28 June 2012

Authentic Identity: Part One


Understanding 'The Mind.'

The great American poet Robert Frost once summed up the human experience in the world in two lines: “The question that he frames in all but words/ Is what to make of a diminished thing?” [1] That we children of modernity are further diminished, more fragmented and broken than those who came before us, is almost axiomatic. When we look around us, and we see irrational acts of violence, hatred for others, people ruled by their passions and base impulses to such a degree that they are reduced to mere animals, it is hard to say that there is much left of civilization—much less that anyone sees any value in human existence.

Our society does recognize the fact of broken psychology. There is now a whole industry of self-help that brings to the masses the vague comforts of professional therapists that no longer seek to return people to a state of equilibrium, but rather to make them comfortable with their deviance and anesthetize them to the natural shame they feel (until such time as the conscience can be effectively eroded) as a result of it. This is, of course, the great mistake of our modern scientistic culture; we take as the baseline what we observe about people as the definition of human nature—a great, sticky mass of polymorphous perversion—and we do not realize that 'human nature' is the most unnatural thing in the world.

What does this mean? It means that human beings, being endowed with the ability to reason, to speak, to remember, to record, to imagine, and to dream, are not meant to live merely as animals. There is something qualitatively different about human beings from other animals. This is observable. To ignore it is to deny experience.

What, then, makes humans different? Human beings possess something we call “the mind.” The mind is difficult to define because while it can be experienced, there is no discrete place in the body to point to and say “that is where his mind is.” (Although, it is commonly associated with the organ of the brain; more on that later.) Indeed, while modern Westerners tend to identify the mind with rational cognitive processes, other cultures take a different, larger view.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, the mind is more than our psychology. In fact, we understand that there are two centers of human consciousness. The first, most superficial level, has a rough analog in the Western concept of the mind as the intellect; however, in the Eastern tradition, we understand that all the psychological processes that go on within us—from  the ability to engage in complex problem solving to sobbing incoherently over emotional trauma—is all part of the intellect or psychological mind. (For clarity, I'll be referring to this center of consciousness as the psyche.) In our fallen, broken state, it is on the level of the psyche that we live our lives. This is where we have thoughts, we process thoughts, and we engage in the creative construction of our own reality through our thought-lives.

The other center of our consciousness is the noetic mind, or nous; sometimes called the heart-mind, this is the part of us that can only be described in Western terms as the seat of intuition, although it goes far, far beyond mere intuition. The nous is nothing other than the faculty by which we perceive the will of God. In the rightly ordered human soul (consisting of the nous, the psyche, and the body) the nous rules the roost. However, this rule is not autocratic or dictatorial, like the Platonic conception of Reason charioteering the light and dark horses of moral will, but it is, rather, integrative and hollistic. You read and hear frequently within the Eastern tradition about “drawing the mind into the heart,” that is to say, reintegrating the nous, psyche, and body into a coherent unit—which is nothing other than human nature as it was meant to be, before the Fall.

This is what it means to have an authentic identity, to be an authentic person: to reintegrate the fragmented parts of our self which are disordered through our nature being corrupted by sin (which is the desire for communion with created things rather than communion with God), thereby renewing within us the likeness of image of God (that is, authentic personhood).

And how do we do this? Through participating in the life of God Himself, which He in His energetic power has offered to us through His Son. The arena for this participation is the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and the means why which we participate are the Mysteries of the Church.

Next up: Thinking about Thoughts.

[1] Frost, Robert. “The Ovenbird.” http://www.online-literature.com/frost/753/

1 comment:

Virgogreen said...

Hi,

Your article is nice. Thanks for sharing.



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