Friday evening 24 July 2015, I was at the Rudolf Steiner Centre in Vancouver, Canada. I had come to listen to Bodo von Plato lecture on “Philosophy, Anthroposophy and Everyday Life.” The following morning we were asked to give a free interpretation of what the lecture had meant to us. My original quotation captured the essence of the process of inner transformation presented in the lecture and although originally formulated as a stream of consciousness statement, for the sake of grammatical accuracy and intellectual clarity it now takes a more complex form on the page. Asked to present my summary statement for purposes of publication I decided to write a detailed interpretation of Bodo von Plato's lecture. My text captures my understanding of the lecture, which remains faithful to interpreting the value of these ideas for our time.
“Unlocking the hidden mystery of the self relies on the other. How does the secret self become known? What makes the individual unique? Often we develop a sense of our separate existence through experiencing how different we are from others. Feeling isolated, being ostracized, failing to belong or overwhelmed by inconsistencies within our own nature, we begin to forge the unique terms of our existence. In a moment of eclipse the secret self evolves through vulnerability to awaken to the necessity of community. In a social context we find common ground. Unexpected arguments can lead to catastrophe, but also develop clarity. Expectations of fairness perceive extreme injustice in the world, but also recognize good fortune in life. Although my sense of truth can be compromised by the world and others, as my inner reality diverges from anything known to me or anyone else, I experience my individuality as the very essence of my being.” Elizabeth Carmack
The core of the individual as a unique emerging identity is constantly evolving. Ironically, sense of self often develops on account of sense of difference in relation to other/s. (Possibly add reference to Plato's sense of sameness and sense of difference!) Although we rarely if ever provide inner space or possess sufficient imagination for the differences in others to come to light, we feel compromised, if we are not given enough inner space for the expression of our own voice and values. Such double standards need to be clearly understood and consciously worked with so as to cultivate community based on freedom rather than subtle forms of psychological coercion and socio-ethical uniformity. Inclusion of the voice and values of the individual depends on active listening from others. Active listening leads to recognizing and cultivating difference. For example, rather than disapprove of an individual's thoughts, feelings and behaviour – see them as a manifestation of the individual's unique identity.
Ironically the nihilistic conditions of modern day society are ideal terms for unlocking the secret self. For the individual living in conflict with the world and society, a sense of being different from others can be heightened. Such a dynamic interplay between the self and the world confirms that individual terms are being forged. Although difference catalyses conflict, which many judge on the surface as negative and destructive, conflict can cultivate individual terms, because disagreement can ultimately be positive and constructive. Disagreement can be seen from at least two points of view. Affirmation occurs for the individual expounding his/her truth, potentially opening the doors of perception in the other. For many people present day life appears to compromise our existence and alienate us from our values. However, for those who survive the negation of the sacred in our time, which many of us fear will cause our spiritual extinction, seven inner developments can lead to affirmation of the self. 1. Inner Isolation, 2. Social Prejudice; 3. Inconsistencies and Contradictions; 4. Personal Vulnerability; 5. Articulating Differences; 6. Sense of Fairness and 7. Diverging Truths.
Contrary to popular belief self realization from conflict is possible through inner dialogue with the self and social interaction with the world. The seven steps of self realization through conflict help transform suffering into wisdom. Contact between the inner life of the individual and the unknown terms of the world can be abrasive, but can be transformed into something fruitful. Sometimes in affirmation the secret self of the individual can emerge in harmony within community, but as often as not the voice and values of the free individual challenge social expectations. In fact, the spirit of freedom often refuses to conform to social norms in very much the same way as the voice of the political dissident challenges the lockhold and tyranny of autocracy. For the free individual to be able to bring to expression the unique terms of his/her existence in the world, personal differences should not only be tolerated, but cultivated and valued. Forging individual terms means a person's inner life often emerges through conflict. The nihilistic terms we face in the world create opportunities of self knowledge by challenging the inner sanctuary of the soul. Social interaction can often threaten the inner voice and values of the individual. Although endorsement of difference from others can present us with sufficient freedom to explore our true inner nature, such affirmation from the outside does not always result in inner recognition of the individual's authentic self. Often simply recognizing how our personal limitations impede the inner make-up of another human being from emerging can unlock the hidden mystery of the secret self, acknowledging the unknown individual within. However, people still feel compelled to self-censor! Therefore, understanding how my expectations potenially impair a faithful expression of the other can help. Fear of rejection occurs because one has learnt that if one's true nature deviates too much from the social norm, one will be stigmatized. Rather than rouse social condemnation one denies one's inner being expression in an effort to save face. Such behaviour is far more common than one would like to admit. Although seen as an aberration by some, it simply reflects the narrow-mindedness of society and is a symptom of the widespread expectation for us to conform. If we sought contact with others with the heartfelt wish of discovering how different they are from us, honest self-disclosure could occur. Eliminating all forms of self-censorship manifest as self-protective lying will transform artificial exchange into sincere encounter. Full Article