Courage, acceptance and love redux
America, influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, began a social experiment. With words and deeds American men and women mapped a destiny that—extended, defended and amended—would become the America we know today. This many years later and despite the tenor of the political debate that headlines most of our news, we, the people who live here, are a thriving and intrinsic piece of this experiment in individual freedom. Think about it. Don’t we keep it alive with our work? Our talent? Our commitments? Our plans? Our resilience? And with the happiness, meaning and presence-of-mind we imagine in our future?
We who study the philosophy and discipline of autonomy and life fully accept responsibility for our future. As such, as an integral part of America’s social construction of individual freedom, we take up the challenge of learning to oversee ourselves in an artful and responsible manner. And there’s more. With the acquisition of educated sentiments, a well-balanced ego function and the mechanism of responsibility on which our endeavor is built, we find the courage to accept—indeed, love—life.
What do I mean by accept? We accept our lives, inclusive of our finitude, based on the manner in which we possess ourselves; that is, following the form of America’s regulative matrix that shapes the thinking, speaking and doing for enacting individual freedom. We not only accept the need to philosophically oversee and manage our subjectivity—for example, our personal wants, desires and opinions. But we must, too, and at the same time, performatively engage the facts, values and obstacles that accompany the actual situations and predicaments in which we find ourselves. And of course, we know that it’s not easy to keep a cool head when life is being fired at us.
So how do we do this? How do we tax our capacity to be in enlightened possession of ourselves? By artfully managing our philosophically responsible oversight of our ego-function, our thoughts, feelings and motivations, and our judgments, decisions and actions. We also make every effort to reset, where possible, our personally unrewarding or socially unacceptable determinism.
We can’t reset everything, of course. The human animal exists just like other animals, sometimes unaware of what’s happening and why. But we may be able to bring some order to impulsive and compulsive behavior that we ourselves find disturbing, to learned anti-social behavior that may be demeaning to others and to the dysfunctional ego’s overbearing expression. In other words, we accept our responsibility for managing our perception and our philosophically guided oversight or “mind’s eye” as our witness to the entirety of our behavior and biographical enterprise.
And, as I’ve said, we accept that we must make the courage to love life. We recognize that each day is our opportunity to give meaning to our roles as self-possessed citizen-subjects. We're in touch with the rhythms and cycles of the day, the hour, the moment. We fulfill each cycle, dawn to dusk, enjoying now, no longer under the illusion that there is a once-and-for-all, permanently rewarding future. At day’s end, we recognize it as a completion.
Loving life doesn’t mean that we become indifferent to the suffering of others. Rather, it is a call for care and concern, an active realization that the transformative force of our philosophy is premised on accepting the paradox: To be free, we need to accept being bound to the founding politic.
The love of life and the love of America are inextricably involved with each other. All of us must be given the philosophic tools to exercise our autonomy if we are to meet the demand of America’s experiment with individual freedom. The ground on which we individually stand is insufficient to support our freedom if we as a people don’t obligate ourselves to respect the freedom of all of us.
By binding ourselves to the form of liberal democracy in America and bearing honest witness to the entirety of our behavior, we reach a pinnacle of self-possession and create the very bedrock upon which we love life.
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Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes.
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