Having recently entered the Septuagenarian crowd, I have begun to contemplate, (after all, that’s the name of this website), about how this blog is going to keep me occupied going forward for the next uncertain number of years. To be honest, I’ve been more concerned about the direction I want to take the various topics I hope to write about here. Soon, this blog is coming upon its fifth birthday. Simultaneously I want to broaden its coverage, yet also take it to some deeper levels. In thinking about how that can be done, I have concluded that Hanna Arendt has it right when she addresses the human condition. That’s always something worth contemplating. More to the point, I really want to explore some areas that I think will be both interesting and fun for me to pursue, whether or not they’re related to counseling in any way. This also means that the direction in which I’ll take this blog will shape some things I look forward to reading over the next several years. I have formulated my interests along these lines: mind, meaning-making, thought/action, humility/finitude, and worldview. In one way or another, I have touched on these themes or topics over the nearly five years I’ve maintained this blog. My thinking now is to give some thought to these areas with a more concerted effort. This month’s blog gives a little teaser for each theme, laying some groundwork for what is to come.
Because I’ve worked as a counselor and professor of counseling for a number of years, obviously various conceptualizations of the mind interest me. I’m not sure that we’ll ever nail the coffin shut on what all contributes to human nature and exactly what mind is. Such a vast territory to explore, however, is exactly what makes this question a fun undertaking. So what is mind? Some exciting work is taking place now in the fields of cognitive science and neuroscience; in neither of which do I come close to being an expert. But no doubt over the next several years, we will watch these fields explode and expand our understanding of human nature. Over the centuries the mind has proven to be a magnet drawing the surmising efforts of philosophers, scientists, and other researchers and writers to entertain how they might explain it. Although the newest kids on the block are cognitive scientists and neuroscientists, for my purposes, I will draw on historical as well as contemporary approaches to the understanding of the mind.
From the time I read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, I’ve been interested in the notion that human beings are meaning-making creatures. From a counselor’s perspective I’ve seen how people struggle with the lack of meaning and purpose in their lives. The day-to-day struggle of seeking to make meaning of our particular lot in life is one of the truly existential battles that we encounter. How and why we make meaning in our circumstances are interesting questions. What is human fulfillment? What tells individuals that they are living life in such a fulfilling way that gives them meaning and purpose. As Os Guinness puts it, individuals have a calling that is somehow unique to them alone. How do we go about coming to grips with what our individual callings are all about? Was I called in some sense to be a counselor? A professor? An educator? Are there many paths we can take that would lead to a fulfilling life, or do we as individuals have one set path we should find and follow? And then, addressing the work that Frankl did, following his internment in Nazi concentration camps, how do we make meaning of the difficult struggles, pains, and heartaches we face in life? Although we will not find a necessarily assuaging answer in all situations, we appear to be creatures that ask why we experience the things we do. This has been called the why-ness of being human.
I think if you ask people what is one of the toughest battles they face in carving out a day-to-day fulfilling life, many times they will say it boils down to how they assess the way in which their actions align with their beliefs and values. We say we believe something, and then supposedly our actions follow suit. Many times, however, we note how our actions appear willy-nilly in terms of what we claim to believe. What do my actions out there in life say about what I truly believe? Such assessments challenge us to explore what we believe and value. To align our actions with our beliefs can bring a sense of fulfillment that we are living life on the terms we have set out for ourselves. Philosophers and theologians have explored this notion for millennia. The quest to understand how we align our beliefs and actions so as to live out what we claim to believe and value is a quest worth much reflection.
Though many philosophers have stated this, I first remember the statement impacting me through my readings of Karl Popper. In his autobiography, he stated that what we don’t know is infinitely greater than what we do know. So going forward with these thematic interests, one of the things I hope happens is to simply raise more questions. There are good reasons that these themes have been explored and written about for thousands of years. Add to this the reality that whatever we’re pursuing, we have a finite amount of time to get it done. From my Christian perspective our finitude is ever before us, and humility is something to embrace due to our need of grace. The excitement around pursuing these themes and topics revolves around the notion that we are treading where angels fear to tread in areas that have been explored, discussed, and waxed eloquently over for millennia. We may want to pound the final spike in the railroad tie called answers, but these themes represent a journey that has been and will be ongoing for finite and humble minds.
The Christian writer, James Sire, authored a work more than three decades ago that has impacted me since my first reading of it – The Universe Next Door. The book explored how the world and our lives in it are understood from a variety of perspectives spreading from East to West, perspectives that we call worldviews. What is a worldview? How is a worldview shaped? Are we totally so enclosed by our culture that culture totally defines the worldview we each of us will hold? Can we legitimately alter, change, and even revolutionize our worldview? Much has been written about worldviews to which I will not come close to adding, but it is an area that I think fits beneath the overarching theme of mind. How do we construct our worldviews, and how do various experiences lead to our changing them, anywhere from tweaking them to radically altering them? A personal journey worth taking is to become aware of our personal worldview. Only then, can we begin to consciously critique how we perceive and act in the world.
Obviously, the areas of mind, meaning-making, thought/action, humility/finitude, and worldview overlap and intersect in countless ways. No one would proffer, as far as I know, that these areas are totally separate and discreet modes of explaining existence. My starting point, for now, is that I understand mind as an overarching umbrella, beneath which the other four areas are filed for exploration. In one way or another they all speak to an understanding of the mind of the human being. Also, in one way or another, these areas address the human condition. As a Christian, I will bring my own worldview to bear on these future discussions. I have set out on this task, not to necessarily revolutionize any thought in these areas. I don’t believe I possess enough gray matter for such a task. But I set out on this journey to have fun, fun, fun, as the Beach Boys once sang. They are entertaining and interesting areas to explore and discuss. Hence, over the next few months on this blog, what I have set out here will be my game plan. It will most likely change. So get over it. (Just kidding.) I’m sure I’ll exit the game at times and come back to it later. But these ideas give some old codger like myself something to think about and knock around given that the autumn and winter of my life hangs in the air.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2018