As I have noted in a good number of previous posts, early old age, which varies for some, ranging anywhere from 45 to 65, brings lots of consternation about who you really are and what you are doing with yourself in work and elsewhere. You come to an intersection where you think more deeply about where your compass is pointing, and it’s almost like going back in time to when you were first trying to figure out what you were going to do with your life, maybe even as far back as elementary school. You become much more introspective at a time in your life when you thought those days were over. This has been my experience since turning 62, and it has turned into a long introspection with no end in sight, entering its third year now. Of course, everyone has different experiences and feelings, and not everyone has a strong introspective mindset.
In concert with these deep feelings, I have dropped into studying Jungian psychology, along with some of his advocates, such as James Hillman and Thomas Moore. Jung, however, was psychotic, and oftentimes I think that it’s dangerous to place too much weight onto his thinking about the psyche and its relationship to archetypes. It is very interesting, and Jung is obviously well-respected in his field, but he’s also over the top – way over the top at times. Hillman is similar but not as crazy, and Moore comes across as not so much in the upper airs. There are a good many others I read that encourage down-to-earth, positive-aging thinking and breathing. I refer to them in other posts.
In between books written by Jung, Hillman, Moore, and others, I read the latest articles that address the questions we ask ourselves about ourselves. I came across an interesting article a few days ago in Scientific American, headlined “10 Things You Don’t Know About Yourself,” by Steve Ayan, a German psychologist. This article begins with the following disconcerting statement: “Psychological research shows that we do not have privileged access to who we are. When we try to assess ourselves accurately, we are really poking around in a fog.”
So, am I wasting my time? I don’t think so. I think about a good number of people I know intimately who do not think about who they are; they just do; they are not deeply introspective; they don’t ask a lot of questions about their existence. They all seem to be quite happy. However, I also feel these folks are the real ones actually “poking around in a fog” through their daily non-philosophical, non-psychological existence – their avoidance of the uncomfortableness that typically comes with thinking about deep, mostly insoluble questions about life.
Who’s really in a fog here? According to Ayan, we introspective types are big fog dwellers, because, to begin with, we are guided by “introspection illusion,” a term coined by Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin. The illusion comes from biases we have hidden in our unconscious. We say we are empathetic but then walk by a homeless person without giving it a thought. We are also unconscious of our true motives, which are typically revealed when we have instantaneous reactions that do not require any deep thinking. So, if I immediately stop and do something helpful for that homeless person, maybe I am an empath at heart. Again, I disagree with this thinking as well. I think that it is through deep introspection, without avoiding the dark side of our nature, in particular, that we learn how to change and become better morally, ethically, and compassionately. And we do this by getting to know ourselves without introspection illusion creeping into the picture.
Another characteristic Ayan noted concerning our unawareness of our essence, included stepping outside of yourself, letting go through mindfulness mediation, where we do not seek deep introspection but instead allow our thoughts to drift by non-judgmentally in the awareness we hold in the present without attaching any truth to them – i.e. they are only thoughts – and this can actually bring clarity. I have to disagree. I’ve been on a kind of anti-mindfulness trip lately mainly because it seems to deaden our imaginations and take the fun out of living, in my opinion. By staying so fully attuned to the present without judgement, just observing, our sense of dreaming disappears.
So, I’ll stick with my studies into the self, and my deep introspection and contemplation (and dreaming, and hopefulness, and becoming more authentic, and trying to identify and honor the virtuous archetypes). Through them, I believe I continue to become a better person.
Image by Joshua Earle