Saturday, December 30, 2017
New York, New York
Celebrate Your Shimmering Individuality in the New Year!
Existence consists of sets of oppositional tensions:
Life versus death, health v. sickness and, of course, self v. other among many others.
The year’s ending, like all years’ endings, invites self-exploration.
It’s also a fine time to consider the other, but I defer that complex topic for another time. Besides, self and other merge into into one another. Consideration of one necessarily informs the other.
In his novel about personhood, A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles provides an insightful, poetic view of individuality. Responding to the question of what first impressions tell us, he protests:
Why, no more than a chord can tell us about Beethoven, or a brushstroke about Botticelli. By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.
Applied to you, the same applies.
The artful you cannot be reduced to a brushstroke.
You too are complex, contradictory, capricious, and deserving ever more reconsideration.
And our views of ourselves should be unwaveringly withheld until we have considered them from every possible view.
But then, who the hell are you?
How can you discover the authentic you?
You can use many ways realizing, however, they all require a surrender to the impossibility of reaching some finite end.
No end exists!
Methods for finding your authentic self rely upon the concept of desire, broadly defined. What do you wish, need, want?
Reflect on experiences you find enjoyable, and contrast them with ones you don’t. Themes in comforts and discomforts, in part, define you.
Think of the people you like, and how they differ from those you dislike. These too, in part, define you.
Consider your attitudes—left, right, middle, radical.
Experiment with your world, observe your desires, and look for consistent streaks.
You get the idea.
Perhaps two decades ago, I played around with dirt and plants in my small backyard. I discovered, unexpectedly, a love for gardening. I remember my father enjoyed it. I never thought I would. Through experimentation, I discovered a soothing, aesthetically pleasing experience for me.
However, as you reflect on your authenticity in the New Year, beware of two categories of contamination:
Those emanating from within, and;
Those affecting you from without.
The inner ones occupy most of my working life as a depth psychotherapist. They consist, most commonly, of severe internal critics, excessive expectations, chronically unmet need states, unresolved trauma, and persistently negative emotions like guilt or shame.
Selfhood inevitably involves pain, but it need not include these varieties. Whether through meditation, depth psychotherapy, yoga, or other growth-enhancing practices, persons can transcend such painful experiences. They can, to quote Freud, help the transition from neurotic pain to the everyday variety.
The external influences begin with your childhood experience. The drama of DNA, family, socioeconomic status, neighborhood, and friends all shape your identity.
They mould what you think you desire.
This is what Jacques Lacan means by his obscure comment:
The Self is Other.
What you think is you turns out to be, ironically, them.
I find the broader external influences increasingly disturbing, mostly because their power seems ever rising.
To consider just a few examples, advertisers strive to convert us into consumers. They succeed like never before. Persons identify with brand names rather than desires; they seek pleasure in objects—brilliantly termed called commodity fetishism by Karl Marx. The now-inescapable advertisers now inform our identities every step we take.
Along the same lines, the US news media suffers an astonishing lack of authenticity. This is hardly news. CNN and MSNBC lean too far to the left; Fox too far to the right. You have to search to find more balanced reporting: I recommend the Economist, the BBC, or perhaps the PBS Newshour. They at least try to provide a more balanced if terrifically incomplete view of world events.
Finally, if you seek the truth about yourself and the world, well, ready yourself to keep seeking:
I recommend a lifetime of skepticism, of questioning authority—even your own.
It will keep you open to yourself; it will keep you open to the ever-changing world.
Because, just when you think you have a sense of your heart’s desire, it unfolds, changes, morphs.
Ergo, authenticity consists more of a constantly-doubting-search than a stable arrival.
Nonetheless, it’s worth the effort.
It beats the risk of living someone else’s life or, worse, the life dictated to you by your family of origin, advertising firms, or global media corporations.
Happy New Year!
May it bring you mystery, danger, and wonder.
It always does.
Lacan, J. (2002). Ecrits. B. Fink (Trans.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Towles, A. (2016). A Gentleman in Moscow. New York: Viking.
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