One statement from the Bible says it all: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
That’s an dramatized allegory, of course, that there exists a supernatural recorder from who nothing can be hidden, who lists all of our deeds, good and evil, and who confronts us with that record on judgment day.
That myth is true.
Not existentially, but psychologically. The merciless recorder is our subconscious. The record is our sense of life.
Long before we’re old enough to grasp spiritual concepts, we make choices, form judgments, experience emotions, and acquire a certain view of life. Every choice and judgment implies some estimate of ourselves and the world around us, most particularly, of our capacity to deal with the world. This is our sense of life, our emotional, subconscious appraisal of our existence. It sets the nature of our responses and the essence of our character.
The subconscious sums up all our psychological activities, integrating our conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes our automatic response to life.
What began as a series of single conclusions about our own particular problems, eventually becomes a generalized feeling about existence.
If a person is mentally active and motivated by the desire to know, to understand, their mind works to produce a sense of life that is guided by a bright, rational philosophy. But if they remain passive and evade understanding, the programming of their mind is done by chance influences, by random impressions, associations, by undigested snatches of environmental bromides, by cultural osmosis.
That’s not a good thing.
If evasion or lethargy is a person’s dominant method of mental functioning, the result is a sense of life, a soul, that’s like a shapeless piece of clay stamped by footprints going in all directions.
By our nature, we can’t refrain from generalizing. We can’t live moment by moment without context. Just as an animal’s consciousness cannot be stretched to deal with abstractions, our consciousness cannot shrink to deal with only what’s happening before our eyes. The integrating mechanism is always there. We are born with it. Our only choice is to drive it or to be driven by it. Too many people allow chance to take over and let the mechanism function on its own.
It goes on integrating, but integrating blindly.
Everybody’s sense of life is formed by this process of emotional generalization. We subconsciously classify things according to the emotions they invoke.
For example, imagine yourself packing up and moving away, all alone, to a strange new city. It will be a discovery, an adventure, but it will also be a struggle.
For a person of self-esteem, the emotions felt are excitement and a sense of challenge.
But for a person who lacks self-esteem, the emotions are fear and resentment. They are comforted by more familiar things and known routines. They seek relief from fear. They want reassurance and the undemanding safety of remaining where they are.
Within all us, abstractions are occurring and flashing incessantly, whether we recognize them or not. These abstractions grow into a spiritual view of ourselves and our own existence. The subverbal, subconscious statements that form our emotional abstractions are: “This is what’s important to me” and “This is the kind of world which is right for me, in which I would feel at home.”
Important. That’s a key concept in the formation of a sense of life.
We are self-made souls. And it’s the individual values and judgments that we regard as “important” that will create the stuff of our soul.
By the time we reach adolescence, our knowledge is sufficient to deal with broad fundamentals. Abstractions, however, are a different matter. This is the period when we become aware of the need to translate our incoherent and still-forming sense of life into conscious terms. And since nothing is done, in our modern culture, to assist a young mind in this crucial transition, and everything is done to hamper and cripple it, the result is the frantic irrationality of most adolescents. Theirs is the agony of the unborn, of going through a process of atrophy at the time set by nature for their growth.
I was lucky and made the transition from guidance by a sense of life to guidance by a conscious philosophy. I’ve validated and corrected what I had merely sensed about the nature of my existence, and transformed all those wordless feelings into clearly understood knowledge.
You are reading some of it right now.
This knowledge is my foundation, my intellectual roadbed. The course of my life follows it.
But I made the effort to learn. My early adulthood was devoted to the great philosophers and the candles they lit in the darkness. Lying on the summer grass beside a sparkling lake, my mind was occupied by Kiekegaard. I read Machiavelli on the steps of a museum. Nietzsche challenged me in a muddy foxhole. Schopenhauer merely depressed me and ended up being tossed into the dreams and roaring waters of the Trevi fountain.
The mind leads, the emotions follow.
It is tragic that for so many, this process of transition never takes place. They make no attempt to integrate their knowledge and are left at the mercy of their inarticulate sense of life as their only guide.
For others, the transition is a tortured and not a fully successful process, leading to a fundamental inner conflict between their convictions and their repressed, unidentified sense of life. They have no philosophy. They only have a collection of unexplored ideas that are random and disconnected.
In order to live, man must act.
In order to act, he must make choices.
In order to make choices, he must define his values.
In order to define his values, he must understand his own nature.
In other words, he needs philosophy.
We can’t escape from this need. Our only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding us is to be chosen by our mind or by chance.
If we give up, in lethargy or in confusion, or evade it all together and concern ourselves only with the details of our day-by-day existence, our sense of life takes over, and we are left at the mercy of a subconscious philosophy which we don’t know and have never been aware of accepting.
Then, as anxiety and uncertainties mount year by year, we find ourselves living with a sense of unknown, indefinable gloom. Every day of our life becomes judgment day. A day of paying for all the defaults, evasions, lethargy, and contradictions recorded by our subconscious on the scrolls of our sense of life.
A sense of life can be changed and corrected, easily in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a more difficult effort in later years. It can’t be changed by a direct act of will. It changes automatically after a long process of psychological retraining, but only when and if we change our conscious philosophical premise.
That’s an extremely hard thing to do.
And probably illegal. It’s called brainwashing. Cults use it to reprogram people into changing their beliefs and behavior. They are isolated, deprived, broken down, and then mentally rebuilt through a process of torture and love bombing.
No thanks, I‘m not interested in trying to brainwash somebody. I’ll just make suggestions and then leave it up to the individual to accomplish things on their own. That’s what makes it so difficult to do. A sense of life always retains a profoundly personal quality. It reflects our deepest values. It is experienced by us as a sense of our own identity. And people tend to get very protective about their core.
A person’s sense of life is hard to identify conceptually, because it’s hard to isolate. It is involved in everything about that person, in their every thought, emotion, action, response, choices, values. It is in their gestures, in their manner of moving, talking, smiling. It is the total of their personality.
Most never even question their own sense of life. The thought of questioning it never arises.
Interestingly, the sense of life of another person always strikes us instantly, as an immediate, yet indefinable impression.
We can feel it in others, but not understand it.
I’ve said it before, but there are two aspects of our existence which are the special insight and expression of our sense of life: love and art.
Love is a response to values. It is with a person’s sense of life that we fall in love, with that essential, fundamental way that they face existence. One falls in love with the style of their soul, with the embodiment of the values that form a person’s character.
Our sense of life acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as our own basic values reflected in another person.
You might say that love is the expression of our philosophy.
The same applies to art.
Nothing is as powerful as art in exposing the essence of a man’s character. The artist reveals his naked soul in his work. And so does the viewer when they respond to it.
The artist’s sense of life controls his work. It directs the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. Our sense of life responds to it with acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation.
Quite simply, folks, we need art. We always have.
It serves an important purpose.
We need the power of art to summon the long chain and complex total of our spiritual concepts into an immediate conscious awareness. We need a view of existence to integrate our values, to choose our goals, to understand our past and plan our future, to maintain the unity and coherence of our lives.
That’s what art does.
Our sense of life provides us with the sum of our spiritual abstractions, but art solidifies them and allows us to experience their immediate reality.
This is why we critique and judge meaningful art against bad art. It’s the difference between high culture and junk culture. When an artist creates a work, he doesn’t fake reality, he merely stylizes it. He selects those aspects of existence which he regards as spiritually significant, and by isolating and stressing them, he presents his view of existence.
In the haunting film THE ENGLISH PATIENT, the filmmaker presents man as a figure who thinks, who falls backwards into labyrinthine memories and explores the deepness of his heart. Man is presented as a noble soul, a searcher of himself within a complex system of metaphors. The filmmaker is aware of the fact that many of his audience are not sophisticated thinkers, but he regards this as accidental and irrelevant to the essential nature of mankind. He presents intelligence as our natural state.
I don’t know many people who enjoy watching THE ENGLISH PATIENT. It’s considered too long and slow for undeveloped attention spans. My family and friends would rather be entertained with some adolescent comedy and I‘m always left playing the snob with a sour expression on my face.
Yeah, I’m that guy.
I don’t mean to be a snore, but in those movies, man is presented as being only interested in debauchery. The plot is always propelled by man’s ineptitude. The filmmaker is aware that there are men in the world who are serious and intelligent, but he regards these conditions as pretentious and ridiculous. He presents stupidity as our natural state.
The argument, that in real life, people are silly and do silly things, is irrelevant esthetically. Even serious artists have a sense of humor like everyone else and can laugh at themselves, but art is not concerned with such natural occurrences.
It is concerned with life’s significance.
It’s purpose is to elevate and idealize the human spirit.
Since we live by reshaping the conditions of our life, we must first define and then create our values. We need a projection of these values, an image in whose likeness we can reshape ourselves. Art gives us that image. It gives us the experience of seeing the full, immediate reality of our distant goals.
Our ambitions are unlimited. Our pursuit of values is a lifelong process. The higher the values, the harder the struggle. For this, we need real art where we can experience the sense of living in a world where our values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther.
Art is important because it gives us that fuel. It gives us the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in our ideal world. The importance is not in that we necessarily learn from it, but only in that we experience it.
Unfortunately, the same principal applies to fearful and angry people. They choose to dine on a steady diet of junk art and all its disgusting humor and unimaginable violence. This serves as a projection of their malevolent sense of life. It is not fuel and inspiration to move forward.
It is permission to stand still.
It declares that values are unattainable, that the struggle is futile, that fear and guilt and pain and failure are mankind’s destiny.
On a lower level of this, the projection of a malignant sense of life provides them with an image of triumphant malice, of hatred for existence, of vengeance against life’s best qualities, of the defeat and destruction of noble values. Even worse, this malignant kind of junk art gives them a moment’s illusion that they are right.
Art is our spiritual mirror. The enlightened want an affirmation of life’s wonder in that mirror. Some merely search for a justification, even if only a justification of their own depravity, a filthy confession of their damaged self-esteem.
To those that view art as unnecessary and choose only to seek out mindless entertainment as a form of escapism, there is this question:
What are you escaping from?
Is it the unpleasant daily stresses of life? Is it the subtle fog of depression or feelings of sadness?
The idea of escapism is fundamentally negative. Escapists are basically unhappy people with an inability or unwillingness to connect meaningfully with the world and their real selves, so they seek to become someone else in a fantasy environment, but they choose to do it safely. And there lies the problem.
Their psyche is screaming for a radical change in their lives, and yet they pacify that need with escapism as a substitute for inner revolution.
The same holds true for drugs and alcohol, but that’s a different rant.
In any case, escapism is only temporary. Eventually, they must return to their life where their old self is waiting, uncommitted, passive, a soul without fuel, without an understood sense of life.
All I’m saying is that there are greater forces at work when you pick up that DVD selection for tonight or decide to spend seven hours immersed in a violent shooter game.
The human psyche is a divine creation. Corinthians 3:16. You are the temple of God.
You are the temple of God.
The Gospel of John says the same exact thing. The ancients were well aware of the power within us, and they are urging us to build Heaven in our minds.
You are what you consume, ladies and gentlemen.
Your subconscious is recording. Your sense of life, your Heaven, is being written.