and are continually in gear guiding the individual safely through the day (p. 476). Wegner and Wheatley (1999) conclude from their studies on the perceived effect of personal intentions, that such an effect is primarily an interpretive process. Kirsch and Lynn (1999) argue that all responses are automatic, in the sense that they are not produced by an act of will (p. 504). They propose instead that non-volitional responses can be generated by the expectancy of their occurrence, a construct that has been termed response expectancy (ibid.). Gollwitzer (1999) offers a modest, but nonetheless important role for personal agency in the formation of "implementation intentions". They have the structure of "When situation x arises, I will perform response y!" (p. 494). By doing so implementation intentions allow and encourage the self-organizing capacities of the cognitive apparatus to do what they do far better than the slower, more cumbersome machinations of conscious intentionality. Chaos and complexity theory, or nonlinear dynamics, claims that automaticity, or self-organization, is adaptive in nature and is actually most effective at the edge of chaos (Kauffman, 1995) where attention rather than intention is a better guide to effective action. This is because information is constantly being fed back to itself, allowing it to self-correct and adapt to that new information. In his lifetime Ludwig Wittgenstein (1969, 1980) insisted that he was doing therapy more than he was doing philosophy. Newman (1999), Newman & Gergen (1999) and Shotter (1994,1995) point out that Wittgenstein was concerned with the ways people get tangled up in the rules of their own language games and, concentrate on the words they are uttering, forget to pay attention to the gestural language and the entire interactional context which contributes more to the meaning of their statements than the most meticulous attention to the words themselves. Wittgenstein thought that words are too often used to explain, hence justify our actions, when we would understand ourselves and our relations with others better if we would focus on describing the whole hurly-burly of not only our choice of words,
but the gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, movements, so that an entire interactional performance contextualizes and gives meaning to our speech. But explain ourselves we do: to ourselves and to others. As perhaps the most social of beings much of our energy and motivation goes into the fashioning of an image of ourselves to present to others. It is in the best interests of our social adaptation to present ourselves to others in the most advantageous and consistent light in order that we be of good repute with others. In order to convince others that we are who we want them to believe we are it helps if we are able, at the same time, to convince ourselves. Thus we convince others by convincing ourselves and we further convince ourselves to the extent that we seem to be convincing the other (Parry, 1997). By this process we also convince ourselves that the world we describe and our version of the events in it constitute objective reality. This process is undoubtedly what gives rise to the conviction and indeed the experience that the resulting self-image constitutes our personal identity. The maintenance of such a belief necessitates the ignoring of information to the contrary, rendering it less able to adapt to new situations. Consciousness may be likened to the surface or skin of the soul. Yet its vividness tempts it to separate itself as though it could be autonomous. It is the source of much in the way both of human achievement and aspiration, on one hand, and overweening pride and self-seeking, on the other. While a good deal of the latter undoubtedly arises from our determination to protect our self-image at the expense of any who would threaten it, consciousness gives us the capacity as well to direct and correct our actions, particularly in the face of unexpected contingencies or threats to our survival and well-being. Being the symbol-making, cultural beings we are, these often become confused with maintaining and enhancing our self-image. As Bateson (1972, pp. 426-477) suggests consciousness is purposive in nature. While it looks out for what it concludes are our best interests, it is incapable of summoning up the whole picture. Because it confuses its limited perception with objective reality it endeavors to lead rather than to serve the more encompassing soul. III The automaticity described by cognitive scientists and the self-organization of chaoticians may further be offered as the way the soul works. It adapts to the world in which it finds itself. Only part of its adaptation to that world has involved consciousness which evolved to deal with the novelties and contingencies of life out of which, in turn, evolved the self-image in order to facilitate adaptation to the human social world. Most of what the soul adapts to and how it does so occurs outside awareness such that the more we trust in that capacity, which comes to us like a gift, the more we find ourselves able to adapt to the challenges facing us.
Every word uttered, every action performed becomes itself a message fed back to the soul in its capacity as a matrix of all incoming messages. Moreover it reacts to these with emotion. When we pursue an agenda of defending our self-image by feeding the soul words and conjuring images which inflame an emotion such as anger it is to a world that warrants our growing anger to which the soul adapts us. Thus, the soul processes all incoming information, whether from the world or even from our own thoughts, feelings and actions, organizing it in the service of our adaptation to our surroundings. Simply put, the soul adapts us to the kind of world into which we place it. IV The role of purposive consciousness is to be the eyes and ears of the soul. Most of the activities of the soul occur outside awareness, but our every act shapes the soul for the kind of world the action implies. Thus it is important that we cultivate a personal credo, for whatever it comes to believe about the kind of world we all live in will be fed to the soul which will adapt itself to that world. The primary responsibility of consciousness becomes no longer to seek its own enhancement. Its responsibility lies exclusively in the adoption, cultivation and celebration with others of a life- and world-enhancing way of life, for our actions enter into feedback circuits with whatever social world we choose to enter, such that that world's values are also fed into the soul. Our responsibility does not end with the care and feeding of one's own soul. The surest way we can feed the soul is to take care to feed the souls of others by embodying the faith in life and in the future that we espouse, by speaking well, giving courage and sharing with others both their sorrow and their laughter, by being, in short, a good friend. By consciously feeding the soul of the other nutritiously it becomes more likely that the other will act in ways that feeds one's own soul similarly. V Religion has been the human institution that has explicitly made the care and feeding of the soul, both of oneself and of the other, central to its purpose. I will attempt to demonstrate this through a brief examination of the teachings of the two world religions with which I have personal familiarity. I have some understanding of the teachings of Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism as well as of the spiritualities of the indigenous peoples of North America, enough at least to convince me that what I say about Buddhism and Christianity can also be said about these others. The core teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha, is the Four Noble Truths, the fourth of which proclaims the Noble Eightfold Path which is the core practice of the Buddhist Dharma. The First Noble Truth is the truth of suffering: all life suffers because it is out of step with itself. The Second Truth is the truth of
desire, the origin of suffering: suffering occurs because we desire things to be different than they are. The Third Noble Truth is the truth of escape from suffering: of allowing things to be as they are, of non-striving. The Fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the path to be followed to escape suffering through non-striving. The Noble Eightfold Path consists in cultivating the practices of Right Knowledge, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Realization which is an eight-step program of (1) identifying the problem, (2) deciding with all ones heart to rectify it by, (3), examining the content and quality of the very words one uses to oneself and to others, however casual, however intended or otherwise. One then (4) subjects all one's actions in the form of the habits one practices and the decisions one makes to the question of how they feed the otherwise insatiable fires of desire and discontent. One then, (5) examines one's livelihood down to the most minute of practices and pastimes for whether they feed the striving, aggrandizing ego or the accepting soul. Becoming empty of striving for things to be different, (6) conscious agency is free to direct all its efforts toward letting the soul organize its actions. The primary activity of personal agency becomes one of (7) simply paying attention to what it is that the self-organizing, spontaneous activities of the soul may do their work particularly in the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness is an example of describing rather than explaining our actions. Indeed the latter tends to create the kinds of attachment to our actions that exemplifies the operation of karma which itself describes the manner in which we feed the soul. The striving activities of the purposive consciousness are (8) further neutralized and recruited into the care and feeding of the soul by ritual and devotional practices by which the body is enlisted in caring for and feeding the soul. While the Christian faith can by no means be summed up in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), its role within the Gospel of St. Matthew as, in effect, the Torah of a New Covenant does make it a virtual summary of the attitudes and actions asked of those who would enter the Kingdom. The Beatitudes, particularly as they are stated in Matthews Gospel, declare nine states of blessedness that come to those whose lives are based, not on the pursuits of the aggrandizing self image, but on the more humble and receptive attitudes of the soul: the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the meek, those yearning for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted because of their humble righteousness, the scapegoated, all of whom may henceforth. One of the most striking themes of Matthew's Sermon, which receives only a brief mention in Luke's much shorter Sermon on the Plain, is the refrain, "You have heard it said. . . .but I say to you" regarding the commandments against murder, adultery, the bearing of false witness, of retaliation, and of hating one's enemies. Jesus was profoundly aware of the role that even idle words, thoughts and desires have in feeding the soul which is the more likely then to spur actions in accordance with
how it has been fed. Thus one who nurses angry feelings by encouraging and building on them with angry words and imaginings which, in turn, make up selfjustifying stories is creating an angry soul disposed to act in angry ways upon the least provocation. Similarly one who exploits and degrades another sexually in the imagination is feeding the soul with the encouragement to at least adopt and justify such attitudes in subsequent actions. Jesus' warning against retaliation in all its forms becomes a blanket injunction against even thinking in such terms. This injunction strikes at the very heart of self-righteousness in all its forms, of which retaliation is a particular case. One strikes back because oneself is innocent and therefore entirely justified in retaliating. Alas no one in such an exchange believes they are the instigator. Each continues retaliating in defense of oneself against the perceived initiative of the other. Jesus prescription of complete non-retaliation and its replacement by forgiveness strikes a blow at the fortress of the self-image and all its pretensions and justifications in favor of the nurturance of the soul, both one's own and that of the other. Jesus placed as much importance on forgiving the other as he did on asking for God's forgiveness. Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer makes this point perhaps more clearly than Matthew's version, the one traditionally used: that God's forgiveness is conditional upon us forgiving each other: Forgive us our sins for we too forgive all those who have done us wrong (Luke 11:4 NAB). The dependence of God's forgiveness of us upon our forgiveness of each other implies that the soul that withholds forgiveness actually prevents God's Spirit from entering and filling it, for spirit does not refer to a separate part of the person but to the quality of the soul. Thus, if the soul clings to grievances and resentments those qualities define the spirit with which it goes forth. If the soul is filled with love and a ready willingness to forgive then those qualities describe the spirit with which it goes forth. A person who feeds herself the food of Christ, as it were, may be said to be filled with his spirit, hence the Holy Spirit. One is asked to attend only to the quality of the soul that it may develop a pure relationship with the God whom Jesus portrays as an extravagantly almost imprudently loving Father. One is asked to cast aside all the prudential considerations of the social self and throw ones naked soul upon the mercy of Jesus' loving God in complete faith in His compassionate response: "Ask, and your will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks, receives. The one seeks, finds. The one who knocks, enters" (Matt. 7:7-8). The Catholic version of the Christian faith also encourages the intentional self of the believer to feed the soul in acts of surrender to the divine will through such embodying practices as making the sign of the cross, genuflecting before the altar and in the repetition of familiar prayers and expressions of praise such as the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and through extemporaneous prayer and the singing of hymns in Protestant Christianity. Ever since St. Paul encouraged the faithful to pray
ceaselessly Christians have practiced the repetition of such prayers as the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me." Such repetitions cannot but feed the soul. Conclusions All genuine spirituality struggles with the problem of encouraging faith, surrender or letting be, in the face of a conscious self that seems to exist in order to enhance itself. The care and feeding of the soul cuts through this bind by enlisting that conscious self to think and act in ways that feed back to the self-organizing soul in ways that enhance overall well-being. It comes down to this: If the self take care of the soul the soul will take care of the self.
REFERENCES Bargh, J.A. & Chartrand, T.L., (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist 54 (7). 462-479. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine. Butz, M.R., (1997). Chaos and complexity: Implications for psychological theory and practice. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis. Butz, M.R., Chamberlain, L. & McCown, W.G., (1996). Strange attractors: Chaos, complexity and the art of family therapy. New York: Wiley. Gollwitzer, P.M., (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist 54 (7), 493-503. Kauffman, S., (1995). At home in the universe: The search for the laws of selforganization and complexity. New York: Oxford Univ. Press. Kirsch, I. & Lynn, S.J., (1999). Automaticity in clinical psychology. American Psychologist 54 (7) 504-512). ÿLakoff, G. & Johnson, M., (1999). Philosophy in the flesh. The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books. Newman, F. (1999). A therapeutic deconstruction of the illusion of self. Performing psychology: A postmodern culture of the mind. New York: Routledge, 111-132. Newman, F. & Gergen, K. (1999). The human cost of the rage to order. Performing psychology: A postmodern culture of the mind. New York: Routledge, 73-86.
Parry, A. (1996), Love is a strange attractor: Therapy at the edge of chaos. Nonlinear dynamics in human behavior. W. Sulis & A. Comb, Editors. Singapore: World Scientific Press. Parry, A. (1997). Why we tell stories: The narrative construction of reality. Transactional Analysis Journal 27, 118-127. Shotter, J. (1994). Now I can go on: Wittgenstein and communication. Paper given, Univ. of Calgary, Dept. of Communication, Sept .http://www.massey.ac.nz/~ALock/virtual/wittgoon.htm Shotter, J. (1995). Wittgensteins world: Beyond the way of theory toward a social poetics. Spoken paper for Social Construction, culture, and the politics of social identity, New School of Social Research, New York, April 1995. Obtained http://www. massey.ac.nz/~ALock/virtual/poetics.htm Wegner, D.M. & Wheatley, T., (1999). Apparent mental causation: Sources of the experience of will. American Psychologist 54 (7), 480-503. Wittgenstein, L. (1965). The blue and the brown books. New York: Harper Torch Books. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On certainty. New York: Harper Torch Books.