Philosophy in Practice | Cape Town


QA 27. (Jan 11) The philosopher queen gets her gruntle back

QA 27. (Jan 11) The philosopher queen gets her gruntle back

  • Posted by Helen Douglas
  • On January 21, 2011
  • cranky, disgruntled, Freud, Heidegger, mental states, philosophical counselling, projection, self-assertion

(or A taste of my own medicine)

* A small taste for those who have wondered how philosophical counselling/practice works. You might notice the constant inter-play of feelings, words, images and ideas, and how different strategies are utilised.

Disgruntled, grumpy, ugh. A smuttering dissatisfaction, all the more annoying for its sheer pettiness. Objectless but fidgety, ennui with ants in its pants. Ugh. What to do?

Assert your will, why don’t you? (I tell myself.) Spring into action. Just do it! This is a discontent with the present, its unbearable overwhelming immobilised presentness. As if your car had broken down in some god-forsaken one-horse town and there’s no help ’til Tuesday. With any luck, you’re in a bad movie. What wouldn’t you give for zombies with chainsaws now? Little Miss Crankyboots wants some entertainment, some distraction, someone to cajole her out of this funky misery. She’s settling into it now, dressing it up with little touches of stubbornness, spite and resentment. Will gives way to wilfulness. Ugh. (But one could almost laugh.)

Actually, I’m generally not big on willpower. (Being your own boss is also being your own wage slave. Who needs it?)  Reason might work better. How’s this… This disgrunt is just a transient mental state. It has come upon me out of the blue and into the blue it shall surely return. I could simply endure it, shove it in my back pocket, occupy myself with mindless chores. Then when the mood has passed, at least the bed will be made, the floors swept and the toilet bowl sparkling… But still, ugh. Not good enough.

This state has a weird energy. It only knows what it doesn’t want — and it doesn’t want this. It wants something else. What? Who knows? Just go! There’s a neurotic edge: a bit of fright, some meanness, a big dollop of impatience. Nasty. The Tao Te Ching has it right, as usual: “there is no greater disaster than discontent.” And then the neighbours’ dogs start to yap and their children to squall and how annoying is that! Shut up already! Ah, projection. As Freud would say, I’m relocating the trouble in here out there. Another attempt not to be here now. (Which also seems pretty funny, once I notice it.)

But once I notice it, the word “projection” holds a key. Heidegger used it in a completely different way, suggesting that we humans “project” ourselves – throw ourselves – into our future possibilities. And a “project” is also a piece of work. Well, at the moment, I find myself somewhat between projects. There’s no pressing deadlines. Nothing to pull or push me forward. Nothing demanding my attention. I’m just stuck here. Stuck in the middle with me. Ugh.

Aha! Now I can see my mistake. There’s actually nothing wrong with this situation; it’s just unfamiliar. Instead of anxious, I could feel relieved. Instead of rushing out, I could welcome a bit of stillness, take the time to be aware of the world going on, and of me going on as well. To attend to reality with the proper measure of patience and curiosity. Surprisingly, it feels something like freedom, something like grace. Ah!



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