As we plug along during this pandemic, there will come a point where each one of us will struggle to see how exactly to live through this time. I don’t mean how to keep from getting sick or getting others sick (this should be rather obvious, even though the United States and a few other dysfunctional governments in the world seem to be really struggling with this concept). What I mean is: how do we exist during this unquestionably insane time, when our everyday lives seem to be flipped upside down? How do we stay sane, or at least within the core of ourselves, without going off the rails?
I have been reading some of Erich Fromm’s work on this topic, in particular his book on The Art of Being. I had not been particularly interested in Mr. Fromm’s work prior to this, because it seemed to suffer from circular psychoanalytic discussions perhaps designed for graduate students in Psychology; however, something attracted me to his view on developing a kind of self knowledge and management approach that may turn out to be critical to us during this strange time that we are living through.
The Value of Self Knowledge as we “Struggle Well”
As I mentioned in my last post, Sticking to Principles, what Ray Dalio articulated very clearly in his book Principles: Life and Work, and that I very much agree with, is the concept of developing an understanding that life is a series of cycles in which we “struggle well” and, ultimately, find our way through failures, problem solving, and learning; but to ensure that this process doesn’t become, in some sense, our own undoing, we’ve got to know ourselves quite objectively and quite deeply.
In The Art of Being, Fromm introduces what he calls “self-analysis,” which is essentially using different techniques to better understand not just our own conscious nature, but also our unconscious nature. This can become particularly important in times of significant stress when, as Fromm mentions, there may be “discrepancies between our conscious goals in life and those of which we are not aware, yet which determine our life.” This self-analysis is not an easy thing to do of course, but, as Fromm points out, leveraging some form of meditation can really help one make progress in this endeavor.
Whether or not you’ve done any sort of meditation before, I would recommend taking a look at Lawerence LeShan’s book entitled How To Meditate. Leshan points out that meditation carries with it a lot of baggage, due to some of the pseudo-science that certain new age movements have embraced, but there is now considerable evidence that mediation can improve the way we think and the way we live, as Leshan says, “tuning and training the mind as an athlete tunes and trains his body….”
Several years ago, before I read Leshan’s book, my only experience with mediation was a few guided breathing exercises. So it is amazing to discover how many different types of meditation techniques exist. Leshan does an excellent job of covering their basic categories and giving specific examples of how to get to work. He lists the basic “classes” of meditation as follows:
- The Path Through the Intellect
- The Path Through the Emotions
- The Route of the Body
- The Path of Action
In pursuing a serious practice of mediation, the class you pick is you up to you, but I would suggest for the kind of self-analysis that Fromm recommends that — after getting comfortable with the basic practice of mediation — you look into the “Mediation of Who Am I?,” which Leshan summarizes for the reader. This will definitely will be one of the more difficult techniques to master, but for gaining a better understanding of what is going on in your unconscious mind, and how this maps to your complete identity, it can certainly be a fruitful approach.
The idea is that we want to pursue, as Fromm puts it, “an increase in inner clarity” and meditation is one vehicle that can help us head in that direction. At times like these, this clarity can be really helpful, since sometimes there are battles raging within us due to differences between our conscious and sub-conscious mind. The ability to build an awareness of these battles, and to begin to address them, begins to also build within us, as Fromm describes it, “…an experience of well being…which feels so superior to anything experienced so far….”
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