Sometimes it seems that life is a progression toward greater and greater capacities for self regulation. As we grow and develop, we achieve a greater degree of control over what we do, what we accomplish, and what we know. With a finer and finer discernment we can choose better what we want to incorporate into our lives and what we want to leave aside. There is, however, some distance between having a cognitive grasp of regulatory ideals, having a comprehension of them, and having an apprehension of them on the one hand, and pursuing them on the other.
For this distinction, we could understand cognition as knowing: we know what our ideals are or we read something which suggests how obstacles to our achievement can occur. Comprehension is when we understand something: we understand our ideals, why we choose them, what they entail, and how they translate into everyday life. Apprehension is a type of knowing that is direct and not mediated by cognition: we may enter a situation, immediately recognize what our ideal response is, and act on it without thought or analysis.
What obstructs our pursuit of our ideals, both self-caretaking, caregiving, and other-directed, may not be resolved simply by better understanding in any of its forms. There may be some internal argument, outside of our awareness that interferes with our straightforward pursuit of what is important to us. Have you ever found yourself inexplicably unable to do something you had decided to do? Or alternatively, doing something you had decided NOT to do? How do you explain that to yourself?
Our free choice of how we expend our energy and time is limited in many ways. Perhaps the most frustrating limitation is our own internal process of regulating our energy. We know what we want to be pursuing, we know how to pursue it, we believe it is important and worthwhile, and yet we do not do it. This is not really freedom. This is us getting hijacked by our own unconscious.
There are some processes that can release us to greater freedom in our personal choices. One of those is understanding our own goals and obstacles in all the senses of understanding–cognitively, comprehendingly, and apprehendingly. Another more subtle influence is the experience we have of ourselves in relationships which are significant to us. When we are with trusted people, we see ourselves in the ways they reflect to us. The interaction of how we experience the other person, how they reflect us to ourselves, and the circumstances of the situation creates a context in which we experience our deepest motivations and, beyond that, can act on them in a straightforward manner. The pleasure of good long-term psychotherapy is creating a relationship where we can be deeply known and understood, and which then leads us to greater self-understanding and knowledge.
Sometimes it is not enough to know what we want, we also have to be able to go out and make it happen to the extent possible in the real world. Our relationships form a context, our ideals generate motivations and direction, and ultimately, we are responsible agents in creating our lives out of the resources we can access.
Every part of the equation is important. We cannot control the world. We cannot control other people. But we can increasingly learn to regulate the expenditure of our resources: time, money, physical energy, attention, and relationships by choosing what to pursue and how to do it. The judgement necessary to make these choices is free to the extent that we understand, know, comprehend, and apprehend the many factors, both internal and external, influencing in those choices.