September 26, 2006

The Change of Life

One of the things that is contributing to my rising level of general happiness with life these days is an increasing level of self-awareness.

A large part of this is merely acknowledging various facts of my existence and my motives in making some of the decisions I make. I don't always make the right decisions for the right reasons. When you make the wrong decision, it's sometimes hard to admit it. When you make any decision for the wrong reasons, though, I think it's harder to admit that your reasons were wrong; sometimes it's hard to even identify those wrong reasons.

But lately I've been making a strong effort to be honest with myself about who I am even at the risk of not being too pleased with who I am.

Good examples are my earlier post about drugs and the one about my experience with child abuse. Another is my efforts to figure out what to do for a career.

It sounds stupid, I guess, but admitting that I'm curious about what it is like to take illicit drugs doesn't really mesh well with the image I have of how I should be.

And that's the problem I'm trying to dismantle here. The problem is one of an intrinsicist premise in my self image.

Intrinsicism is the idea that there is some inherent value in things without regard to their context. A similar mistake is subjectivism which is the idea that things have any value you want them to have.

The proper way to look at the world is to acknowledge that things ARE how they are and that the value of of things is determined by how they fit within the particular context of a human life.

For instance, an intrinsicist view of penicillin is that it is always good because it cures disease. A subjectivist may look at penicillin and say it's good or bad depending on how they feel about it at the moment, like today I like it because it's a pretty color but tomorrow I don't because it has a bitter taste.

Objectively, the value of penicillin depends on its value to a particular human life. I'm allergic to penicillin. If I take it, I get a crazy rash on my skin. Unless there is some dire reason to take it that supercedes the risk that I will develop a fatal allergic reaction, penicillin is bad for me.

This principle applies to one's emotions, too. It's not helpful to prescribe how one should feel about something and then insist that is how one feels in spite of the fact that one doesn't feel that way. That's called repression or delusion or something bad.

One time Buddhista told me that during her studies of Buddhism she learned to "greet" her emotions.

Like me, she has a strong personality and she prides herself on her ability and independence. She likes being successful and pushes herself to accomplish a lot in her life. I've been fortunate enough to share some good times with her and some trying times.

We came to talk about this idea of "greeting" one's emotions, I think, in discussing how angry someone made me at work one day.

The idea she was recommending to me was to stop and simply acknowledge the emotion of anger and even explore the breadth and depth of it, to fully experience the emotion for a moment before putting it away and addressing the situation that inspired the anger.

Although I don't advocate Buddhism, I found good sense in her recommendation. For one thing, it requires that one stop and be honest about what one is feeling. Rather than bottling up all of one's frustrations and trying to work as if they were not there, you stop to address all of the facts of reality in order to effectively address everything that needs to be addressed, which includes your psychological well-being as well as your outward well-being.

I've gotten pretty good at managing my anger and even my frustration with things I don't like and so I'm trying to take this practice and address other emotions. Maybe it's in a romantic relationship or just friendship. Maybe it's just reflecting on the hurt and insecurity inflicted by an abusive parent. Maybe it's acknowledging intrigue at other experiences in life.

In any case, experiencing an emotion about something doesn't mean that you're a bad person or that you have some weird, deep-seated character flaw. Since emotions are responses to values. Curiosity is an emotion driven by a desire for knowledge and experience.

Taking a moment to identify every emotion I feel and consciously identifying the correspondant causes has been a very helpful. On one hand it frees me up to actually experience an emotional experience completely, but without being overwhelmed or confused by it.

Supposing that one doesn't care for how one responds to something emotionally, given that emotions are responses to values, unless one properly identifies one's emotions one can't possibly identify the antecedent values and the ideas that lead to their adoption.

It's a simple idea that I've held in my mind consciously, but I think I am finally integrating it and shedding what remains of any intrinsicist premise I may have had from my Christian upbringing.

It makes me excited for the future and for life. It feels like a new adventure.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 26, 2006 07:49 PM | TrackBack
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