life of one’s own
(2011) by Marion Milner
The same year she married Dennis Milner (1892-1954), inventor, amateur economist, play writer, and also well-known for his call for a minimum income for all citizens
Their son John was born in 1932. They divorced in 1943.
Introduced to psychoanalytic ideas by her brother Patrick Blackett, the physicist and later Nobel prize-winner, Marion Milner went into analysis in Boston with Irma Putnam, at that time a Jungian. After her return to England in 1929, she worked as a psychologist for the Girls’ Public Day Schools Trust from 1933 until war broke out in 1939. She did research on “difficult” pupils’ problems (The Human Problem in Schools) and gave psychology lectures for the Workers Education Association. In 1934 (under the pseudonym of “Joanna Field”) her autobiographical book A Life of One’s Own, the first and best known of her journal based books, was published.
Marion Milner (1900–1998), sometimes known as Marion Blackett-Milner, was a British author and psychoanalyst. Outside psychotherapeutic circles, she is better known by her pseudonym, Joanna Field, as a pioneer of introspective journaling
In 1926, Milner began an introspective journey that later became one of her best-known books, A Life of One’s Own (initially published under the name Joanna Field in 1934). This started as a journal in which she would note down times that she felt happy and thoughts going through her head at those times, in an attempt to discover what happiness was; however, her introspection branched out into other areas, from an analysis of day-to-day worries to experiences which some reviewers described as “mystical”. Milner’s basic technique is a kind of introspection, observing fleeting thoughts (“butterfly thoughts”, as she calls them) combined with an openness to sensory experience she calls “wide awareness”. A Life of One’s Own was well-received, attracting favorable reviews from such literary notables as W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender, and soon afterwards, she published a work on similar lines (again as Joanna Field), An Experiment in Leisure
on hold at library
intro’d to Marion and her book here via maria: A Life of One’s Own: A Penetrating 1930s Field Guide to Self-Possession, Mindful Perception, and the Art of Knowing What You Really Want
a world which, in the sobering words of E.E. Cummings, “is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else.”
In 1926, more than a decade before a team of Harvard psychologists commenced history’s longest and most revelatory study of human happiness and half a century before the humanistic philosopher Erich Fromm penned his classic on the art of living, the British psychoanalyst and writer Marion Milner (February 1, 1900–May 29, 1998) undertook a seven-year experiment in living, aimed at unpeeling the existential rind of all we chronically mistake for fulfillment — prestige, pleasure, popularity — to reveal the succulent, pulsating core of what makes for genuine happiness.
Along her journey of “doubts, delays, and expeditions on false trails,” which she chronicled in a diary with a field scientist’s rigor of observation, Milner ultimately discovered that we are beings profoundly different from what we imagine ourselves to be — that the things we pursue most frantically are the least likely to give us lasting joy and contentment, but there are other, truer things that we can train ourselves to attend to in the elusive pursuit of happiness
she set out to doubt her most fundamental assumptions about what made her happy, trying to learn not from reason alone but from the life of the senses.
I found that there were different ways of perceiving and that the different ways provided me with different facts. There was a narrow focus which meant seeing life as if from blinkers and with the centre of awareness in my head; and there was a wide focus which meant knowing with the whole of my body, a way of looking which quite altered my perception of whatever I saw. And I found that the narrow focus way was the way of reason. If one was in the habit of arguing about life it was very difficult not to approach sensation with the same concentrated attention and so shut out its width and depth and height. But it was the wide focus way that made me happy.
Although I could not have told about it at the time, I can now remember the feeling of being cut off from other people, separate, shut away from whatever might be real in living. I was so dependent on other people’s opinion of me that I lived in a constant dread of offending, and if it occurred to me that something I had done was not approved of I was full of uneasiness until I had put it right. I always seemed to be looking for something, always a little distracted because there was something more important to be attended to just ahead of the moment.
Much of that aliveness, she notes, came from the very act of chronicling the process of self-examination, for attention is what confers interest and vitality upon life.
If just looking could be so satisfying, why was I always striving to have things or to get things done? Certainly I had never suspected that the key to my private reality might lie in
so apparently simple a skill as the ability to let the senses roam unfettered by purposes..t
I began to wonder whether eyes and ears might not have a wisdom of their own.
I had been continually exhorted to define my purpose in life, but I was now beginning to doubt whether life might not be too complex a thing to be kept within the bounds of a single formulated purpose, whether it would not burst its way out… So I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose which I did not know.
Here then was a deadlock. I wanted to get the most out of life, but the more I tried to grasp, the more I felt that I was ever outside, missing things.
let go of the things you have to cling to
At that time I could not understand at all that my real purpose might be to learn to have no purposes..t
I had at least begun to guess that my greatest need might be to let go and be free from the drive after achievement — if only I dared..t
I had also guessed that perhaps when I had let these go, then I might be free to become aware of some other purpose that was more fundamental, not self-imposed private ambitions but some thing which grew out of the essence of one’s own nature. People said: ‘Oh, be yourself at all costs’. But I had found that it was not so easy to know just what one’s self was. It was far easier to want what other people seemed to want and then imagine that the choice was one’s own..t
It struck me as odd that it had taken me so long to reach a feeling of sureness that there was something in me that would get on with the job of living without my continual tampering..t.. I suppose I did not really reach it until I had discovered how to sink down beneath the level of chattering thoughts and simply feel what it meant to be alive.
reminds me of james when he was describing/helping us with detox
I had just begun to ponder over the fact that all the things which I had found to be sources of happiness seemed to depend upon the capacity to relax all straining, to widen my attention beyond the circle of personal interest, and to look detachedly at my own experience. I had just realized that this relaxing and detachment must depend on a fundamental sense of security, and yet that I could apparently never feel safe enough to do it, because there was an urge in me which I had dimly perceived but had never yet been able to face. It was then that the idea occurred to me that until you have, once at least, faced everything you know — the whole universe — with utter giving in, and let all that is “not you” flow over and engulf you, there can be no lasting sense of security.
By continual watching and expression I must learn to observe my thought and maintain a vigilance, not against “wrong” thoughts, but against refusal to recognize any thought. Further, this introspection meant continual expression, not continual analysis; it meant that I must bring my thoughts and feelings up in their wholeness, not argue about them and try to pretend they were something different from what they were.
I had learnt that if I kept my thoughts still enough and looked beneath them, then I might sometimes know what was the real need, feel it like a child leaping in the womb, though so remotely that I might easily miss it when over-busy with purposes.
Really, then, I had found that there was an intuitive sense of how to live.
It was only when I was actively passive, and content to wait and watch, that I really knew what I wanted.
So I had finally come to the conclusion that my task was to become more and more aware, more and more understanding with an understanding that was not at all the same thing as intellectual comprehension….t
Without understanding, I was at the mercy of blind habit; with understanding, I could develop my own rules for living and find out which of the conflicting exhortations of a changing civilization was appropriate to my needs. And, by finding that in order to be more and more aware I had to be more and more still,..t.. I had not only come to see through my own eyes instead of at second hand, but I had also finally come to discover what was the way of escape from the imprisoning island of my own self-consciousness.