Monday, January 30, 2012
Getting Lost in What we Want, we Forget to Be Who We Are
As Moby Dick’s Ishmael said, “in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country." Who we are is really what we strive to do and be in our daily life. Who we are does not reside in our title, or our material, social, or public success.
Mostly what we want in life has more to do with roles than goals. Think about it. We want success in business, to get to be a CEO or vice-president of the widget factory we work for. We want to be a married woman. We want to be a mother. We want to be a rich dad, not a poor dad, a college graduate not a drop-out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting these things except to the extent that we are skewed away from who we are in favor of what we want. There is a danger in wanting to be seen as popular by our friends, rather than wanting to be just seen by our friends.
When we identify ourselves with roles instead of goals, we end up labeling ourselves as successes or failures. We see ourselves as commodities that must be protected against loss of value, instead of understanding that we are evolving beings who must continue to risk ourselves and fail in order to learn.
Roles are interchangeable; people are not. We are more solid than our roles, which are only important to the extent that we make use of them. Roles must be constantly nourished by our energy since they have none of their own. The Queen must service the crown with honoring it in the same way that victims must service their perpetrators with wanting something from them.
If we didn’t want anything we couldn’t possibly be a victim. We are all really victims of what we want, which is how most of us become victims of happiness. And we transfer that onto to other people and think we are victims of them. We get to thinking “they owe us” what we need. Now we can be totally frustrated because we have no power to make them give us what we think they owe us.
We have no power to get other people to do what we want. Ultimately we have only the power to take care of ourselves. We can look at chronic adverse situations as projects instead of insults, and decide in advance what a reasonable response on our part would be: if they do “x”, then I am going to do “y”.
I can remember how difficult it was for me, at first, controlled by my primal mind feelings and frozen in depression the way I was, to withdraw my attention from what my husband was “doing to me” and say to myself: “Okay. In this adverse situation, what can I do to take care of myself?”
I had no idea that the main reason taking care of myself had always been so difficult was that I simply never got around to thinking about it. Complaining about my husband was so easy and natural that I never could tear myself away from it. Committing the above italicized sentence to memory and “tagging” by learned association to the feeling of helplessness as a reminder (so that the sentence would come to mind whenever a feeling of victimhood came over me) is one of my first triumphs of self-understanding and self-responsibility.