The Mind and the Self

Christopher Bollas—

Most of us go through the simple realities of each day not giving things much thought.  From the routine—like what we make for breakfast—to the unexpected, like road construction blocking our way to work, one event seems to follow another  in that unpredictable pattern that just happens to be our life.

Not giving much thought to everyday things is actually rather smart as our mind, the curious wonder of being human, is best left to rest and not be troubled with ideas that arouse anxieties or insist upon the mental resolution to issues that seem beyond its influence.

But our self is, of course, troubled by odd thoughts—not to mention dreams—that cross our mind and impose powerful effects upon our preference for a tranquil day or night.  And if you fall into the realm of the “mentally disturbed” then you will know that the mind is often enough experienced as one’s worst enemy.  If so besieged, it may be unconsciously wise to duck out and hide from ones mind, hoping for a better day.

It can be existentially useful to draw a distinction between being a self and having a mind.  To be a self is to be a participant in complex intersections between lived experience in the actual world and the constant flow of our imaginings, both of which just seem to happen to us.  It is perhaps a blessing that we see our selves as somehow just recipient beings frog marched at times into these two realities.

But whereas we may not be able to influence reality much we can think many thoughts and turn to our mind as a sort of companion—oddly the recipient of our daily psychic mail and the sender of our response—as if we are always a division between our selves and then our minds that make things out of experience.

We might wish it to be another way.  At times this subjective division is hazardous.  At other times it moves from the merciful to the inspirational.  I would not wish it to be any other way.

Christopher Bollas is a psychoanalyst, practicing for over 40 years. He has published many books (non-fiction and fiction) including The Shadow of the Object, Being a Character, and most recently When the Sun Bursts.

Further Reading:

When the Sun Bursts book cover

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