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Sunday, June 21, 2015

You Realized You Had No Intrinsic Self, Then What?

When I first wrote this post I told a fictional story that simply didn't work. After publishing it I realized that something just wasn't working, so I took it down. Now I am going to do the exercise of saying as simply as possible what it is that I was trying to say:

A reader emailed me recently, "You realized you had no intrinsic self, then what?"

-When I began "looking for my authentic self" I imagined a blissful life of only internally motivated pursuits. I had read that most people need years of "unwinding" before they could even begin tinkering with their authentic selves, but what I didn't read is that that "unwinding" can look and feel a lot like depression.
-My journey to authenticity began with a long period of feeling quite sad, sad about myself, about life, about the world, about death. I didn't make the connection at first that what I was feeling was what  I had read about--"unwinding" was not an accurate description of my experience. Perhaps "unwinding" is what happens when a ten-year-old recovers from a few years of school. Perhaps some adults unwind happily, and it was just my experience that was so negative. But... I don't think so.
-I think it is really hard for us to be honest around the subject of unhappiness. I realized this while I was reading The History of Happiness by Darrin McMahon. People have been writing about happiness and the search for inner truth since ancient Greece, and up until two hundred years ago they were pretty frank about the suffering it involved.
-Luckily, I didn't have a problem with the unhappiness I felt (though a couple of my friends did!) When I was in my mid-twenties a French friend of mine invited me to dinner, and I said, "How about tomorrow? I am in a really bad mood today. You do not want to hang out with me." He replied, "Oh you Americans! You think life is supposed to be like Disneyland all the time, and if you're depressed something is wrong with you. I'm French. I don't have a problem with depressed people!" From that moment on, I stopped having a problem with feelings of depression or melancholy or sadness, which enabled me to get to know parts of myself I had long disowned. But I also found a great deal of resistance from my American friends. It seems to me that almost all Americans instantly transform into Mr. Fix-it when you even remotely hint that you may not be Disney Happy. Or they become the Peppy Police and basically disown you unless you agree to put your smile on.
-Which brings me to the road to authenticity and what I want to say: I have seen many people start their journey toward authenticity only to encounter sadness, darkness, depression, whatever you want to call it, and drug out or give up. Or fake out.
-I would like to suggest to adults who come to realize they have no intrinsic motivation and want to find it, that it may require some sadness, perhaps years of sadness. I would like to say that the more honest books I have read admit this, and that it's okay. You will come through. I think back to how Joseph Campbell warned me in his Hero With a Thousand Faces, but I didn't understand the warning (and I don't think I could have).
-I have only been on this road for seven-ish years. Thus far, authenticity isn't a blissful childlike state of joy. At least for me, it is more like peace. I feel a great deal of peace. And clarity which I like too.
-I don't feel unhappy anymore as an overall state, but I would say I am in touch with those feelings when they arise, and I really don't have a problem with them. And I think this is hard for many people to understand--at least one person is going to read this post and worry about me, and it's so hard to explain but: I'm okay. On the days when I say I'm feeling terribly depressed, I'm okay. If I am crying and miserable, I'm okay. Positive emotions feel wonderful! And negative ones feel terrible, and it's okay.

So: I realized I had no self and then… I flailed about feeling confused. Felt. Accepted. Acknowledged. Resisted. Rested. Rested more. Rested more than I ever thought possible. Got bored. Read a lot. Talked to people. Accepted more. Allowed more. Allowed feelings that many people would forbid. And when I was ready to accept the really intense feelings, I gave up all my drugs. That was the most useful thing I did.

On drugs: Our drugs enable us to live lives we couldn't otherwise live.

You go to work. You come home. You are so exhausted all you can do is watch TV and have a beer. So you do. And you do that every day for years. If someone took away your TV and your beer, you would come home from work and stare at the wall and most likely end up feeling your pain. Maybe you would cry or rage or think about killing yourself. Without your drugs you are forced to confront reality.

Two months ago my husband did an experiment where he gave up his drug (TV) and after two weeks of laying in bed in pain after work, he announced he could no longer live this life, and we were finally going to move to Nicaragua full time.

Our drugs enable us to live lives we couldn't otherwise live. If you don't have the drug to help get you through your life… you will have to change your life.

Any substance can be a spice, a medicine, or a drug. It's all about our relationship with the substance, how we use it. Chocolate or a glass of wine can be something that spices up your life and brings you sparkling joy! Or it can be the medicine that changes your mood. Or it can be the way you numb out.

For me, I found that I never actually numb out. I don't do chocolate or movies or wine to the point of numbness. But I was a total self-medicater! Removing my self-medications was actually really easy, partly because the threat is that without your medicine you will suffer and suffering just wasn't a big deal to me anymore, and partly because I am "allowed" to have all of the above substances as long as I have them for the right reason… Which means I basically never get to have them because, as it turns out, I almost never want chocolate, wine, or movies for joy. I usually want them as medicine.

But back to authenticity and what I had wanted to express:

I hope that anyone heading out on their journey does not get put off by their first negative feelings and think something is wrong with them. Or at least, whatever is wrong with you is wrong with me too :)

*For those of you who read the first post and want to get back to the very interesting discussion about the limits of NVC and presence: I will post about it soon! One of the problems in the first version of this post is that I was confusing two ideas.

1 comment:

  1. My mom related to me that a common experience for people in school is to be very tired a few days after any vacation starts. She explained it as the body remembering that it is nice to relax and taking advantage. That seems similar to the idea of finding depression underneath all the BS we have to deal with when we find our way clear of the BS - ie the beginning of unwinding is turning off all the stressors, but some of those stressors happen to be providing us with purpose and drive, too often FAKE purpose and drive, but purpose and drive nonetheless.

    I've also been listening to the School Sucks Podcast. The latest three episodes cover "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk, a lecture by Peter Gerlach, and the Kaiser (in San Diego, my hometown!) ACES (Adverse Childhood Experience Study) in a discussion between Matt Amberson (my youngest daughter befriended his daughter at Libertopia 2011), Brett Veinotte, and Wes Bertrand.

    The mind-body connection has not been very well represented to me in my life by other people. I kind of figured out a lot by myself, but listening to these guys has introduced new information to me, and your post here (and our emails about it) seem pretty serendipitous!