Psychology of Hope
We are all psychologists to some degree, just as we are all considerable physicists. And this awareness is a source of true hope.
Psychology is the study of the breath, spirit, soul. It arises from Greek psykhe + logia “study of”.
Physics is the study of the arising of all or nature. It arises from Latin physica (natural science), which arises from Greek physika (nature), which arises from phyein (to bring forth).
And what is nature? It is of nasci, which means the begetting or giving birth.
And what is spirit? It arises from spirare, which is to do with the ability to blow, breathe, expire.
And what is psyche? It arises from psykhein –to blow or breathe.
And what is science? It arises from ancient Indo-European skei- “to cut, to split”. It describes how we are continually separated, divided from all with the arising of self-awareness. Self-knowledge rends existence asunder even as it unites.
Psychology. Physics. Nature. Spirit. Psyche. Science. The symbols all share similar meaning. They are all attempts to remind us of the invisible, animating force that enables the universe(s), which we experience as energy. No one knows what energy is and yet we are each vitally intimate with it in our every cell.
This is a central paradox of our existence and in many ways psychology is simply the study of the nature of paradox so we may transcend its limitations. We all breathe and here is why every human being is a significant psychologist.
Our Great Teacher: The Breath
The act of breathing or respiration involves expiration and inspiration. It enables the spirit (see spirare). Our breath reminds us that every living element respires in various ways and ultimately all forms only exist while their unique balance of in-flowing and out-flowing energy is sustained. We all conspire i.e. share the breath.
Our vigour resides in the fact we can use energy to exhale (expire) and generate a vacuum. “Nature abhors a vacuum” and without effort we are refreshed by the universe. This is physics even as it is psychology.
Expiration. Inspiration. Each action arises from the other and so every breath reminds us of the intangible vitality, the arising and passing of all forms, our interconnection with all and our ability to transcend paradox. This is why we speak of psychology being the study of the psyche i.e. the spirit, the soul, the breath…
The Human Psyche
Continuous change and constancy. Expiration and inspiration. Alienation and conspiration. Knowledge and uncertainty. Good and bad. Joy and misery. Confusion and clarity. Hopefulness and hopelessness.
All these paradox are elements of the human condition and in many ways psychology is the art of developing the gift of transcending paradox. So how can we usefully explain the human condition?
One way might be to symbolise the human psyche as the collective or aggregate experiences of the individual being. This comprises our massive subliminal sentience comprising more than 50 billion interactions in any moment, our trace thought process comprising of a mere few thousand interactions in that instant and the ego, which is the active interface or intermediary of the thought and subliminal processes.
The Human Ego
It is almost impossible to use words to describe the ego. Its pivotal role in our sentience means it is capable of incredible, ingenious self-deceits and, of course, words are just a form of thoughts. What is its role in forming this essay about psychology? Smile. We cannot directly know.
However we have seen the potent interplay of psychology and physics. Both are about the universal change, the continuous arising of all manner of forms. While it is perhaps unhelpful to say there are laws of physics, humans have formulated principles of physics that have never been disproved.
We can use these principles to infer the nature of the ego from its impact on our use of language and behaviour. Careful observation suggests the ego is characterized by a tendency to deny both change and the individual’s role as a steward amidst the universal flux. The question arises: why should this be? Why deny reality?
One explanation might be that the ego arises with the act of self-awareness. It is born of awareness of science, schism, division, separation. It thus tends to abhor mortality and to generate incredible, sophisticated denials of both stewardship and the continuous universal transformation. Inherent in these notions are inconvenient reminders for the ego of the finite nature of all things, including human beings with their ego. Smile.
Another complexity of the human condition is the nature of thought. Like the ego, it cannot embrace paradox and yet existence is the experience of contradiction, as surely as light and dark are of each other. Thought can flicker endlessly between the contradictions and never know them simultaneously.
However true hope resides in the embracing the reality that thought is but a trace element of the psyche.
Transcending the Ego and Thought
The principles of physics, the Conservation Principle of Energy in particular, remind us in the paradox that energy is so bounteous it can usefully be considered a constant even as it continuously transforms. Change is constant. This is reality.
As with the waves on the ocean and the clouds in the sky, the psyche appears to be impossibly chaotic at first glance. However the principles of physics are universal and we know the behaviour of the waves and clouds is in accord with, for instance, the principles of thermodynamics. They are manifestations of heat transfer. They can also be seen as the seamless dance of the seas and skies, each of the other, moving to inaudible music. And, if the ego has not blinded us to their ephemeral existence, we can observe that our slightest action affects the music and alters the dance. Indeed we are rediscovering that human activity can alter planetary weather on scale.
Similarly our psyche is not chaotic as it first seems. It too is very consistent, as proven by the fact that our cells have sustained their fundamental form through billions of years of eonic change. This phenomenon has occurred because they have acted in harmony with the principles of physics. To the extent our cells have been conscious of the universal paradox they have been able to transcend it. Just how could such consistency and continuity of form occur for so long?
One explanation resides in the cell’s capacity to store information, as in the DNA sequence, and to use symbols to survive and procreate. A symbol is a quantum of information forming an approximation of reality i.e. the universal flux. Individual cells arise and pass. However the spirit animating the cell form is sustained through eons because its symbol use tends to generate and reflect behaviour that is in harmony with the principles of physics.
A human being is an aggregate of 1000 million or more such cell forms possibly performing over 200 trillion permutations a day. And daily we live in harmony with our population of trillions of microbial cells…
Smile. Our thought process cannot comprehend the immense statistics of our being though they may form a source of wonder, humility and awe at our existence in the human form.
They form a valuable reminder that we are each a vast repository of sustaining (hopeful) information of which thought is a trace element.
They also remind us of the potent role of the ego and how it is pivotal in the formation of the human form even as it tends to destroy the human spirit.
This great paradox of the ego is another reason why it is worth reiterating that in many ways psychology is simply the study of the nature of paradox so we may transcend its limitations.
Do not worry if you think you don’t understand paradox. We are each far more than our thought process. We have each experienced and transcended paradox in every moment of our life from our first breath.
And be mindful that psychology and physics are inextricably intertwined and cannot exist without each other. We ignore either at our peril. We embrace both at our great benefit and hope, for the principles of physics can enable us to employ hopeful language that results in sustainable behaviour. The principles provide a great guide to how we can transcend the limitations of thought, the incredible trickery of the ego and the entrapment of paradox.
Hope in Compassion
No meaningful discussion of psychology can occur without reference to the role of compassion in the human spirit. It is the essence of civilisation. Without compassion we cannot enjoy sustainable learning and language, our use of knowledge works to destroy us and hopelessness prevails.
We all experience passion, a word that arises from the Indo-European pe(i) “to hurt”. Pain is inherent in the act of separation, division, schism, science. It part of the human condition and fear of hurt is a prime driver of many of the most incredible, ingenious, dangerous delusions of the ego. The paradox of compassion is that in embracing the universal suffering we are released from it. Smile.
And why “smile”? The ego can easily subvert our attempts to combat its deceits, denials and trickery using thought. It is born of division and tends to thrive in conflict and fear. Such tendencies evaporate when embraced in the smile of compassion with its qualities of kindness, inclusiveness, sharing and hope. When we identify one of the highly crafted, deceitful tricks of the ego we can react with self-anger, frustration and abhorrence or we can enjoy its ingenuity with kind humour. The choice is ours. Smile.
While psychology can be understood as the fine art of transcending paradox, it is also paradox. Smile. We are all psychologists to some degree; no person is a psychologist.
In the late 1600s a new amoral consciousness began to emerge in Western Europe. The reforms separated mind from body, soul from mind. They stripped the “science” symbol of its associations with compassion for the human condition. Science became just a way of thinking, a body of knowledge that is the domain of an elite of people called “scientists”. Science ceased to be understood as a profound moral way of being.
Similarly psychology emerged as just a way of thinking, a body of knowledge that is the domain of an even smaller elite called “psychologists”. It too ceased to be understood as a profound moral way of being.
The paradox is that self-proclaimed psychologists probably understand psychology the least and their knowledge works to disempower people.
The people who most understand psychology do not call themselves psychologists because they understand that all people are psychologists to a considerable degree. They appreciate it is a great, hopeless deceit of the ego to believe a person is a psychologist, for it denies the wonderful potential of all people.