The Search for Self

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          Shakespeare’s character Polonius said to his son Laertes, ” To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield went out to “find himself.” The Delphic Oracle of golden age Greece said, “Know Thyself.”

These statements sound good and important but what do they mean? And what are the costs of trying to find out what they mean? What are the costs of ignoring what they might mean? “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” observed Henry David Thoreau. He did not want that fate for himself.

My first wife said, quoting a philosopher somewhere, “The man who knows what he wants get what he wants; the man who doesn’t know what he wants gets what he gets.” That  makes sense and I always envied to a degree those people who knew exactly that they wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor and just focused on that until they possessed it.

Growing up I saw scores of successful adults. That was the culture I was in but they did not impress me. I didn’t see a lot of happiness in them at all. I saw frustration, drinking, anger, stress, and anxiety. So in my way of thinking I liked the idea better that I would cast myself into the world and take my chances. I didn’t want to know what would happen next; I wanted to be surprised.

As a young adult I saw my contemporaries making their little secure nests and planning for the future, all the things one is supposed to do in order to gain some security and comfort in the world. They inevitably had children and then “the full catastrophe” was complete to quote Zorba the Greek.

A person can be very distracted by family and career for a long, long time and there certainly are  satisfactions in that. But for me, I saw all that as a trap. I didn’t  want twenty years to go by and find out I was lost because I had sacrificed the search for myself  on the altar of security and comfort.

So I retired at twenty five and whatever I did for a living after that, including teaching teenagers for fifteen years, was secondary to my attempt to know myself better, to try to be a better person, and to make progress toward an understanding of what is true and real for me.

Ricker Winsor in Bali, Indonesia

 Coming up:

The greatest art work is one’s own life.

The true value of honesty

Using the fringes of time

“Nice guys finish last.”