Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A mixture of philosophy class and an amateur understanding of some psychological systems has gotten me thinking this semester. Apparently it is--or maybe was, fifty years ago--popular for philosophers and thinkers to give hybrid names to their various phenomenological designs. Therefore, I'm going to designate my frame of reference as the "enough-for-itself." Put simply, this is the self-validating aspect of a being that contains internal strength to allow the self to project itself upon the world. [I apologize for that lapse into philosoph-ese. --Ed.]

Spinoza wrote (my paraphrase) that happiness, or joy, was the progression of the human spirit towards a greater perfection. Similarly, the "enough-for-itself" comes about as part of this progression. A lot of this has to do with the way in which the self deals with pain. A common misconception, I think, is that pain exists sort of like an object in various situations, which we then pick up or leave be, depending on our reaction to it. I would argue that pain, as a process, is not something inherently objectified that can be treated as such. Rather, it occurs and goes to completion and is then subject to the fundamental mode of human existence, i.e., interpretation and signification.

Thus it is not the pain itself which is important or worth focusing upon, but the way in which we experience pain and the conclusions we draw from it. I am not suggesting here that the internalization, or lack thereof, of pain is 100% open to our discretion. Obviously this is not the case. However, there is a certain point at which a person can choose what to do with the experience of pain. For instance, in reading the book "Finding Fish", I got the sense that as a boy, the author had at some level decided that he was going to escape the dead-end future that his foster parents had established for him in telling him things to the effect of "You'll never be any good." That being said, the pain he went through as a kid led to a lot of self-destructive behavior, including petty crime and drug dealing. Eventually he got himself straightened out, joined the Navy, and found a sense of "enough-for-himself" through the structure of the military.

This brings up another point. A large part of the existence of the "enough-for-itself" is how present a person is to it. Put another way, you can't convince someone they're not blind if they won't open their eyes. Their faculties may be perfectly in tune, but if they don't use them it's like those faculties never existed. Thus, the self has to be aware of its "enough-for-itself" to take full advantage of the "enough-for-itself."

The "enough-for-itself" goes through the most strain, pretty obviously, during the younger years of a person's life. I could point to middle and high school, but that would be redundant. Everyone knows that you come under the most fire then; hell, the torture you're put through from the time you're 12 till the time you're 18 plays a big part in laying the foundation, if not the infrastructure, of your identity.

"Life is pain, Highness," the Man in Black declared in The Princess Bride. So it is. Life is a progression through pain, a valuation of self in the midst of pain, and I would argue that it plays one of the most vital roles in the establishment of the self. I'm not setting the God of Pain up on an altar here; I don't have any golden calves and I don't plan on crafting any. I'm just saying, pain teaches you lessons. Pain is a static process you can't avoid, but both sorrow and joy are progressions. Sorrow comes about from either overwhelming, constant pain or the inability to process pain in a way that doesn't invalidate the self. Joy, on the other hand, is not necessarily the lack of pain; joy is instead a continued sense of validated existence in spite of, because of, and in the face of the pain of human mortality. Joy is the acceptance of and the transcendance of pain, and it is in that transcendence that the progression towards a greater perfection occurs.

I'll leave you with this quote from South Park. Some people might consider it angsty; others would say that it disguises drama as profound content. I, however, believe that it contains pretty much all you need to know about coping with pain. So, whenever I'm told by someone to "deal with" a bad situation, I think of this.

I love life. Yeah, I'm sad, but at the same time, I'm really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. I guess what I'm feeling is a beautiful sadness.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are SO right about going thru hell during the middle school/high school years...... constantly getting picked on and pushed around pretty much sucked. Was that basically your experience too ?

anonymous reader, too lazy to create username/password

1:30 PM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

Anyone who says that high school or middle school wasn't at least mildly traumatic is either lying or overly nostalgic. No one enjoys those years...even if they are the formative ones.

12:18 AM  

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