Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Evolving Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Every man has a mob self and an individual self, in varying proportions.

~D.H. Lawrence

The words "I am" are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you're claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.

~A.L. Kitselman

Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, "This I am today; that I will be tomorrow."

~Louis L'Amour

Welcome to Brooklyn Public Library’s online discussion of Csikszentmihalyi’s The Evolving Self. The book is a sequel to the author’s bestselling Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, in which a radical theory of happiness is proposed. After years of systematic, in-depth and cross-cultural research for Flow, Csikszentmihalyi, who is arguably one of the greatest psychologists in the world today, concluded that what makes people truly happy has not much to do with sex, wealth and power, but to be actively involved in a difficult enterprise or an activity which “stretches physical and mental capacities.” In other words, the habit of taking up increasingly complex and new challenges on regular basis, is the key to genuine happiness. Being whole heartedly involved in such activities for some length of time, may then lead to a “rare state of consciousness” which he terms as flow, and suggests that this state can conquer anxieties of everyday life and make life worth living.

But perhaps an unexamined Self is not worth evolving. The variety of definitions and discourses about this thing called Self are as old as the beginnings of time. Human beings have attempted to solve this mystery with innumerable mythologies, vanities, fantasies, superstitions, delusions, religions, arts, philosophies and now sciences.

One wonders, what is so true and so new that Csikszentmihalyi has discovered about the nature of Self, which can stand the test of time and reason across cultures? We shall see.

Please join us for a month long exploration of the old and the new discourse about Self and its evolution, and whether or not such articulations are coherent, and correspond to reality, and lend themselves to sound and valid verification. After all, we have to define Self objectively and collaboratively before we can embark upon its evolution--an evolution which could be meaningful to individual and the collective. But, in an important sense, can human beings face some aspects of their real selves? "Every man has reminiscences," wrote Dostoevsky in Notes from the Underground, "which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind."

But for how long can one be in denial of such darkness inherent in human nature--not only at an individual level but the collective as well. The known record of human history is but a collective biography of humanity. Violent history of the 20th century--which has so much to do with tribal identities--alone should make our species shudder with horror and disbelief about forces (conscious and unconscious) at work in human mind and human cultures. But perhaps the processes of defining, exploring and evaluating the nature of Self might have some far reaching implications, not only for the growth of the individual but also for the future of our species, which currently spends more on weapons than education worldwide.

The stakes are high indeed as the struggle for scarce and strategic resources is going to become more ferocious with unprecedented increase in population and pandemonium on the planet. Can human beings fundamentally change the way they have been thinking, feeling and behaving, parenting, preaching and politicking for millennia? Is propensity for violence and vanity so hard wired in the human brain that common sense, good will, religion and education have repeatedly failed us in every generation? For war and preparation for war have been constants of human history and continue to be so in modernity. Every individual, regardless of what group or nation they belong to, needs to ask this question about the nature and evolution of Self and take full responsibility for evolving its highest potentials. For it is not impossibilities which cause us the deepest despair, but potentialities that we have failed to realize. As an Indian proverb has it: “There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your own previous self.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Darker Domain

What would you do to save the life of a child? How far into the past are you willing to explore to give your child a future? Michelle Gibson formally Michelle Prentice aka Misha, is about to take that journey and in doing so opens Pandora's box.

Have you ever looked into the past and wished that you did not? Or did your look lead to discoveries that were beneficial?