soul searching

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As human beings we live with an endless chain of paradoxes. We have a desire to know the world. And yet, the more we learn, the more we are aware of all we don’t know. For each step in the learning process widens our horizons, and allows us a glimpse of something more. Many have found that the most difficult subject to learn is the nature of ourselves.

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How well we know the situation in which someone we know is able to give advice and support to others, but is unable to help himself or herself when caught in the same situation. Our view of ourselves is subjective. When we first hear our own recorded voice, we are surprised. ‘Do I sound like that?’ we ask ourselves. And for many, a photograph of themselves can be a strong emotional experience. Some people can’t bear to be photographed… and not because they believe that the camera steals the soul from the individual. Which reminds me of a miniature poster I saw attached to the refrigerator of a dear friend I visited in Berkeley in the 90s. It said: ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt’.

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Early in childhood, we begin to see ourselves in a certain image relative to the people around us. As a young student, I enthusiastically adopted the viewpoint that we all have similar potentials, and that our education and environment direct us to the view we have of ourselves. Since then, I have become convinced that genetics have an important part in the forming of the personality, and I now believe that it is a combination of inherent personality characteristics and the early experiences of coming to terms with others, including parents, siblings, and general environment. But as important as these influences are, I also believe in personal choice. That we can work with what we were given, and that exercising this choice, we can find freedom. We know people who seem filled with themselves, positive, and self confident… and others who are painfully shy, and self-effacing. The better we get to know such a person, the more apparent it is that there is no true reason for such an extreme persona.

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A good part of the problem is the subjective nature of a person. If we are extremely self critical, a compliment can be interpreted as ridicule. If we are very self confident, a word of criticism may be interpreted as an attack, or as an expression of jealousy on the part of the person who criticized us. Most of us do not reach such extremes. We are somewhere in between. But there is always the danger of losing sight of ourselves. This is the nature of subjectivity. The antidote to that is objectivity; seeing ourselves from outside. Now and then it is necessary to detach ourselves from all the stimuli around us, and study ourselves… our behavior and our thoughts… the vision we have of our own image.

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The existentialist thinkers emphasized the present, and saw dwelling on the past or the future, a distraction from reality. It wouldn’t be true to say that the past no longer exists. Much of it does still exist. But it has been integrated into the present, and by becoming aware, as much as possible, of all that has been taken from the past and incorporated in the present, we have a better grasp of our own unique world than when we are relating to separate tidbits of experience and memories isolated in another framework of time. If we had a traumatic experience, for instance, each time we revisit the memory, we are once again shocked and crippled by the experience itself. However, if we were able to see ourselves objectively, including the scar that we carry from the time of the original trauma, we might come to a very different conclusion about the importance of that trauma, and might choose to relate to it differently.

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Denial has tremendous power. We can bury ourselves, or invent a false image of ourselves, all for the purpose of avoiding certain truths that we can’t bear to see. We might be conscious of making the same mistake over and over again… and try to stop this errant behavior. Yet our distaste for a certain subject, or a certain memory… our embarrassment or shame… may lead us while our efforts at repair go unresolved. This process, the examination of our own behavior, and looking at ourselves as others see us, is called ‘soul searching’. We are searching for the true individual behind the defenses, the excuses, and the persona with which we negotiate inter personal relations with others.

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51 responses to “soul searching

  1. Soul searching… wisely written, I enjoyed, dear Shimon. It is a great voyage for all of us, for some of us it is a craft of memories, experiences, knowledges, etc. I loved all these photographs, especially the one that young man feeding baby, and the other one, a little boy seems is going to be lost among the herd… Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice weekend, love, nia

    • Thank you very much Nia. It is something so personal, I didn’t think I could possibly share it… till I tried. And the illustrations are part of my understanding of the process. I so appreciate your comments.

  2. How right you are. For me this is an important aspect of having faith: trust in the almighty who sees us exactly as we are … yet still believes in us. This can be enormously healing and liberating.
    And I too enjoy the photos of the sheep and the goats – very apposite!

    • As a person of faith, Gill, I have this tendency to believe that all people believe… even if the belief is in something very different from my belief. It is hard for me to imagine what living life is like without faith. But I have known people who’ve told me that they have no such thing. Your words strike a chord with me. Yes, healing and liberating.

  3. It is astonishing how many people do not do any soul searching. I’ll never forget my counselor’s shock as I explained how I’d had a flash of anger and stopped to examine why. She told me most people don’t do that. I asked, “How do they change if they don’t self-analyze?” She replied, “They don’t want to change.” She went on to explain that most people would rather justify than soul-search because soul-searching is uncomfortable. Honest soul searching leads to change. Thanks for the opportunity to do a little soul searching. 🙂

    • We live in an age where everything is casual. We’re exposed to sex all the time, to personal desires, to psychological syndromes and illnesses. The most intimate details of life are found in advertisements and movies, etc. But I believe there are certain experiences and feelings that many people desire to keep inside. It’s hard to know what really goes on deep in the heart, the mind and the soul… at least in some cases, it’s hard to know. Thank you so much for your comment, Judy. Always good to speak with you.

  4. Shimon – An excellent post. Just as we all expect when we come to The Human Picture. Enjoy your weekend.

  5. Thanks very much Shimon. Much to reflect on! It helps I think to cultivate a certain stillness of mind through meditation or prayer and to examine the self by the soft light of a candle rather than the spotlight. Regards Thom.

    • I agree with you, Thom, about the calm and peace that we need in order to come to terms with our own lives. Our age is filled with electricity, sights and sounds. Sometimes there are so many distractions, that it’s hard to let the mind wander. A bit like walking the dog in the city without a leash, and worrying that he’ll run into traffic. Liked the image of the candle too. One can compose a beautiful portrait by candlelight.

  6. An interesting Friday read as always Shimon. A peaceful Sabbath to you!

  7. Well, now my brain hurts! REally hurts. That is probably the best psych lecture I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. So succinct! In depth review. Wow. I will certainly share this one! Thank you!

    • I am so glad I was able to share these thoughts in a way that could be understood, Bob. There are certain intimate experiences that are hard to share… that demand a modesty atypical of the spirit of our time. Your feedback is much appreciated.

  8. Your images fit so well to your message.

  9. Words of wisdom, beautifully expressed Shimon.

  10. Thank you for this reflection, Shimon: much to ponder. I loved the photos of the sheep, too: went to the annual sheep and wool festival last weekend, so have been encountering many sheep lately. 🙂 A blessed Sabbath to you.

    • It is no coincidence, I believe, that many folks call their religious leader pastor. I often see myself and my friends when I observe the goats and sheep, and I have learned to love them and appreciate them too. Thank you for your good wishes, Kitty. We are on the eve of the day of atonement today. The big test we get once a year. And my hope is to begin that test in a few hours, wide awake and completely relaxed.

  11. Soul searching goes on whether we are aware of it or not. We can’t help but remember the hurts and joys, but the hurts seem to have a more profound effect of our lives and are the hardest to overcome. But they have helped make us the person we are today. So if we are living in a pleasant world today, we should be thankful for the lessons learned even if they hurt at the time.

    • I agree, Bev. Sometimes the joy carries with it enlightenment. And then it may stay with us all our lives too. But the hurts and damages continue to nag at us through the years. Still, I believe we can continue to learn and grow… and build beautiful lives even if crippled along the way. And I would like to think I could be thankful for all the lessons, though I haven’t reached such a high level myself. Thanks very much for your comment.

  12. Very thoughtful and well written with some good pictures thrown in. At one point you say that it wouldn’t be true to say that the past no longer exists and that is absolutely right. In fact, the past is all that is real. Most people will say that they live in the present and some will say that we shouldn’t live in the past but the truth is that we all live in the past. The present is so brief, a tiny fraction of a second, that we cannot possibly live in it. Before we can comprehend what is happening in the present, it is already in the past. If I say hello to you, the first sound is already in the past before I have finished the word. If we did not have a memory we would have no life at all. We would be like a worm on a Mulberry leaf, blindly doing what we were programmed to do and completely oblivious to the world around us. We cannot live in the future because it isn’t here until, in a flash, it becomes the past. We are constantly making plans for the future, even if it is only to go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and, strangely enough, those plans usually work out in spite of all the things that can go wrong but we cannot live there. Yes, the past definitely exists and cannot be changed.
    Some self analysis and soul searching is good and necessary but I often see people who overdo it. They do so much of it that they are in constant turmoil. They are never sure that they have done the right thing or what they should do next.
    There, you have the opinion of one who has no education in the field of psychology nor any other credentials to give me any authority.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Jim, I think you have added something most important to my post. I appreciate all you’ve said because I believe you’ve added another perspective to the subject, even though I don’t agree that the past is all that is real. It seems to me that the present incorporates the past and includes the seeds of the future too. If we were walking across a bridge, over a river, we might look down and sigh, ‘oh the beautiful Jordan river’. But in fact, the waters that passed below us the last time we were here were different waters, never to return. And we ourselves are different people from those that stood at the same place a few years ago. Still there is the recognition, and the sense we have been here before. Whether it be the words in the sentence, or our face in the mirror, we see a different picture depending on how close we get to the subject. Sometimes there’s the possibility of getting too close. I agree with you too, that self examination and analysis can be overdone. That too is a bit like looking too close in the mirror. The most important, I believe, is to live our lives. You certainly don’t need any credentials in my company, Jim. It is a great pleasure for me to exchange thoughts with you, and to listen to a bit of what you’ve learned in this life.

  13. A great post and thought provoking as usual.

  14. The poignant counterpoint of your photos and commentary. The most elemental needs to foster life – sustenance, is also the most essential component for our internal growth – nurturing and understanding the soul. Thank you.

    • I see my photos as illustrations of what I’m trying to share with my friends, Mimi. And I’m always happy when they’re accepted as a contribution. Yes to grow and appreciate life we need nurture and understanding. Thanks so much for your comment.

  15. Compelling words this morning, Shimon…and enjoyable photos, too. Thank you.

  16. An erudite observation as always.
    David.

  17. Who is who is to say that the view of the others, is not the others’ own denial. Life and philosophy are full of paradoxes, counter-intuitive and circular argument and discussion.

    I agree with David A Lockwood succinct summation.

    The old and the relatively new comes across well in your evocative pictures.

    • I look for denial in myself, cautious less I’ve gone astray. As for others, I look to them for inspiration, learning and beauty. That is my true desire, so I look for it. But when it comes to myself, I have to be careful, and stricter. I agree with you about the paradoxes, counter-intuitive and circular arguments. One has to have a good deal of whimsy to survive it all. Thanks so much for your comment, menhir.

  18. Shimon,
    Your wise words and beautiful pastoral scenes remind us to slow down and remember who we are and that we have choices to make. Advice that, I for one, always appreciate.
    Cathy

    • So glad to hear, Cathy, that you were able to enjoy the post. Sometimes we speak from a place so deep in our own experience, that we don’t know how others will see it. Thank you.

  19. You have given me so much to dwell upon Shimon , of which I remain grateful as your writing is always melodic in a way that resonates thru my heart . Blessings of love my friend , megxxx

    • My dear Meg, I’ve often wondered about what it is that allows two people to click… to feel comfortable in one another’s presence. Is it an affinity of spirit, or something that’s found between the lines? As mysterious as it is, I have found that added something in texts as well as in meetings with people. There are those things in life, that we only get in glimpses… gratefully yours, xxx

  20. What marvelous pictures! I had to view them several times!
    Yes, we all need to soul-search, I think it is hard to truly know ourselves, warts and all, and individuals are often harder on themselves than they are on others, ego plays a huge part, I often remind myself that I have no point to defend when I find my ego creeping in. Another post that shall have me pondering!xxx

    • Yes, I do believe that many of us are harder on those closest to ourselves… and to ourselves, hardest. I see the ego as a dog at our side… a dear and super loyal friend. But one that has to be educated. You remember, I hope, what you taught me about pit bulls and others with a bad reputation, Dinah. We can teach them restraint and manners. I like to think that when we unleash our egos, they won’t embarrass us, or hurt any innocents around. My very best to you, my dear friend. xxx

  21. There is so much to think about in this post. It reminds me of how some of us feel when someone comments “you remind me of your mother” (or father, or?). At first it might make us think that we are nothing like that person. Then we think about all the ways in which we are different from them which will lead us to think of all the ways in which we are the same. Then we realize that we have so much of that person in us, even if we have chosen to take a different road. The reverse is also true. We may want to be so much like the person mentioned yet feel we don’t live up to it. But if we search, we will see that we really do in a lot of ways. We are like our ancestors. We share so much with them. We have different challenges. We have different opportunities. We make different choices. We are not carbon copies, yet the resemblance is definitely there!

  22. Hello dear Shimon….I loved this post, both words and images. Soul searching is I believe a life long process…..and yet the more we recognise our real self….personality, character, etc., I feel the more whole we become.
    A recent experience reminded me that soul searching is indeed an ongoing process. One of the things I have tried to recognise in my own life is when I have repeated the same mistakes…..which seen objectively is sheer madness, especially when we know repeated mistakes can only cause heart ache and pain….however, it is part of the human condition.
    I like you believe that nurture and nature both influence who who are and become…..I also recognise that when we reach the point of understanding that we have choice…..great freedoms can come.
    Thank you so much….a superb post to arrive home to from Portugal. Janet. xx

  23. Even when you speak of philosophy or psychology, Shimon, your posts seem suffused with kindness: toward others, and toward yourself. I sometimes think soul-searching has, quite regrettably, become less a matter of kindness, and more a matter of analysis, or an unhealthy self-absorption.

    So many of the great truths of life are uncomfortable for us: that we are created, that we are contingent, that we are not, in the end, in total control of our lives. To come to terms with those realities can bring peace, and a certain serenity. Perhaps this is the essence of faith: not that we believe a hundred impossible things before breakfast, but that we break our fasts with gratitude and humility.

    Soul searching? When my soul is lost, it’s not a time for thinking. It’s a time to light a candle, move into the darkness, and find that which is has been misplaced. I remember reading a story about that in a well-known book: “What woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.'”

  24. Judy is right: the fear of analysing and searching deep in the inner soul, make people prefer not to change… and because of that, they still remade over and over the same mistakes.
    Fear is human, that’s right, but this this type of dread may cause more bad than good. We should be more confident and dig inside our emotions to find out why in some circumstances we feel uncomfortable, so much can be changed since our soul is able to help us finding out our own mistakes or miss considerations…
    Egotism and hedonism are a very bad traveling companion: life is a trip to a “destination” we for sure know since everyone will one day or the other perish. It is up to each one of us to make this trip pleasurable for us selves and for the other we care for but as well for those we don’t know (animals and nature included). And for doing that, respect is another important (basilar) point. And this one you may learn at early age from your family, at school… and yes, as you said, “genetics have an important part in the forming of the personality” but not only the dna is basically.
    The haughtiness (seen as the certainty of being right) is found mostly in people which, because of their dna, are forced to be what they are… without choice, unless they step out of the tides in which they risk to drown.
    Then you have the humble and idealistic ones, these to whom few look at since they melt into the crowd… Sometimes they may be treated as divergents and rejected from the family and/or community… some of them became very great bodhisattvas, other has to die and be reborn again to accomplish their deeds.
    And this, is the beauty of our intrinsic and unique path… we do not know who we were in our previous life, but in this one, we may change for good our future.
    I really love the pictures of these sheeps… I see a good deal of love in it!
    Have a serene and beautiful week, dear Shimon
    :-)claudine

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