Monday, September 16, 2013

Like Begets Like

Mark Twain is said to have noted that: "No man can be comfortable without his own approval." The lesson that I take from this is that we shouldn't condition our own self-approval. Yet, I do it all the time. I have a life-long habit of predicating my self-approval on my ability to be my ideal self, which tends to be a version of me with all of my negative qualities removed. Not the smartest idea that I've ever had, if for no other reason than I suspect that my negative qualities are born of the times in which I fail to grant myself my own approval. The ability to consistently make the choice to approve of oneself, warts and all, is a difficult one. It always smacks of giving myself a pass for my shortcomings, rather than working to overcome them. And so the future perfect becomes the enemy of the good in the here and now, and I find myself worrying about who I might become tomorrow, rather than accepting who I am today.

The path to peace with oneself and the world is a simple one - change what you cannot accept and accept what you cannot change. It's said that the wisdom to know the difference belongs in there, too, but I'm not so sure about that. One can only change what one controls, and in the end, the self is the only thing that one can control. The change is to learn to accept. Twain is also said to have noted that the Universe does not owe us anything - it was here first. Perhaps oddly, I understand that this applies to the self, as well. In my calmer moments, I understand that, like the Universe I was here before "I" was here, that I existed before I was cognizant of my own existence and in that regard, I do not owe myself anything in return for my own approval, regardless of what my Inner Critic has to say about it.

The self is strange. It is not a "thing," yet it is made up of things. But there is no single aspect that makes the self, no single thing that if it were removed, I would cease to be "me." And as such, I should not withhold my self-approval on account of not having them. If there is no faster way to make oneself miserable than to compare yourself to someone else, an idealized version of yourself also falls into that, whether it is a past self or a hoped-for future self. If I am always to be worthy of my own approval, then it must be as I am now. Perhaps this is the ultimate expression of being the change you seek. If I seek to change myself to accept myself, then myself must, in effect, become acceptance, rather than seeking acceptance. I can only be my ideal self through letting go of the concept of my ideal self.

I know. It sounds bizarre, circular and paradoxical (perhaps even pathological) to me, too. Yet, I think I understand it. The difficulty is to implement it. It's often characterized as an abyss, a dark and frightening place epitomizes the unknown, and thus our failure to reach it is characterized as fear. I have a different metaphor, one that more closely matches my own experience. It is, at its heart, a perpetual motion machine - the trick is, once it's started, to get it to the point where it is self-sustaining. While the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics aren't strictly applicable to the human mind, I've realized that I create my own sources of friction and energy loss that dictate that my self-acceptance often be fueled from without. And it is my need for this external input that creates desire, and that desire manifests itself in my attempts to exert control over the world around me, rather than beginning and ending with myself. That control inevitably fails (if for no other reason that understanding myself as controlling drives my Inner Critic), and the engine that fuels my self-acceptance stalls. Only when my self-acceptance does the work to drive my self-acceptance (and, in turn, my acceptance of everything else) can I succeed.

Of course, whispers my Inner Critic, this could all be Cargo Cult Self-Psychology - wishful thinking driven by ignorance and self-delusion, and buttressed by insufficient questioning, doubt and honesty - in which I mimic the actions that I think I should take without really understanding what I'm doing. We'll see. If nothing else, I'll learn something about mental Thermodynamics.

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