Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stop Trying to 'Find' Yourself

Here's something for navel contemplators to meditate on -

The authors of The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything endorse the 2000-year old stance of Confucious, who thought that looking within was a futile exercise. Why so? Because it seems that there is no true self and no means to finding a self by looking within. Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh write that what you would find by undertaking this exercise is nothing more than a snapshot of that particular moment. Who we are at any given moment is ephemeral - it arises from our constantly changing interactions with other people.

     Confucious suggested that by living life 'as if' - the opposite of the sincere, authentic approach to ourselves - we will become better people. We should not the poor patterns of behaviour that have become habitual and work to change them - 'as if' we were different, better, people in that moment. So we should greet someone cheerfully, even if feeling low in that moment; be calm in our response to an infuriating person even though we may be feeling angry. The claim is that in entering an alternate side of our personality we come back to a reality in which we are slightly changed for the better. Being untrue to ourselves helps us to break bad patterns of behaviour.

     Accepting the self and the world to be unstable and imperfect opens up opportunities to change small things on a daily basis. If we were all successful in this endeavour we would build communities in which everyone could flourish.

The fundamental message seems to be that we should try to be pleasant at all times. It seems to me that this approach requires mindfulness and self-discipline. I'm just telling you what the book is suggesting. Don't take it as an indicator that I would be successful in the attempt. But it's worth thinking about - we tend to reflect back to ourselves what we radiate to other people.

Michael Puett has been described as Harvard's most popular professor whose course in Chinese philosophy has taken Harvard by storm.

Puett, Michael 7 Gross-Loh,Christine, (2016), The Path: A New Way to Think About Everything, Viking Press

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