On the Impossibility of a Search for the Self

| November 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

I would venture to say that college is a period of time in which both the least is known about the self and the most is learned about it with the coming of each new day. This strange paradox frightens some and invigorates others, yet the search for self unites us all.

How exactly does one go about this search? Is there a succession of steps that we all ought to follow in order to reach a predetermined formula of what lies within? When the image of who we truly are reveals itself in total clarity, do we like what we see? Is it even possible for this image to be revealed in total clarity?

Howard Thurman has addressed and attempted to answer all these questions in his meditation “Growing in Love,” and I’m sure in many others as well. He states that there is so much more to him than what he is doing at any singular moment, than he can ever hope to represent in one instance. He gracefully weaves together the frail reality of the self; most of what we know of ourselves comes from perceptions remarked by beings outside of ourselves, and for someone to destroy the self, all they must do is make the self feel hatred when faced with its own image. We ought to use today, and all other days, as a tool for uncovering the truth of the self by attending to that which is real, that which constitutes the reality outside of subjective opinions of the self.

I am inclined to agree that the self image many come to hold is a bundle comprised mainly of the remarks and opinions of others concerning the self, and that the journey to uncovering what objectively lies beneath is arduous and painful. I have come to see my self as a soul that possesses a brain and a body. The mind and body thus stand separate from my soul in that they are physical entities. The only ways in which I can attempt to fully express the contents of my soul are physical; body language and verbal communication are all I have.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

One might argue here that verbal communication is nonphysical; I would disagree. The human mind (a physical entity) is capable of understanding and creating vastly complex notions and ideas, one of which was the development of language. Verbal communication was thus designed by a physical brain and is a possibility only through the mechanism of the vocal chords in combination with the tongue and mouth to produce them, and the structures of our ears, which allow us to hear them. They are inherently physical in that they stem directly from a physical existence and can only develop here. Indeed even private thought aimed at uncovering the contents of the soul stems from the physical brain.


Here we find yet another paradox; the only tools we have been given (bodily and verbal communication, thought) to collectively and introspectively endure the search for the self are inherently physical. To attempt to reach the nonphysical through the physical is the futility we so excitedly begin to examine in these years of school. And yet, Thurman urges us to bring our love of self to “grow more and more in knowledge”; we must use everything available to us in the focusing of the image of the self. Even if it will never come into full clarity, loving the most objective image of the self that a human can realize brings us strength in perception and action, along with an ability to selflessly attend to and love other individuals.


photo credit: Flооd via photopin cc

photo credit: Flооd via photopin cc


** If you are at all interested in the thoughts of Howard Thurman or would like to learn more about him, come to the Thurman Group on Friday evenings. It is held by Demarius J. Walker at 5:30PM in the Thurman Room in the basement of Marsh Chapel. Free tea and extraordinary conversation to end each week!



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On Being via photopin cc

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About the Author ()

Emma (CAS '15) is a Sociology major and Art History minor. Favorite things include but are not limited to summertime, people watching, the color orange, and really big dogs. The majority of her time is spent daydreaming, and her favorite form of exercise is laughing until her stomach hurts. Cheesy horror films and outrageous modern art are also greatly appreciated.

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