On Possibility

The Desire to Be, paper collage, 2022

A few months ago, another blogger posed to me, during the course of a lengthy conversation about psychology, a hypothetical scenario: he was depressed, drinking too much, disshelved, had lost all interest in work, relationships, hobbies, had become, in some sense, indifferent to living. What’s the first thing I would tell him to do? My (truncated) response: quit drinking and clean yourself up. Restore some sense of order to your mind and to your immediate environment. Not a bad response, I don’t think. But not a complete one, either.

I remembered this scenario earlier today as I was contemplating, of all things, the importance of novelty. Of both seeking out new experiences and of continually seeking “freshness” in our perceptions—that is, to see the world differently through art, literature, through the lens of nature (or, perhaps, through the lens of a camera), etc. There is, of course, a rather obvious (and superficial) connection between novelty-seeking and excitement, restoring one’s lust for life through adventure, thrill-seeking, pleasure-seeking, etc. All of which produce only transient “highs”. 

But there is also, I think, a much deeper relationship between lack of novelty and the kind of indifference, the kind of apathetic response to life, described above. Rollo May would have said that my friend was suffering from a failure to orient himself toward the future. And he would have been right. 

Said differently: what my friend needs is to get a sense of his own possibility. Of himself beyond the right here-and-now of his circumstances. I could tell him to quit drinking and make his bed 150 times over—and he might know perfectly well that he should do those things for himself—but that doesn’t mean he will do them. To the contrary. He probably won’t…unless he has a sense that he is possible.

And how do we gain a sense of our own possibility? That is, that another, perhaps richer, more rewarding life exists beyond the present—that another version of ourselves is possible just beyond our limitations, beyond our current routines, habits, and perceptions? By seeking novelty. By doing something differently. By seeing differently. After all, it is impossible, to my mind, to propel oneself forward, to set goals, to successfully change bad habits and cultivate better ones without embracing the notion that another version of oneself is not only possible, but desirable, even, perhaps, exciting

You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book… or you take a trip…and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.

Anaïs Nin

The greatest danger of “hibernation”, as Nin calls it, is losing a sense of possibility. There must be a moment in which we see and feel and breathe a sense of the future within ourselves. To shock ourselves into waking.

What’s interesting: this is something of a revelation for me. A revelation that happened because of a book. Just yesterday, I finished a mystery novel I had been reading and decided to try Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I fell in love with immediately. But more than that, it felt like a shot in the arm: I thought, I haven’t read literature—really read literature—in a long time. So I’m going to do that.

I’ve even set a goal for myself: I will read Les Misérables in its entirety by the end of 2022. And once I do that, I will consider setting my sights on War and Peace for 2023. Two novels I’ve always wanted to read but have never quite had the endurance.

What I think: there are different kinds of hibernation: big and small. And the solutions don’t need to be daunting or dramatic. Indeed, sometimes the solutions find us. Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting out and going for a walk on a sunny day or changing the route we take to work, talking with someone new or reconnecting with an old friend. Something—anything—to remind us that another reality is possible. That the present doesn’t need to feel like a prison.

24 responses to “On Possibility”

  1. From your interesting and well-intentioned reflection, I really liked your reference to Anaïs Nin, a woman I have always admired for her literary talent and her fight against the established. She always wanted to express herself freely, it was for that reason that she took refuge in her own world, where the freedom that was forbidden to her from outside reigned. In the end, Anaïs ended up intoxicated by life, she was incapable of not seeking the true matter that accompanied her. “For me, the adventures of the mind, every inflection of thought, every movement, nuance or discovery is an immense source of exhilaration,” she came to write.
    I vividly encourage you to fulfill your deferred project of reading Les Misérables and War and Peace. It will always be more entertaining and enriching than making your bed 150 times.
    Happy Tuesday, L.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you found this interesting. Maslow actually makes similar points in an essay in “Future Visions” about methods for living in the world of higher values…something to discuss another time. I very much respect and enjoy Anaïs Nin’s writings…but it seemed to me (from her unexpurgated diary) that she was intoxicated not by life but by drama, by volatile love affairs, by the push-pull of them. In the passage you cite, there is also a great flare for the dramatic. (Who is actually intoxicated by every thought?) There was an instability in her, I think. Anyway, I thought of you when I was contemplating the importance of novelty (and creativity, insofar as creativity is also a sense of possibility) to well-being. I will enjoy Les Misérables…but only after I make my bed and have a coffee. Good day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Life and drama… What’s the difference?
        Good morning to you too, L. And beware of domestic intoxicating allergies, it is not prudent to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, clean the floor with bleach, nor make the bed several times 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Life and drama? There is a difference. In the case of Anaïs Nin, my impression was that she lived an intentionally theatrical life–from the way she dressed to her many volatile, turbulent love affairs. I think Maslow would talk of these behaviors in terms of deficiency needs–the kind of excitement that’s indicative of an inner restlessness, that produces a “cheap thrill” but is devoid of innate satisfaction (and the pursuit of higher values). That’s not to pass undue judgment on Nin, I hope you understand. I have the utmost respect for her intellect, her sensitivity, and her tremendous insights into the nature of women, especially, but this is how I see her. Do you like Maslow? I think he is, by far, the greatest psychologist of the 2nd half of the 20th century. He once famously said, “A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.” So I don’t think he would agree with you that domestic chores are dangerous. To the contrary, one should learn how to cut vegetables with abandon, to butcher a piece of meat oneself, and generally, to use one’s creative capacities to transform the procedures of bed-making and floor-mopping into rituals, or small celebrations–the kinds of celebrations that inject bits of novelty, spontaneity and joy into our daily lives in order to remind us that we are, in fact, alive and that anything is possible.

        P.s. – If you are interested in adding Maslow to your reading list, I’d be happy to make a recommendation. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liked the example of the first-rate soup a lot. I think I’m going to change Anaïs for Maslow… Do you think that such a drastic decision will be more profitable for me? In any case, I look forward to those recommendations.
        L, please, don’t start a debate about the virtues of cleanliness and order in our respective homes, it’s a theme that I don’t like to explore; a difficult and marshy terrain that is part of the textual construction of female subjectivity, on which I have laid some foundations that now form part of feminist critical analysis. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Most emphatically, “yes.” You should exchange Anaïs for Maslow. As you know, he is most famous for his hierarchy of needs, but I will tell you, first, I think that is partially wrong. (This is something I feel very passionately about.) The hierarchy, or the “pyramid” structure associated with it, is the framework of his theory, but the real substance of it–the “meat” of it–consists of his ideas about cognition and perception. His theory, to my mind, is as much a theory of perception as it is a theory of human motivation; although, he isn’t always taught that way in universities and isn’t presented that way in popular culture, which is unfortunate. His ideas about the relationships between perception, creativity, self-actualization, and the pursuit of higher values are truly extraordinary. I think everyone should read him. If I were you, I would start with “Toward a Psychology of Being.” Not his first book, but it’s a short and enjoyable read. “Religion, Values, and Peak Experiences” and “Motivation and Personality” next. After that, I would recommend his journals and essay collections.
        I won’t lecture you about cleanliness and order, but perhaps you know the saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • As you know, I usually consult with Suzanne any important decision that may affect my life. I’ve called her a few minutes ago and she has given me the approval to do that crucial exchange. And not only that, she has summarized me in a few words, one of Maslow’s main ideas: that refers to the needs that have forced human beings to have the necessary will to overcome all the difficulties presented by all the days. She has also given me the list of the five Maslow’s hierarchical levels. It’s not necessary that I repeat them, you know them very well. But in the end, Suz has told me something that has caused me some concern: “Listen, J. I warn you that Maslow is also remembered for his exceptional optimism about human nature and society. I don’t know if you will be interested in those arguments. I believed you were a faithful disciple of Cioran … ”

        P.s. – I didn’t know the saying: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Sounds like a kind of christian sermon to me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha I think it is a Christian saying…even so, never underestimate the power of a neat and tidy living space. ☺️ And I’m happy Suzanne mentioned Maslow’s optimism—namely, the idea that we are inherently good and will naturally move toward goodness when freed from the demands of ego, the traumas and tribulations of our upbringing, society, etc. It has occurred to me that you might benefit from some of that optimism, J. Perhaps you will find Maslow and his practical advice for seeing more of the beautiful and the good all around you illuminating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll say that phrase to the maid who comes every day to clean my apartment, L. Maybe I’ll tell her about Maslow too. She is a very smart girl. Who knows, if she is interested, we could read your admired and revered teacher together… 🙂

        P.s.- The police tow truck just took my car. I had it badly parked. I have to go to pay the fine and bring it back home. We will keep in touch. Bye! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bye, J. Next week, maybe you can let me know what you think of the concept of B-perception, its relationship to novelty, and directions for future research. I would value your input on his matter as it’s the topic of my thesis at the J. Disler Psychoanalytic Institute. I hope you don’t get arrested. 👮‍♂️ Be well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, L. I will really need that time -about six or eight days I think– to give you my humble but qualified opinion about the concept of perception B and its relationship with novelty and addresses for future research. As you will understand, I have to work deeply and carefully in that topic, given the importance of your thesis and the high level of demand that the J. Disler Psychoanalytic Institute has throughout the world. I’ll keep you informed.

        No, the police didn’t arrest me when I went to pick up my car. Moreover, they invited me to a coffee and I signed a lot of autographs to them.. 🙂

        Happy Wednesday.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I really appreciate it. I figured it would take you some time and careful research into the topic. You know how strict Dr. Disler is. His standards are impossibly high, and if he knew I was consulting you, well, that could be the end of me…☠️especially, given his past relationship with Suzanne. I heard they were married once, for the length of a weekend in Haiti.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true, L. Dr Disler has a terrible fame. I have a friend who worked two months at his Institute. A week ago, Freddy, my friend, told me he was able to hear the menace that this unfriendly doctor threw an Irish girl who was studing there: “I’ll rip your guts out..!” –really pronounced with a kind of cruel and scarcely poetic intention.
        Of his relationship with Suzanne and their stay in Haiti I know nothing. It’s hard to believe, cause he’s gay and rabidly racist.
        I’ll also keep you informed about it. 🕵️‍♂️

        Liked by 1 person

      • You mean he wanted to whips you with his tie…? Uff, well, it could have been worse, L. The police suspect Dr. Disler of being a cannibal (a person who eats the flesh of other human beings), and what’s more, before dissuading his victims –most of them young and beautiful– he forces them to watch a movie starring Armie Hammer.
        If I were you, I would forget about submitting your thesis to that sinister Institute… 😲

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s ok. I’ve just gotten off the telephone with Dr. Suzanne Manicozzi, his personal therapist, and she told me she relieved Dr. Disler of his cannibalism years ago. Now, he simply likes to whip younger women with his neckties and fetishize over a pair of great inflatable plastic feet. Anyway, I will finish my thesis and go on to rival him as the greatest researcher in the field of Being-perception in history. That’s my final decision. 👩‍🏫

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s your risk, L. I wish you luck. Oh, and if he tries to spank you again, ask him to do it with one of his Italian silk ties.

        Happy Thursday, you brave poet!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a fantastic post. Pursuing possibility is not only how we should live but how we “need” to live. Otherwise, as you have so perfectly stated, we simply never awaken and live in a type of death or hibernation indefinitely. And I agree with you, it doesn’t have to be something big to jumpstart this possibility. A song, a walk, rising early to watch the sunrise..it ignites possibility and the hope that we can always be more, do more, understand more, discover more..it’s endless possibility..endless magic..such a wonderful entry 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, my friend! It is all too easy to slip into a state of hibernation, to become the prisoners of our routines, etc. And sometimes the best solutions really are the simplest, like a book, a song, or taking a walk and feeling the sun shine on our faces. I hope you have a great Wednesday! 🙂

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