I am currently writing a book entitled Ordinary Magic: Mastering the Art of Living. From time to time I will post excerpts. This is the first, from the final section of the book.
We live our lives in the context of our circumstances. Mastering the art of living involves recognizing, acknowledging and coming into harmony with your circumstances – and changing them where possible to suit you better. We have already explored in depth the ordinary magic of doing that.
But circumstances are only part – indeed, the smaller part – of life. How you live your life in the circumstances you are in essentially determines what your experience of life is. The key is mastering, not life, but living.
Consider: Continue reading Mastering Living
This is the tenth and final post in a series on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
Pathologies of ultimate satisfaction suggest a somewhat different orientation to therapy. This final post in the Worlds series will touch briefly on some aspects of this orientation.
First, some disclaimers:
- Not all pathology is connected to ultimate satisfaction. Many persons who seek and benefit from therapy experience living in a world that makes sense to them, and they find themselves significantly restricted in their ability to participate in that world.
- I am not proposing a new school or approach to therapy. To the extent these thoughts have any utility at all, they very likely will be useful to seasoned therapists from a broad variety of approaches.
- You do not need to be a therapist to find these thoughts useful and applicable.
- Each thought is stated and briefly expanded; they are meant to be evocative, not complete. A thorough exploration would require at least a very long paper or a short book.
Continue reading Ultimate Satisfaction and Therapy
This is the eighth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
Descriptive Psychologists understand psychopathology to be “a significant restriction in a person’s ability to participate in the social practices of their community.” This is among the most powerful and useful formulations in the Descriptive Psychology canon, connecting to many practical therapeutic approaches.
Notice a few things about this formulation of pathology (let’s drop the “psycho-” part for the sake of brevity):
- It does not “locate” pathology within the person, that is, it does not require that something important is wrong with the person’s physiology or character or developmental history or skills. While these certainly can be involved in a particular pathology, it is not required and in fact observably is not so in many instances we recognize as pathology. Pathology is a state-of-affairs involving the person and their participation in the world of their community.
- It does not imply that pathology is an enduring condition. Some pathologies do endure over time; many, perhaps most, do not. Just because a person was once in a particular pathological state says comparatively little about whether this will recur. Some pathologies have what we might appropriately call a “root cause” that endures; many simply do not.
- It does not imply that pathology is an abnormal condition. This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the Descriptive Psychology formulation; it specifically eliminates the confounding of pathology with abnormal. Depression, for instance, is a significant restriction in participation that varies from moderate to severe, but it is hardly abnormal in any sense of the term: a majority of people suffer from depression at times on their life, and it is often part of an adaptive response to significant loss of eligibility. Pathology is not inherently abnormal.
But pathology is strongly connected to ultimate satisfaction. Continue reading Pathologies of Ultimate Satisfaction
This is the seventh in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
“The world makes sense.”
This has been stated several times in this series to good effect in helping articulate ultimate satisfaction and its place in a person’s life. Now we need to look a little further. Let’s begin by clarifying what this statement is and what it is not.
“The world makes sense” is not a statement about what is universally true. It does not mean that the world actually makes sense to everyone all the time; the world obviously does not. “The world makes sense” is a slogan, which Ossorio reminds us “are apt for saying what you live by, and that is quite different from saying what you happen to believe or what happens to be true.” Continue reading What Ultimate Satisfaction is Not
This is the sixth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
So far we have been talking as if a person has one and only one community in which they participate and thus only one world to make sense of.
Ah, if only everyday life were that simple! In fact, each of us participates in multiple communities, each with its own world that makes sense in its own particular way. Usually we switch from one community to another smoothly, without much effort, and we have no trouble keeping track of who we are in which world – that’s part of our core competence as persons and we’re mostly really good at it. Sometimes the shift is incomplete; we find ourselves a bit wrong-footed and have to focus more to make sense of what we’re up to right now. And from time to time we find ourselves in an impossible situation, called upon to participate in two communities simultaneously. This can require a quick and sometimes hard choice – which comes first? Or can you literally live in both worlds at once? Continue reading Ultimate Satisfaction in Everyday Life
This is the fifth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
We have seen examples of ultimate satisfaction involving appraisals of “fittingness” from conceptual-aesthetic, natural-aesthetic, artistic-aesthetic and moral perspectives. Notice something interesting here: in each case, the individual whose world is held together by this ultimate satisfaction had a breakthrough or initiation experience in which the world suddenly made sense in this new and fundamental way:
- Russell’s experience of Euclid’s proof and my own experience of elegance in Cantor’s proof are clear examples of the world suddenly making sense in a new, conceptual-aesthetic way.
- Recognizing deep unity with nature is frequently the result of a nature-based rite of passage, or a spiritual practice of an ecstatic tradition.
- Virtually every artist, musician or performer has a story of their first encounter with their art, when they experienced its creativity directly and knew “this is what I’m here to do.”
- Most spiritual paths have practices of initiation in which the new member of the community experiences what it’s like to be “one of us.”
Note that each of these involves direct encounter with community members who already see the world as this community does, and experience directly how this world makes sense. Ultimate Satisfaction is connected to a specific world, of a particular community – no exceptions.
But many people have no memory of experiencing breakthrough into a new world – and it’s not the sort of thing one is inclined to forget. Continue reading More Varieties of Ultimate Satisfaction
This is the fourth in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists.
So far we have encountered two varieties of ultimate satisfaction:
- Bertrand Russell’s “delicious experience of knowing something with total certainly”;
- The mathematician’s experience of the “elegance” of a great proof.
These two seem very similar, both in their content and in the kind of person who experiences them; if they were wines, they would be French syrah and Australian shiraz – same grape, with subtle differences.
But just as there are many varieties of wine, which vary greatly one from the other, ultimate satisfaction comes in many varieties. Let’s take a deeper dive into this; you may well recognize what ultimate satisfaction is for you as we do. Continue reading Varieties of Ultimate Satisfaction
This is the second in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists. This series requires a more careful reading than most prior posts on this blog; I believe the work you put into it will be well-rewarded.
The world makes sense, and so do people. They make sense now.
— Peter G. Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons, p. 2
The child Bertrand Russell lived in a world that did not make sense to him. His was not a mild puzzlement or a small discontent; he was in the grip of a profound, terrifying existential dilemma. His world made no sense, and he had no real place in it.
Russell’s early life was nightmarish. His parents died when he was young, but their deaths and the scandalous circumstances surrounding them were kept from him. He was sent to live with his Grandparents. He began to bond with his Grandfather, who also died unexpectedly, leaving Bertie in the care of his angry, hyper-religious Grandmother with her myriad rigid rules based on the view that man is inherently evil and must be constrained. Her world made no sense to him but it was all he knew.
All this changed when a tutor introduced Bertie to geometry. Working through one of Euclid’s theorems, he saw in a flash of insight that it was true of logical necessity – and in that moment his world changed. He saw that one could know reality with total certainty, through logical proof. This world made sense and it had a place for him, which he proceeded to act from with increasing brilliance and fervor. The “delicious experience of knowing something with total certainly” was the ultimate satisfaction that held Russell’s world together until the fatal day he encountered the Paradox that blew his world apart. Continue reading Russell’s World
This is the first in a planned series of posts on Worlds, as understood by Descriptive Psychologists. This series requires a more careful reading than most prior posts on this blog; I believe the work you put into it will be well-rewarded.
Worlds are subtle, pervasive, powerful. We are to our worlds as fish are to water: We take our world as given, existing outside of and independent of us. We live in the world; all our actions take place in and are shaped by our world; without the world we could not exist.
But fishy metaphors can only take us so far. Persons, whether we realize it or not, shape our worlds fully as much as the world shapes us. We almost certainly don’t consciously create or choose our world. But sometimes events occur that blow our worlds apart, and we are faced with the task of putting it back together, or reconstructing it in a new form. In either case we engage in active, conscious choice and creation. We recognize once and for all that we are not fish. Continue reading In a World of Logicians and Their Ways: Russell’s Paradox Redux
Remember when radical change was a rare phenomenon? When you could go for years, even decades, without something happening to make you realize the world you are living in is radically different than you thought it was? Whatever else has happened, the pace of finding ourselves required to reexamine our worlds has radically accelerated – and there’s no reason to believe it will slow down anytime soon.
The Boston bombings are fresh on all our minds – too fresh to be useful as examples. I do not intend to offer suggestions for what help looks like for the Boston victims (my friend and fellow Descriptive Psychologist Wynn Schwartz was on the scene and has offered considerable insight into what people have gone through in his blog); nor will I try here to understand why the bombings occurred (I posted an extensive paper on such matters last year called “When Worlds Collide”.) Instead I want to return to where the previous post left off: granted that our world has radically changed, what can we do in the aftermath? Continue reading Aftermath Part II: Living in a Radically Changed World