I wanted to learn about myself this year, and so I did.
And I don’t regret the time I spent in doing so.
After 49 years and change you’d really think a man would know himself, and what he’s about, and have a certain comfort within his own skin. You’d think he’d be mostly focused on things like the ebb and flow of his 401k, the future prospect for grandchildren, and a better way to grow vine-ripe garden tomatoes next season.
You’d think he would have long since moved past such fundamental questions as:
“Who am I?”
“What do I believe?” … and
“What am I supposed to do with all that information?”
But such simple questions are more complex than they once were. It’s because some unfortunate societal trends took foothold in 2015. I doubt they disappear soon.
First, the world’s thrown us a deceivingly effective curve ball that makes the pursuit of, and answer to, those questions more elusive than during any other time.
New capacities to shape ourselves with countless filters and applications make us nothing more than an edited, superficial, enhanced version of who we truly are.
Just the right angle makes us look 15 pounds lighter; a carefully maneuvered color filter creates a beautiful blue in your otherwise dull, grey eyes; and if you time it just right, that photo of you leaning up against the guy you haven’t seen any time before, or since, the company Christmas party can go a long way to make the guy you’re really interested in painfully jealous.
And tomorrow, you might as well throw up that Cancun photo from four years ago that proves you’re enjoying the time of your life as you actually sit alone on the couch, scoop the next spoonful of Bluebell, and switch the remote to the Lifetime channel. Yes, we’re a completely contrived manipulation of ourselves.
It wouldn’t be quite so bad if it just stopped there with the physical and situational. The greater danger is how the new age of self-deceit goes beyond these arguably less important views from the exterior, and causes us to lose touch with our own reality – the very essence of who we are.
It’s a simple matter of accidental conditioning really. I can only spend so much time at a keyboard sharing with you my meaningless convictions about the social justice issues of our time (pick one: poverty, hunger, abortion, any issue of equality et al) before I begin actually begin believing the expression of that conviction somehow made a contribution to the greater good.
We’ve led ourselves to believe our expressions (completely void of any action whatsoever) are, in fact, action. And we desperately need to stop believing that lie.
Here’s a typical example (at right) you might see on any given day where someone has placed a sign in an elderly person’s lap with the idea that your “like,” whatever that means, is going to brighten the elderly woman’s day. The truth is she doesn’t even know what a “like” is. The further truth is that a “like” isn’t anything at all. But we’ve somehow come to believe it’s actionable, and that our “like” has made a difference. And, thus, we move along quite self-satisfied with our good work.
This trend toward “inactionable action” isn’t the greatest emergency, but one of the greatest emergencies of our present day. I’m gradually working you toward the greatest emergency of our time, so read on, if you will.
It was an especially difficult revelation for me, because as a part of my own livelihood, I’ve spent years manipulating perceptions with words and images. Sometimes it was for good. Other times, it was a disastrous moral failure and with subsequent regret. Oftentimes, I fell prey to the belief of my own manipulated reality.
And then some time during the last 18 months (I can’t put my finger on exactly when) I grew exceedingly weary of lieing to myself, and began having some self-conversation with the real me. As a starting point, I acknowledged things as they really are, not as the polished creation I could so easily invent.
Acknowledgement #1: I’ve had some amazing experiences, and things in life I’d even consider great successes. And all those things are directly attributed to help from others. In 49 years I can’t think of a single significant thing I did, or experienced, void of support from someone else.
Acknowledgement #2: I’ve failed at certain things and they’re beyond my wildest, conceivable imagination of failure. Certain failures sometimes result in collateral damage. That’s not divine punishment, but rather the world in motion. You can deal with such things, if you face them for what they are, with humility, and without excuse. I call it repentance, because that’s what it really is.
Acknowledgement #3: There is absolutely no good that comes from living in a false reality of yourself. In fact, it’s the focus on myself, reality-based or not, that’s my worst distraction and enemy.
Acknowledgement #4: I am not, as William Ernest Henley so famously wrote in the poem, Invictus, “…the master of my fate” nor “…the captain of my soul.”
These things were the building block in the truthful search for myself in 2015.
To aid the mental/soulful processing of these acknowledgements, and to seek further understanding, I did certain things with intention such as:
1. Spent a fair amount of time alone.
2. Engaged in a lot of physical labor.
3. Spent nearly 13 weeks traveling, nine of which were outside the United States.
4. Went on pilgrimage, and walked a very long way in a fair amount of discomfort.
5. Read the Bible more than at any other time during my life.
6. Dumped my CNN addiction cold turkey.
7. Spent a lot of time with people who view the world differently than me.
8. Avoided every conceivable big decision/idea that crossed my mind.
In the course of these things, this is what I learned about myself, and this time in my life:
1. Life is hopelessly unnavigable in the undefined boundaries of subjective truth.
2. Most of the world now prefers undefined boundaries of subjective truth. This, as mentioned above, is the greatest emergency of our time. You might simply call it, chaos.
3. The expression of #1 makes causes people (many of whom I consider close friends) to view me as intolerant, judgmental, bigoted, sexist. Those things aren’t true, but they’re the reality of what many will believe.
4. In the New World of Tolerance, many important convictions I hold are not tolerated.
5. I’m more of who I truly am than I’ve ever been before.
6. I am broken, just as we all are broken. Yet, I am strong.
7. A pilgrim’s walk never ends. There’s a lot more to learn. I’m willing to keep walking.