Your appearance in my life triggers my interest in Psychology and human development a lot! From a layman perspective I reflected on how we work, how we interact with the world we live in, and what are the mechanisms of self-awareness and self-cultivation. Again, I believe these insights are important for my performance as a father from the day you are born! Maybe it helps me to “do the right things”…
The ability of self-recognition and self-consciousness that occurred in the evolutionary processes of mankind is certainly one of the most sophisticated phenomena in the world of living organisms! It enabled an unprecedented level of “cultural” development. Not many other higher animals (some mammals, a few birds) are able to recognise themselves. Self-awareness is a crucial precondition for thinking in time scales (remembering past events that occurred to “oneself”, anticipating future events and making plans). The human Ego is sometimes so big that it causes us great trouble, but that is another topic and will be discussed later. Here, I’d like to illustrate how we can distinguish three levels of objective self that are encountered upon the introspective examination of one’s own existence – and what we can learn from this knowledge.
First of all, we have a physical self. Our body constantly sends signals of physical needs that feed our self-consciousness. We eat when we are hungry, we sleep when we are tired, we seek for a warm place when we feel cold, and we avoid pain and harm. By this we become aware of our existence (or “our self”) as physical beings with the functioning of living organisms.
Then, we have a psychological self. It originates from the process that occurs when we attempt to acquire social or material resources from the outer world for the sake of satisfying various physical or psychological needs. We have to learn various types of knowledge in order to control the outer world effectively, and thereby acquire a sense of self-efficacy.
Finally, we have a spiritual self. For human beings who are able to think, feel, act, and experience various domains of life, the spiritual aspect of self facilitates a comprehensive understanding of our entire life, including our personality, values, beliefs, and motives.
This corresponds to a model of body, mind and spirit suggested by Chen and Hui-Min Bhikkhu:
The five phases illustrate the development of a human being from birth on to old age, in case everything goes well (no major diseases, no massive psychological impacts like war, etc.). A newborn baby responds only to body signals and forms its will based on physical needs. When these needs are fulfilled the baby is content and satisfied, also mentally and – as far as applicable – spiritually. Therefore, the realm of mind and spirit are depicted inside the body-area (I.). When the child starts to explore the environment and learns how it can manipulate it, it also develops a mental self-awareness. It learns more and more about the cause-effect-relations of this world and how they can be exploited and used for the own benefit. Finding and defending its own place and space in the environmental and interpersonal network becomes another influential factor for the formation of a personal will and motivation. Next to the physical needs, the psychological needs dominate the well-being or dissatisfaction of the child (II.). Questions of worldviews and values are not reflected, yet. “I want that piece of candy!” is a will for its own end, the child will not ask why it wants the candy or whether or not it is “right” to want that candy. The spiritual self is still fully covered by the psychological self. It steps out of its shadow usually sometime in the teen ages or at young adult age, after the mental functions are fully matured. Beliefs, values and worldviews can now guide and control the physical and psychological activities and their motives and intentions in a state of equilibrium (III.). With further progress of life, biological desires originating from the physical self slowly weaken. The need for spiritual cultivation may gradually increase while the bodily needs are satisfied as a subcategory of the mental needs (IV.). Older people tend to spend more and more time with spiritual reflection of issues related to life and death. In the last stage, the physical self may fade gradually, while the spiritual self becomes more and more apparent and dominates the outermost circle of life (V.). Before death (as long as it happens “naturally” at old age and not by accident or disease at early age) we are satisfied and content when we are in balance with our values and worldviews. We don’t need to stand our ground anymore, and we let go of our old and worn out body.
Something very important has to be realized: None of the phases can be jumped, and a next phase can only be reached when the previous is fully evolved and manifested. With other words: If, at the end of our life, we want to die peacefully and content in spiritual harmony with ourselves, we need the self-cultivation and self-fulfillment in each of these five phases! When a baby’s physical needs are not satisfied properly, it will get stuck in the body-related self-manifestation. It won’t elaborate a capacity for mental self-cultivation when it is kept busy with desiring the satisfaction of its most basic needs (enough to eat, time to rest, freedom from pain and harm, enough love and care). Only a healthy body can host a healthy mind! The longer phase of maturing the psychological self still needs to be accompanied appropriately by parents or other caretakers. As pointed out before, we need to acquire a lot of knowledge to exploit the world for our own satisfaction. When a child lives in a poor and lonely environment it can’t develop social, motor or creative skills. It needs space, attention, toys, playmates, chances to make experiences with as many aspects of life as possible in order to understand the mechanisms of its lifeworld and to find strategies to make itself a fully embedded part of it. Only then, when the mental functions of a person are fully matured, the process of aligning motives, intentions and decisions to the own personal beliefs and worldviews can start. When this process is blocked or suppressed, the spiritual self can never reach a state in which it is powerful enough to serve as our major (or the only) source of satisfaction and self-fulfillment. When we still rely on our body as source of contentment at the age of 50, watching it slowly decaying or getting more ugly, we will fall into a crisis (like many women actually do). When our main life goal is the accumulation of as much money and material possession as possible without ever asking what it is good for, the greed that dominates our desires as we realise on the death bed might let us die dissatisfied and in grief. We can only know what makes us truly and sustainably feel at peace and harmony when we let go of our physical needs at a certain point of our life and when we give the spiritual self the power to determine the satisfaction level of our mental self.
What does that have to do with you or with me, your father? That your Mom and me will satisfy your physical needs as best as we can is self-understanding! And I am pretty sure we won’t fail in that! We are prepared and keep putting efforts into ensuring your safety, health and well-being! You will have a warm bed, healthy food with all necessary nutrition, you will be treated tenderly and with care, you will be given love and attention! I promise! As soon as you are old enough to express your needs and desires that are beyond the mere physical ones, we will try to find the fine line between parental guidance and your autonomy and self-determination. Your Mom and me agreed that the most important skill we want to support in you is curiosity. We can always let you know when you have no idea of something, and we can always show you how when you can’t do something, but when you don’t want to know, there is nothing we can do. Therefore, we hope we can trigger your interest in as many things as possible! Then we will be delighted to provide you with the “infrastructure” that is required, ranging from love and attention to toys and material to taking you out to all the places in the world that you want or need to see! We aim to facilitate your creativity, persistence, confidence, and open-mindedness – all the things that are important for identifying and following or making happen what you need for your own happiness. In other words: We hope we can support the development and maturation of your six senses so that you can use them to interact with your environment and cope with the difficulties that it confronts you with in the best possible way. We won’t choose your hobby, your job or your boyfriend! You don’t need to be super smart, highly skilled or extraordinarily pretty and popular! We just hope that you will be able to make choices that you are satisfied with and that “suit you”! At this point, you are about to enter the third phase: Aligning your choices and decisions for your physical and psychological needs to your values and beliefs. How do we as parents influence you on that? It will not be like supporting mathematical skills by doing puzzles with you, supporting creativity by doing role-playing games or handcrafting, supporting good health by sports and proper diet. We can only try hard to be good idols and mentors on that. We can be friendly and nice to everyone, propagate compassion, patience, good will and moral life conduct, then maybe you might follow our example. But the better option would be: You reflect on your life and draw your own conclusions on what is “good” and “right”! I am sure, if we provide you with life circumstances that support the full development of your physical and psychological self, then your spiritual self will develop “automatically”! The only “value” that I hope we can “give” you is “peacefulness” (which is something like “love” in my understanding). Whenever I see families falling apart in disharmony and fighting, the reason is usually a disagreement on worldviews and both sides stubbornly insisting on their own position. Children usually don’t accuse their parents of “not fulfilling their physical needs”, and also seldom complain like “Why didn’t you support my three-dimensional thinking ability when I was little?!”. They usually riot against their parents as adolescents because they feel misunderstood, not respected, not supported or – as the worst case – not loved. We certainly have our ideals and there are a few things (like committing crimes, letting your health decay or being driven away from your inner balance by the influence of outer powers (something you will regret later)) that we would have severe difficulties with, but as long as we can see that your choices and decisions make you sustainably happy and as long as you can convince yourself and us that your choices are made on the basis of your ideas and beliefs, we will support you to go ahead! You can make mistakes and change your way any time you think it is necessary, and we will still support you! The best we can do is: offer you our ears and advises whenever you need them! Talk about and clarify whatever you are not sure of! From my own experience I can tell you: a worldview or personal belief and value system is nothing constant or fixed. It is constantly challenged and undergoing refinements and changes. The more you experience the more you will reflect on the sense and nonsense of your worldviews. The more you talk about your opinions, thoughts, ideas and feelings the better you understand them and the more alternative viewpoints you will get as response so that you can get inspirations from a bigger pool of ideas. This is what we can do for you: Take our family as a never-fading “nest of peace” and source of inspiration and ideas. We invite you to share your inside with us, same as we share ours with you. What you take from it is secondary. I am far from expecting you to be like me or your Mom! You will be “better”! Then I have no doubt that you will find a spirit that can enable a life full of harmony, love and self-fulfillment!