Perspectives on the Path

2018-09-05

An essential lesson of philosophy is the ancient Greek formula "know yourself". It sounds easy, but it's immensely difficult. One model of self-knowledge I'm exploring is to look at your path in life from six different perspectives: beginning, end, above, below, side, within.

  1. Beginning: Understanding your innate personality and your earliest hopes and sense of self; this involves both working with your personality and at times attempting to mitigate it (you can't really change it!).
  2. End: How you want to feel about your life on your deathbed - your accomplishments, the character you built, the knowledge and wisdom you gained, the value you created, the relationships you nurtured, the impact you had in the world.
  3. Below: Accepting yourself as also an animal with physical needs, drives, and desires; this includes perspectives from evolutionary psychology, your physiological uniqueness, the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy (such as security), etc.
  4. Above: Looking at your life from the perspective of eternity or at least of your ideals; are you living up to what's highest and best and even divine in yourself and in human nature? Thinkers as varied as Aristotle, Spinoza, Thoreau, and Nietzsche provide some guideposts here.
  5. Side: Mentally and emotionally stepping aside from your path and seeing yourself as others might or in a more detached way, as can be learned from the Taoist practice of wu-wei. Friendship, love, and counseling can assist in this work because other people naturally have the kind of detachment that you can't easily attain.
  6. Within: The internal experience of traveling along your path (are you on the right track or satisfied with how your life is going?), and of creating meaning as you move through your environment (similar to J.J. Gibson's concept of affordances in visual perception).

Although this model makes intuitive sense to me, I have not yet had the time to flesh it out, connect it fully to psychology and philosophy, or define the various practices involved in applying it to the pursuits of happiness and wisdom. I plan to do that over the next few years.


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