I wrote recently on someone else’s blog that embracing impermanence is so beautiful yet many people are afraid of its emptiness. We are led to believe from an early age that only that which is sustainable forever is worth pursuing. Of course, our lives are much too long and complicated to hold fast to such idealistic and rigid statutes. There is not only beauty but meaning in passing through situations, places and people and above all much we face up to about ourselves in the process.
I have designed my life in such a way that everything in it is temporary. My job, where I live, my relationships, my pursuits, even my very philosophy of life is always evolving. Sometimes, it’s scary. I worry about being untrue to myself because I’m perhaps not looking after myself, or going after salvation in the wrong places. But what it comes down to is that everything’s a phase. This whole journey is nothing more than a miscellany of phases, plots and subplots, strung together by a flimsy narrative. It’s the narrative that I’m working on. Everything else is change – it has to be.
I’m finally reading The Road Less Travelled which has been on my reading list since I started writing this blog. I’m only a short way in but already it has compelled me to start writing as it’s too inspirational and revelatory not to capture and share. M. Scott Peck believes that life is a series of problems, and we should accept this rather than denying or avoiding them. It is the process of meeting and solving problems that gives life meaning. Discipline is the basic tool required to tackle problems and consists of delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and something he terms ‘balancing’.
One of the things that struck a chord with me was the idea that feeling that you are valuable is a cornerstone of possessing self-discipline, because self-discipline is self-caring. “It is a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it during adulthood”. Do I think myself valuable, do I self-care? In many ways, no I don’t. Although I have narcissistic tendencies, these are more coping mechanisms. On the inside I really do not think of myself as valuable, and am all too amenable to the whims and fancies of others. I had a moment of feeling out of sorts yesterday and what was underpinning it I believe, was the sense that I’m out of control. My not feeling valuable has manifested itself in having no life plan at age 30 and never, ever having had one. I continue to exhibit a careless, come-what-may attitude to many aspects of my self, and I call this freedom and crazy subplots, but just occasionally they concern me.
Peck describes the two types of therapy patients, and typically most will fit into one grouping or the other. Neurotics assume too much responsibility, essentially believing that they are at fault. Those afflicted with character disorders conversely believe that the rest of the world is the problem. The issue of where our responsibilities lie is never solved. Continually throughout our lives we assess and reassess shifting responsibilities and figure out what is within our remit and what isn’t. No problem can be solved until an individual assumes responsibility for it, and solves it. I learned for myself a few months ago that taking responsibility – and doing something about it – ends up being the most freeing thing in the world.
Our view of reality is like a map with which we negotiate the terrain of life. We make our own maps as we go along, and those who do not review their maps, or falsely believe them to be complete, will have a Weltanschauung which is narrow and misleading. If we are to be dedicated to the truth, we expect a life of never-ending, stringent self-examination. We expect pain, because to avoid reality is to avoid pain. But why would we live a life of dedication to truth, when it is going to be painful, uncomfortable and as is so often the case, downright inconvenient? Because truth is more vital than comfort, which is often its opposite. We should welcome personal discomfort when it is occurs in service of the search for truth. Mental health is a process of dedication to reality at all costs.
The fourth and final facet of discipline is balancing. Balancing allows for flexibility and degrees of things. Life does not have to be all black and white – either letting everyone in or letting no-one in. Always expressing anger in a loud and hasty way. The essence of balancing is ‘giving up’, or depriving oneself of a luxury that is not serving the individual or is hurting others. The ‘giving up’ of the old self is a necessary and painful part of the transitioning that psychotherapy enables. This can manifest itself as a type of depression, which is something I must happily tell myself when I let it all get to me.
What I am going through is the growing out of a previous stage of life into a new stage of maturity. The rebirth is joyful and also brings with it plenty of delicious doubts, fears, anxieties and pain. Most of all I’m learning how to be true to myself. I’m learning to think of myself as valuable and to love myself because that is the root of everything good that I can achieve.