The Ego Trick

For the last few days I have been reading contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini’s book The Ego Trick, in which he poses the following questions: Are you still the person who lived fifteen, ten or five years ago? Fifteen, ten or five minutes ago? Can you plan for your retirement if the you of thirty years hence is in some sense a different person? What and who is the real you? Does it remain constant over time and place, or is it something much more fragmented and fluid? Is it known to you, or are you as much a mystery to yourself as others are to you? I found the questions ones similar to many I had myself in recent years about myself and changes I felt I had experienced. They also reminded me of early 20th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s Stages of life, which I had previously considered in my post on the meaning of life. I decided to look back on my life and the changes I felt had happened but had they really happened, was I now the swan not the ugly duckling?

I thought back 20-25 years ago during my teenage years, as I hid in my high school library from the bullies surrounded by books for company with one thing that always stuck out – the Greenpeace leaflets that sat on the librarian’s desk. I knew of Greenpeace as watched the evening news nightly, preferring it over the Australian soap opera Neighbours. Combined with my occasional discussions with my great uncle, winning prizes for my writing against CFCs, and reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, my interest in the environment and natural world was very much the teenage me. I also got into trouble, not with my teachers but my mother, for drawing peace symbols against war and nuclear weapons to anti-animal testing doodles on my chemistry to religious education notebooks; issues which even now I feel strongly about and would draw them again. Equally, I’d spend my evenings listening to or practising playing music for bands and orchestras, as well as enjoying writing when I could, and questioning to myself the world around me. Therefore, on some level I am still the same as my teenage self with her passions and interests, but have I changed at all?

However, despite my passions and interests noted above, my school and family pushed me away from three of the subjects I excelled at and loved the most – music, Latin and French, and towards chemistry with biology. I found the sciences interesting to an extent but not the laboratory time, it didn’t quite grab me the same and often went wrong! One time doing an experiment connected to a computer, the whole thing had to be abandoned as the computer broke down and was unable to be retrieved…I joked to my teacher it was a sign I shouldn’t be studying chemistry. Yet if you look at my university qualifications you will see my undergraduate degree was a mix of both biology and chemistry, my first masters is in environmental analytical chemistry, second masters is in archaeology and PhD is in geography…not bad for the girl they bullied and called stupid! I tried to convince myself every year that I enjoyed being in the laboratory but quite simply I was fooling myself, I considered giving up during my second year undergraduate as felt so unme, but not one to give up I kept going. My current eyes see it as a form of emotional self harm, which is why I will probably never work in a laboratory ever again in this life time (or I hope not to)!

The last few years since my PhD I have been considering where my life is going and what I want out of it beyond my three desires (a place to call home, a dog for company and to be happy). Realising that my love of the environment and the natural world is still as big as my teenage self, so often photograph and/or write about it here, equally my love of writing has come to become something beyond what I could ever have imagined. Yet, I do not feel the same woman who looked down the microscope counting proxies of charcoal, seeds, bryzoans, ostracods and daphnia ten years ago; she would draw and daydream what she saw, trying to make the data visual from her mind to the paper and not in numerical form. I feel a sense of freedom now that I am finally being true to myself – the woman I have learnt to love, appreciate and respect, is a quirky creative not a mad scientist. I also know how often I am the person people turn to for help as have an unjudgemental ear, caring shoulder and arms happy to hug, leading others and myself to question if I should not be a counsellor or perhaps speech and language therapy due to my voluntary work with adults with aphasia. I am currently putting the foundations down to try go that path as feels like I’m being deafened by the screams!

Therefore, I do and do not agree on being the same person as I was before. Part of me is the same that has always been there, deep thinking to gentle woman and lover of the natural world. However, there are parts of me that I was either to scared to share or did not know they were me. I have also learnt the importance of a select group of friends that love, trust, respect and appreciate you as you do them. A few years ago I hated myself and found the darkness blinding but now see the light of the world’s multisensory being as though a child experiencing it all for the first time. I also feel it is our experiences in life that change us, for good and bad, so we are in a constant change like the constantly changing world, which we are trying to adapt to. This all brings me back to being aware of the present moment, so we perhaps should remember to try not to be who were ten years ago but use those ten years of life experience to be who we are now. Equally, we can make foundations today for where we would like to be in ten years time but a full on plan is impossible as tomorrow is promised to none of us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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Meaning of life

This week I have been enjoying watching the incredible new documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand called HUMAN. It serves to make us stop and question life – “What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?” Including perhaps the most profound question of them all – What is the meaning of life? I decided to take time out to actually think this through, what does it mean to me the individual with my knowledge, skills, and experiences of it and articulate my ponders to encourage you reading this to do the same.

Starting at the beginning, what is life?

Life is often said to be a journey, however for me it has always been a river. A river starts as a trickle among the hills before it sets off on its journey, encountering many sights and sounds along the way; with the different landscapes being thought of as the different influences around us. Every life is an unique that flows like a river through many twists and turns that can never be repeated nor predicted where it will go next. A flowing river makes a gentle murmur, which touches all that comes its way. This murmur is our voice that maybe one but can make a difference. The path a river carves out as it flows, the obstacles in its way, slowing it down for a time before moving free again, are all parallels of our own lives. A river’s colour acts as a reminder of these obstacles, as with scars our some visible and some invisible to the naked eye. In end a river merges with the sea, with the tunnels of near death experiences being on a boat on a deltas heading towards the sea.

The only constant is change

One of the great paradoxes of life is the ever changing nature of it. As much as we may feel we live a Groundog Day existence or have a set routine, each day is actually full of enormous and extraordinary changes that we often take so much for granted we miss the wonder of it. We assume that we will wake up tomorrow at night or that loved one battling a terminal disease will be there to visit tomorrow.

For example the view from the kitchen window looks unchanged as we look out as wait for the kettle to boil, but it is not the same view as yesterday. For it is only when we stop to look closer we can see what has changed. A few petals have fallen off the pink roses that grow to middle centre, the trees in the distance have started to turn red as now autumn in the northern hemisphere, and the birds that have been visiting the bird bath have now begun their flight south for winter.

I’ll do it tomorrow

We wait for a signal to start something new as will know when time is right but as with the constant change there is never going to be a perfect time to do anything as the whole ideology of perfection as I previously wrote on is flawed. Life is extremely fragile and changes in the blink of an eye, by procrastinating making a change we have no guarantee that time will come or be around to make the changes we want to make.

Tomorrow will also never come because it is based on the foundations of today, as when the time comes it is almost as though we cannot appreciate it as the present because we did not prepare properly for it or had such high expectations it could never live up to the way we would imagine it to be. As with living through the past, we cannot appreciate the little things right now that make it special, which is why only the present matters.

Money – a golden carrot

Life is often a golden carrot with false promises by others as well as ourselves. We fool ourselves with ideas of if only I had £250 extra per month, I could do so much more or it could go further. Unless we’re on a small income, that won’t cover anything. If we spend money on credit cards each month, we still we spend it on credit cards and perhaps more as know we have that extra a month. Money to many is the ultimate status symbol of success, showing the home they own with car they drive and all the contents therein.

However, it should not be a symbol at all as means nothing, to me it is almost fools gold. The home is bought on a long term loan, everything that has a bill is effectively rented, and every object may have sentimental meaning but does not add value to life. Since my teens I have struggled to understand how much power and emphasis we put on money. It has never been a driving force nor will it ever be for me to do things. What I mean is that I do things because I want to, not because it looks good or I’ll get rewarded for it in heaven by some god, but simply as I have the knowledge/skills/experience or wish to gain them from doing so.

 42?

Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner conceived of a theory of human development is based upon seven year cycles:

  • Ages 0 to 7: Coming into life
  • Ages 7 to 14: Stronger health & healing abilities
  • Ages 14 to 21: The emotional realm comes into being
  • Ages 21 to 28: Play that turns to responsibility
  • Ages 28 to 35: Peaking
  • Ages 35 to 42: A time of challenge and crises
  • Ages 42 to 49: Effectiveness of Earth
  • Ages 49 to 56: A growing vision and understanding of life
  • Ages 56 to 63: The crossroads – mastery of re-evaluation
  • Ages 63 to 70: A time of harvesting and spreading the wealth
  • Ages 70 +: Reflection

Ask people what the meaning of life is, many will say 42 after the work of author Douglas Adams who coined it as the ultimate answer to the meaning of life, universe and everything. Following Steiner’s patterns, at 42 we enter a cycle where by the soul works hard to impress the full forces of its personality upon the world. At this time, the soul has the opportunity to a higher state of consciousness called Spirit Self. So perhaps Adams was onto something afterall.

From my own experiences life did change at 28 as I began therapy a month before turning it but knew I had to make a change that year, otherwise I would no longer be part of it. 35 also changed me as was at turning 35 I finally accepted and had learnt to appreciate me who I am not for who I thought I was. Since then I have certainly felt a new level of understanding of not just myself but the world around me as well as start a new ‘path’ that feels where I actually belong in life and truer to me than I have been since my mid-teens.

My meaning of life

So for me life is an ever changing, ever evolving experience. Each day is full is full of patterns we recognise but new ones come in to colour in that pattern or change the shape of it so not the same as it was before. Equally, taking time to reflect each day to take in what has changed and what we have learnt, moving on from that day so no longer can hold the same pain it does today. Remembering money is a means to an ends not something we should expect or demand more of, or use it to make someone else’s life hell or put a large donation to an organisation out of guilt.

We all lead busy lives but need to appreciate money cannot buy everything or anything that has worth: the friendships that make us smile when we see a message from them on our mobile phones as they have a special place in both our hearts and souls to the people we choose to be our partners that communicating with is key so misunderstandings can be sorted out at the start not left to grow into something that then has roots and harder to remove as can no longer remember what actually started it all.

How we choose to live life either by the culture and traditions we live by to what life has taught us from our knowledge and experiences, no one way is the right. People for example that live in tribes in the Amazon rainforest are living life their way, it is not backward or primitive but what fits with their surroundings and way life flows their way. Finally, no matter what we look like, race, disabilities, sexualities, beliefs, gender etc, we all share this life as a human being, no one is greater or worse than another.

© Fi S. J. Brown