The most difficult thing to get my head around as a writer is to spend time dedicated to not getting recognition for what I do. To spend time practicing writing that is raw, unedited, what Natalie Goldberg calls those ‘first thoughts’ that open up a channel into the Wild Mind. Not caring about audience or publication or the fame and riches (hmm!) that my books will bring me. Because the minute I begin to write for recognition–for love, social acceptance, to fit into what my friend, the writer KH, calls the collective fantasies of success and achievement–then I begin to close up that channel.
Perhaps we all do. Perhaps not. Perhaps there is a way of balancing feeding the Wild Mind while also living, and succeeding, in the Social World. (Goldberg herself seems to have managed this.)
The Wild Mind, or what I understand Steve Thorp, in his 21 Soul programme, is calling the ‘soul self’, is not interested in social recognition. That comes from the ‘social self’. These are two of the ‘three realms of the self’ that I’ll be exploring here on this blog while engaging with Steve’s exciting programme. The other is the ‘ecological self’ or ‘ecological mind’.
As I understand it, from Steve’s work and from my reading around psychoanalysis and psychology, and, I hope, through my own intuitive understanding, is that we’ve been educated to believe that the self is an integrated, single entity that defines us. But, as Steve says, and with which I agree (indeed, my PhD, at heart, is about this subject and finding a way to articulate it), our current forms of psychology have got it wrong in giving us this one ‘social self’ option. From Freud’s Clark Lectures in 1909, the moment that the sociologist Eva Illouz marks the advent of contemporary psychology’s intertwining with capitalist structures to form a new emotional style, a new therapeutic narrative of the self, psychology has given us only two options: pathology and clinical care; or a never-ending search for the achievement we call myself through the work of self-knowledge, which brings, as Irvin Yalom might put it, only more awareness of the thing we’re most terrified of. But all of this forgets those other two forms: the soul, and the ecological selves.*
Steve is practising an unpsychology. Looking now at my PhD and writing, I recognize this strand of inquiry in what I am doing. I also recognize the unhappiness that comes with measuring ‘self’ in social terms only.
It is difficult to pull oneself away from activities that contribute to a social self, because the social self is, mainly, the only one we are taught that matters. We are continually taught by the institutions of Western society (the mass media, schools, economy, government) and through most interpersonal relationships that recognition and acceptance are our goals, as long as they fit within the social definitions of what counts as success (even things such as ‘intimacy’ are too often socially defined achievements). We see others benefiting from these and we are taught to measure ourselves against them (nearly always coming up short: this is how consumer capitalism works, after all, driven by its dual-valve frustration engines, the media and advertising).
But in fact we can (and must) spend time dedicated to not getting recognition for what we do. (I think it’s called ‘being’?) That a private, personal, soul self and ecological self exist, and need nurturing, are already woven into the pattern of meaning we call life. Actually, those other areas of life, of self, that are not about seeking love, recognition, acceptance, a place in the social realm, are the ones that are most likely to bring us love, recognition, acceptance, a place in the world, on a realistic and human basis. (To say I recognize this intellectually is not to say I have ‘achieved’ this practically.)
That is not to say the social self is not important. All three are needed to negotiate this 21st century without withdrawing completely, without giving up, without dissolving along with the world into despair. I can see how (with a nod to this creeping feeling at the back of the head that already I am hoping for recognition and acceptance for beginning this exploration… But that’s okay!) that the social self is one of the strands, part of the constellation, of the whole.
So this is what I shall be exploring, particularly in relation to working and living as a writer. Exploring the role of the writer in the 21st century in terms of these three realms of the self – the soul self, the social self, and the ecological self. Exploring my position, my feelings, my work as a writer through these three realms. And beginning with a thesis: that writing practice feeds the soul self, that projects and goals feeds the social self, and that the subject matter—tackling the things one cares about, when those things have a dual consciousness, as Steve says of Mary Oliver’s poetry, such as connection to land and place, animals, care and compassion for the non-human—feeds the ecological self.
Thanks for reading.
*Otto Rank, of course, believed in the soul, and wrote about it at length, but was ostracized for his beliefs, and his thoughts are all but excommunicated from mainstream psychoanalysis and psychology. (Art and the Artist; Psychology and the Soul.) I’ll certainly be returning to some of these ideas in the following posts.