Being at our best is far from easy. We’ve much to do to fulfill this intention. There are cognitive and pragmatic tools to acquire, discipline to develop, principles to stand for, nerve and heart to put to the test, sympathetic consideration to extend and love and kindness to bestow.
Excluding dire circumstances, what gets in the way of the accomplishment is the havoc wreaked by a lopsidedly subjective display of the ego-function. When we identify who we are with our internal psychologistic chatter instead of with our actual behavior in the world, we are lopsidedly egoistic.
It is important here to distinguish between freely thinking and talking to ourselves psychologistically. Yes, both are cognitive, communicative and emotive behaviors.
However, when we are receptive to and coax our intelligence and responsiveness to take ourselves beyond our reflexive limitations, we are thinking freely.
By contrast, talking to ourselves psychologistically is a vicious circle, a self-confirming mental process that repeats, repeats and repeats. It references a mythologized time-space continuum in which we sense that we are apart from and know better than almost anyone else. It generates certainty and confidence in that which is inauthentic.
Usually, when this skewed image is contradicted, we are disappointed and angry but not at ourselves; instead we think of life as unfair or of others as opportunists or cheaters. Less often, though, we get a glimpse of the inauthenticity of the psychologistic know-it-all. It becomes apparent even to us that the self we had imagined does not have enough experience and substance to succeed in the real world. Then we may feel phony, embarrassed or shame-faced.
Still, as I said, a lopsidedly subjective display of the ego-function is self-confirming. Without an alternative approach to managing life and the attendant developmental effort, we may remain a prisoner of its disempowering parameters throughout our lives.
Happily, as participants in Autonomy and Life know, there is a way out! Our classes present coursework in an edifying philosophy addressing the promise in the American way of life—a frame of reference for creating a meaningful and contributory life of our own design.
Because the ego-function is central to our subjective experience and to what it actually means to be made in America, it is the ideal point of leverage to help us manage the terms of the bargain we make with this nation to live freely but also socially and lawfully. In turn for this good behavior, we reap the rewards of a life well lived.
We are at our best, firstly, when our ego-function is comprehensively and expressively free from the mythology that circumscribes its mechanism. And secondly, we are at our best when we know where to look to locate standards of truth. Where do we look? Not to the psychologistic know-it-all, of course, but to the transformative rules of behavior applicable to all Americans.
In other words, when we have mental control of our behavior; when we accept that human nature is subject to our self-regulating mentalization; and when we put our ego-function to use authentically, we are free to create a life of our own design and able to enjoy it.
Indeed, when we say yes to life and yes to learning its truths, when we can monitor our egoistic hopes and expectations by a steadfast engagement with the bedrock and realities of existence, the false certainties recede and an uncommon confidence and integrity emerge. And when we can reach and privilege life’s most decent and dignifying sentiments, we can give honest and artful expression to the struggle to matter, to make order and to care.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.