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That all witting and feeling of a man’s own being must needs be lost if the perfection of this word shall verily be felt in any soul in this life.

LOOK that nought work in thy wit nor in thy will but only God. And try for to fell all witting and feeling of ought under God, and tread all down full far under the cloud of forgetting. And thou shalt understand, that thou shalt not only in this work forget all other creatures than thyself, or their deeds or thine, but also thou shalt in this work forget both thyself and also thy deeds for God, as well as all other creatures and their deeds. For it is the condition of a perfect lover, not only to love that thing that he loveth more than himself; but also in a manner for to hate himself for that thing that he loveth.
Thus shalt thou do with thyself: thou shalt loathe and be weary with all that thing that worketh in thy wit and in thy will unless it be only God......

Cloud of Unknowing - Christian Classics Ethereal Library

William Johnston's modern English translates "witting and feeling of a man's own being" as "radical self centered awareness of one's own being.  I'm not sure which of the different meaning of "radical" are intended here, but i think the word "extreme" fits as well.  Certainly, a person's interest in his or her "self" is neither optimal nor moderate in wealthy countries in the 21st centuries.  What about England in the 14th?

I do not know of any society where people do not have personal names.  Each needs to be identifiable as him or herself, not just part of a larger group, but self identity.  I had a friend who was an otherwise modern person who, when introducing himself to others, always mention his tribe, then his grandmother, and then his personal name.  Each person also had peculiarities of behavior, attitude, ideas, and appearance that marked her or him as a little different from others; still, tribe and family came first, "I' stayed in the background.  In Advanced Horticultural and Pastoral societies personalities developed in Chiefs or in men on horseback or camelback or who got carried about by servants.  Unfortunately, what grew in the elites shrunk in the common people.  Leaders become more identifiable, others less.  This trend strengthened in Agrarian societies as chiefs became kings and followers, by and large became landless peasants.  If peasants were to ever been asked their opinions about polical, economic, or religious matters that impacted their lives they would likely have looked at their questioner with puzzled expressions.  I am not a king, a merchant, or a priest, why would i have an opinion?

Even when societies were agrarian, the English were a little different.  Even before the conquest, their families were smaller. they preferred to live separate from other people, even from other British.  In 1215 the lower nobility declared their equality with their king.  Could commoners be far behind?  The Renaissance had begun (see the section on "self awareness in the wikipaedia article) and the Bubonic Plague had ended with a much smaller population better able to set its own terms for employment,  etc.

The monk must have noticed something; perhaps it was monks complaining about their accomodations.  He writes a lot about cleverness and self will.  Even 650 years ago he could see the shift from a healthy self concept to a bloated ego.  We no longer stood tall in a universe of which we were an integraled part; we began raging through a  world we thought we dominated.

Of course i must put myself, especially myself, beneath the cloud of forgetting.  He who treasures his life will loose it, but one  who loses one's life will save it..



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