Looking out and looking in

Wednesday, April 4th. The 43rd day of Lent.

Two books I commend to you.

Einstein, a biography by Walter Isaacson. I loved this book so much that I decided to read it again in a year. That will be sometime in 2012. There is much about Einstein’s life that is charming. He was apparently a delightful man in many ways. Not a good husband. A somewhat absent father. But for a man who had such a mind and who lived so committed to his work, he was apparently a person that you and I would have enjoyed knowing.

Late in life he was working at Princeton. He was very old and became forgetful about everyday things. His mind remained sharp, though most of his stunning and seemingly intuitive breakthroughs occured in his 20s. But he would forget little things. One day while walking home from Princeton he became lost. He knocked on a door and asked a woman to call his wife. She was shocked to find Einstein on her porch. He was a world famous figure by then. She went to the phone and came back to find him at her kitchen table helping her daughter with her math homework.

Kind of a cute story.

The other book is Jung by Deirdre Bair. Of the two, this one was far more meaningful to me. CG Jung was a counterpart to Einstein. Einstein used the best science of his day and his stunningly intuitive insights to make great leaps forward in our thinking about the way the Cosmos works.

Jung did the same thing for the human mind. He was a doctor and worked for years in psychiatric hospitals, early in the formative years of modern psychiatry. He was a protege of Freud, though they had a falling out when Jung found his own two feet and resisted Freud’s reducing so much of human behavior to sexual impulses.

I find Jung’s model of the human pysche to be deeper and more beautiful than Freud’s, though I admit I’m quite a novice when it comes to understanding either of them.

Two great thinkers of the 20th century. One focused on the outward world and one on the equally mysterious world of the human mind. What is this mind that we have, this mind that has created YOU. The YOU that is reading this right now. The YOU that has a unique personality, forged in the fires of your genetics, your family, your biology, and the seemingly chance encounters of life that no one can predict or control. Is it true that all you are can be explained by the matter of your body and brain? Is it true that when you die, the wonderful framework of your worldview, known only to you, will collapse into nothingness?

I am deeply suspicious of anyone who offers you an absolute answer to that last question.

I have a sense that women in our culture have an advantage in the joyful task of knowing ourselves, because women tend to deal naturally and easily with their emotions. The average man, not so much. But that doesn’t mean we men can’t be just as insightful about our emotions and our deep impulses. It just takes a little more work for us is all. I keep one eye on the world around me. I love science and reading about every physical thing that we discover. But I keep my other eye on my own heart and my own mind. There is a deep mystery that is Gordon Atkinson. Why do I act the way I do? Why do I feel what I feel? What made me to be who I am? These are the inward questions.

And while some people might have a passing interest in me, no one is able to ask the deep questions about my heart except for me. And no one can ever understand the unique person that I am, apart from me and God, if there is a God.

So I look deeply into myself. Sometimes I like what I find there. Sometimes it frightens me. But it is always fascinating stuff.

My approach to the spiritual life, expressed through Christianity, is a melding of the inward and outward journey. Perhaps I’ll write more about that at another time.

Gordon