Every day is All Fools Day when you’re just being yourself. Same beginning. Then two trillion -or more- cells later, we come apart. In between we acquire a repertoire of habits. Vincent Deary’s ‘How we are’, the first in his trilogy of How to Live, picks apart what makes us ourselves. In essence, a person and their reality, make up their personality. That’s me speaking, not Deary (and what a wonderful name for a pseudo-philosopher).
I was looking for an index in his book so I could quote back some Gurdjieff, but deary me, Deary has no index. I’m lazy, so I’ll not bother I’ll just tell you what I remember of Gurdjieff, a hazy memory of the guru making his disciples leap out of bed and assume a complicated yogic position. He was pushing them beyond themselves, to become another self. The new self is the same as the old self, but has more of a repertoire. The old new is replaced by the new you. Science is a body of knowledge but also a way of looking at the world. Scientists love baselines. Take a cyclist, measure his lung capacity, heart rate, how much the wheel turns when he cycles. Keep pushing. Establish a new you. Pick up your Olympic gold medal. Good in theory.
Most habits are incidental. Where did I put those tea-bags. We don’t think. We do. We reach for the tea-bags. When something goes wrong the process of thinking and not thinking unravels. We are creatures of habit. Deary ask difficult question of how we make ourself? And he asks the related question of how can we make ourself better. Even primordial sludge leaves a track. He follows that route that suggests we follow the path of least resistance. Our bodies are geared to react in a particular way. We run before full recognition sets in that a bear is looming out of the darkness. If the bear turns into a blanket blowing in the wind, we rationalise it. We add facts onto events, not the other way about. We rationalise it.
How to Live looks at how we accumulate and grow into seeing things in a particular way. We are not alone, he suggests. Others too have seen the bear. We prepare ourselves.
In the chapter titled ‘Second Natures’, Deary quotes from a TV show I Didn’t Know You Cared, (I’ve never heard of it) ‘What are we today Gilbert?’ What gives Deary’s book, Deary’s look at his life and the life of others force, is the examples he uses, which gives his book a chatty tone of one bloke down the pub talking to another — about something and nothing. For example he uses the film Ghostbusters (a film I’d never want to watch again, or so I thought). It’s meant to be a comedy. Near the end, Gozer, a Sumerian God is about to cross over from the supernatural realm to wipe out downtown New York. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a moot point. Gozer’s job is destruction. The Ghostbusters’ job is salvation. And in this they have admitted failure. Gozer is coming and there is nothing they can do about it. But -and there always is – the demonic herald, while not exactly a democrat, has checked the rule book and he has to allow the protagonists, the Ghostbusters, to decide in what form Gozer the Destroyer becomes manifest. Dan Aykroyd thinks Puff Marshmallow Man. Gozer the Destroyer turns into a figure of fun. Deary’s point is that in times of transition we can and do make choices.
How do old habits become new habits? Rehearsal. We can always change our mind. We can change our heart. When choices arise we make the right one for us. If life was that simple, Deary Deary, but he doesn’t become puffed up about it.