from the Online Etymology Dictionary
1640s, “animating spirit,” from L. psyche, from Gk. psykhe “the soul, mind, spirit, breath, life, the invisible animating principle or entity which occupies and directs the physical body” (personified as Psykhe, the lover of Eros), akin to psykhein “to blow, cool,” from PIE root *bhes- “to blow” (cf. Skt. bhas-). The word had extensive sense development in Platonic philosophy and Jewish-influenced theological writing of St. Paul. In English, psychological sense is from 1910.
The psyche is an aspect of myself that is often wrestling. Not the deep ocean psyche remembered in the first part of the definition about, but the “psychological sense … from 1910”. There is a quality of knowing that is restful and listening and another that writhes. The second of these is a regular bedfellow, the other coats our entire experience.
This 1910 psyche requires a continuous oxygen of thought. It needs problems to dwell on, situations to solve. It is repetitive and compulsive. It is not knowing of reality, it creates it as its own. It is a self-perpetuating husk of thought, vibrating notions into the surroundings. At best it is irritating, at worst it can paralyse me with a desperate sense of my insignificance.
The mental health of people is something not often disclosed. I am sometimes aware of the deep discomfort of the person I am talking with as they sense I am not all there. I am generally a cogent, coherent individual, with slightly odd interests and a tendency to speak far too much or be intensely silent. I am not mentally ill but there are moments when I am unbalanced and I am lucky enough that circumstances allow me to shut up shop and watch films for a couple of days until relaxation arrives and tasks can be grappled with anew.
Once someone said to me “You know that something needs taking care of too.” It was a remarkable comment, and strange that I could not think why I would admit to them that the psyche (as understood since 1910) was acting up that day. She does brushed aside the concern and told me to take care. I ate soup and watched Midnight in Paris. At times such as this the €1.20 Turkish bread from the corner bakery lasts me a whole day. Two types of dip and/or marmite will see me serence and well catered for.
I heard that the director of KONY 2012 was found running up and down the street naked, ranting, beating the sidewalk and “possibly masturbating” . The explosion of pressure from the attention he received made something snap in his brain and he went to an institution. I hope he is better. I hope he takes things slowly.
They say that shocks to the ill health remind us of what is important. But we spend our lives pursuing interests that tax, that burden that cause us to lose sleep and a great deal of stress. Often the most “worth it” things involve struggle, obstacles overcome. The placid passage would be dull, is that really the soul’s cry?
I prefer to think that the shock that comes after ill health – the remembering of placidity, of care, of support – is an understanding that these qualities rest in the struggling times also. We break down because we forget. They are the things that carry us through, like God in that popular story I often used to receive in birthday cards carrying the man over the rocks on the beach as he looked back through his life.
I do not think our goal is to be placid. We adore achievement and hang it round our neck and that of our friends. But it cannot give us worth, finally. It can make us forget that we do not know the reason of these strugglings and strivings, and the being laid gently down to rest. But when the question properly arises, in the moment it is fully allowed, how will we deal with it?
Then we can know if we have fully achieved; fully breathed, fully known and not shrunk back.
It may take an awful lot of struggle before we have that strength.