Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Here is the million-dollar question: How can we live an authentic life? How can we find, or in fact, actualize who we are? In the second chapter of the D. B. Stern's book, ``Partners in Thought,'' I have found an interesting and exciting possibility for an answer to this question. It goes like this. You find, and actualize, your true/authentic self by engaging in ``genuine experiences.''
Well, Stern, being a psychoanalyst, mainly talks about ``genuine conversations.'' He defines them as the conversations that are experienced by conversation partners, not lead/conducted by them, and in the process the involved partners let go of their control on the path of the conversation and their wishes to influence each other and instead let the process take them to a common truth and understanding, and lose their selves in the process.
Based on my experiences with conversations and also practices like Kyudo, I think this idea is more general than just conversations. I think many other activities can also be done in a genuine/authentic way, and by losing yourself in the process you can find/create who you are.
A practical difficulty is that you cannot force ``genuine experiences'', they just happen. You can prepare for them (and pray that they appear, lol), but because part of the process is letting go of the conscious control, it means that you cannot force them.

Now that I think more about this, my idea is not really new. In the book, ``Play and Reality,'' D.W. Winnicott proposes a very similar answer to the question. He argues that we find and actualize our selves through ``playing'' which are essentially activities that we let ourselves to be fully spontaneous. I think there is a great deal of similarity between Winnicott's concept of play and Stern's concept of genuine conversation.

Next, a quote from the beginning of the chapter 2 (on page 25) of ``Partners in Thought,'' from a German philosopher, H-G Gadamer:

We say that we ``conduct'' a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Thus a genuine conversation is never the one that we wanted to conduct. Rather, it is generally more correct to say that we fall into {a genuine} conversation, or even that we become involved in it. ... Understanding or its failure is like an event that happens to us. ... All this shows that conversation has a spirit of its own, and that the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth within it---i.e., that it allows something to ``emerge'' which henceforth exists. ---Jans-Georg Gadamer (1965/2004, p. 385)

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