Rather unfashionably, I am a big fan of the philosopher Berkeley [pictured], who had some very funny ideas. One of them is that the only things that actually MAKE anything happen in a causal sense are souls/spirits, and that our common sense of cause-effect is just contingency, not causality. So the billiard ball doesn’t MAKE the next billiard ball move, but it is a necessary if-then relation, like anything else bumping together in time.
For Berkeley, only WILL makes anything happen in a causal sense, because all causes are first causes; by saying that something is a cause, one is saying that it initiated it, i.e. started it from scratch. Therefore every cause is an act of creation, a first cause. The legal system understands this pretty well, hence the notion that if you didn’t will it to happen, it was an accident, and if you did, it was your fault, i.e. you STARTED it. How can that be if we are just bumping around like billiard balls? The only way is if you interrupted time and started something completely afresh.
Now, one point of this is that in Berkeley’s scheme there is spirit moving creation all the time. The other point is that if a person is going to use their soul/spirit, they have to be a cause and experience themselves as such; they have to initiate things and feel as though control over choices comes from within. If a person is truly in charge of themselves, truly strong enough to make their own choices from the heart, without being subtly coerced, pressured or pacified into action, they become divine, they realise the action of soul. And once in a position of feeling that one is making choices, and authoring one’s own life and behaviour, the person becomes fulfilled and healthy.
Jung also believed that human will is a manifestation of soul. He referred to a person who did not initiate their own agenda, simply responds to others, acquiesced to their demands and morphed their personality to fit in, as suffering from “soul-lessness”. He saw this as a great root of neurosis. I also believe the soul is something we can lose. It is a gift that can be taken away, or can atrophy if it is not used.
I was thinking very much the same thing this week.. some things we struggle to make happen, and other things just happen to us in the general flow of life.
For example, right now I am struggling to build a new career for myself in the world of psychology and healing – writing articles about it for various outlets (got a piece in next month’s Psychologies on Stoicism, by the way…), applying for jobs at think-tanks, doing a workshop on anxiety at a Mind drop-in centre, and considering starting to train as a counsellor.
So this is what I am, slowly and gradually, trying to make happen.
On the other hand, life is happening to me. Out of the blue, a few months ago, some people asked me to edit a magazine about business in eastern Europe. This is very much what I was doing in the past, when I was living in Russia, and is a phase of my life that I considered over. However, it is not easy to refuse a regular paying job, when the economy is in recession, my rent is expensive, and the progress on psychology etc is slow.
So I am trying to balance what I want to make happen, with what is happening to me.
It could also be described as a struggle between dharma – the path forward – and karma – the accumulated habits of the past. We try to struggle forwards, while the habits and the consequences of the past beat us back, like waves.
Now a job has come up at a think-tank, the Young Foundation, on their well-being programme, which is absolutely up my street. They are the think-tank that is working with Martin Seligman , founder of Positive Psychology, on teaching ‘emotional resilience’ in British secondary schools. They are also looking at making CBT more available to the elderly in the UK. So in some ways it’s my dream job.
On the other hand, it only pays about half what I’m earning now, and really not enough for someone in their 30s. So do I make sacrifices and do my dream-job, or do I carry on with the flow?
Well…obviously I will apply for the Young Foundation job, and see if I can get it. Trying to disseminate the insights of Stoicism and CBT through journalism, public policy and direct therapy, is what I am trying to do with my life. It is my attempt to author myself. I don’t know if I will get the job, but if I don’t, I will carry on looking for opportunities to continue this work elsewhere.