Lately I’ve been feeling rather at loose ends. Adrift. Unfocussed. Craving something, but unsure what it is.

And there you have four different metaphors with which to describe an internal condition that does not in fact partake of any of them. Nothing in me is untied. I am not in a boat on a body of water. A reduction in the acuity of my optic sensing system is not implicated. Hunger is a physiological state, not a mental one.

This is how consciousness and the intellect work — by means of metaphors. Lately I’ve been re-reading The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes. He inspects this type of mental process in some detail.

The Greeks of the Iliad were not, according to Jaynes, conscious. Not in the way we are. They experienced urges to action as coming from outside them — from the gods.

One common term for what I’m experiencing is “depression.” A mild depression, to be sure, but a real one. It might be fruitful (another metaphor) to acknowledge that the term “depression” is itself a metaphor. A depression is a low place in the ground. It may be boggy. The view is restricted. Climbing out may be laborious. It’s a pretty good metaphor, isn’t it?

Following Jaynes’ view of the ancient Greeks, another word to describe how I’m feeling would be “dispirited.” No invisible spirit is whispering in my ear to stir my limbs to action.

If Jaynes is correct, this may be a nearer description of what actually happens in the brain. The impulses that lead to action begin in the unconscious. After they become conscious, we can say “this is what I felt.” But in truth, “I,” the conscious mind, is not where the impulse originates.

You’ll note that “stir,” “nearer,” and “impulse” are all metaphors … to say nothing of “whispering in my ear.” Writers use such concretizing metaphors as a matter of course. (“Concretizing” and “course” are metaphors. So is “matter.” When something is “of course,” the literal meaning, from the Latin cursus, is that it’s on the racetrack.)

Being dispirited is a problem for which the solution (a metaphor) would surely be spiritual. For an atheist, this realization is awkward (another metaphor). But worth meditating on, I think.

Not, I hasten to add, that I’m planning to start believing in the Big Spook. But I do think religion arises in response to and satisfies a genuine human need — or perhaps several of them. A person with a firm religious faith would, I take it, seldom become dispirited.

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5 thoughts on “Metaphors Be with You

  1. Actually, I think even some religious people can feel dispirited. I saw an episode of Bill Moyers Journal recently in which the interviewee (have to get back to you on who it was) said that his therapist said that maybe he should look at depression not so much as an enemy who was keeping him down, as a friend who was keeping him grounded.

    Sometimes I think that depression is a passage through something.

    And, I’m no so sure that spirit and atheism are antithetical. I’m not certain that thinking that we have a spirit is necessarily realated to a theism. It could be just our life force — energy.

    Anyway, I know that working through depression is not fun. So hope you,come through it soon.

  2. Tibetan Buddhism might be an interesting exploration for you. The Buddhist books I’ve read are more a disection of consciousness with all the appropriate antidotes to the various mental poisons. Not a theism, more discussions of signposts along the path. Dispirited ness still occurs. Reflective study rewards you with insight and increasing ability to navigate through your own life. Enjoyable to read and discuss with friends. Much of the study is understanding the specific Buddhist distinctions, like learning a foreign language.

    The current Dalai Lama quote on my refrigerator is, ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’

  3. Ha ha ha. Seems like the first step might be to understand what is meant by compassion, so you know what you’re requesting. Be well

  4. I have found that depression can be sent on it’s way with force of will. It’s never easy, but it is possible.

    I have found that happiness is not so much an emotion as a state of being. You can choose to be happy, or you can let things and events make you happy.

    I am not a very well off person. I don’t have many luxuries. I have basically just the bare minimum required to live, and a computer with net access. I’m not one who has everything handed to me, and there are many time when I am wondering where the next meal or tank of gas will come from, but I’m very seldom unhappy.

    I make the choice to be happy in what every I am doing. I make the choice to be content with what I have. It’s not always easy, but it is doable.

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