“Attempting to find in motion what was lost in space”
I realise that this post may come across as preachy, but it’s kind of deliberately so. I was trying to think better by framing all these random things I’ve picked up from around the internet into one cheesy ass lecture I give to myself in a tone that sounds far more sure of what it’s claiming than the kind I usually use to articulate personal thoughts.
This is an experiment. It’s an attempt to condescend myself into self-improvement. It’s a little nuts, yeah, but bear with me if you are here already.
“We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery.”
The human heart is born with an unquenchable inquisitiveness. We walk this earth, curious and confused, in a wild search for answers that barely exist outside of us, looking at simple things and making monsters out of them, constantly misplacing universes inside our exhausted heads, forgetting every day what is truly important.
Great minds have tried endlessly to fathom the mysteries of the world, but in spite of all the philosophical endeavours of our enterprising species, we still remain doomed to unsatisfying lives of misinterpreted hints and vaguely conveyed solutions.
The problem is that the answer is different for all of us, and we must find it for ourselves if we want it to be right. It is not a common path, but rather a personalized quest that all individuals must undertake in their own unique way.
We are truly alone on this specific road, and we cannot afford to be distracted.
Among the greatest questions that haunt us, none is more detrimental than the question of “Who am I?” and among the greatest answers of our being, none is more pivotal than the experience of “I Am.” Life is lived relentlessly in pursuit of an absolute validation of personal worth, a hamster wheel odyssey for confirmation of self-identity. We keep looking for a sense of purpose in this unforgiving world, day after day, year after year.
But at certain critical stages in life, we step back from our realities and examine ourselves as essentially as we can and question everything we have believed so far about our worlds. We reluctantly come to recognise our delusions. Our existence suddenly appears to be hollow and misdirected. Nothing makes sense according to our original perceptions and we are compelled to nurture a new mind for the sake of a more authentic comprehension. We take off our rose-tinted glasses, rub our tired eyes with clenched fists, and look at everything, for the first time as ourselves in a greater sense. This period of irrepressible fascination and wonder inspires uncertainty and intense internal conflict within us and we get insecure about our very being, becoming helpless victims of the classic identity crisis that plagues all of the humanity at some fateful point.
Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychologist, proposed a psychoanalytic theory of development, consisting of eight stages of life from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, a person is said to experience a different psychosocial crisis, and the way in which he deals with it is considered to directly impact the growth of his personality, steering it either in a positive or a negative direction. The fifth stage in this theory has the conflict of identity vs. role confusion, and it is believed to occur during adolescence, from the age of 12 to 18 years. Erikson said, “The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult.”
If we were to agree with what this theory claims, it would explain why the identity crisis manifests itself so loudly during the teen years- It’s because this is the age of extraordinary change, where we retain our childlike idealism and secret beliefs in magic but bear the suddenly immediate burden of adulthood and brutal realism at the same time. The social expectations from us change suddenly and drastically, and as we find ourselves in the process of switching roles, we get lost in the crevices of our overwhelmed minds, committing to neither side.
Who am I, now that I am not who I used to be?
I cannot give a universal answer to this question because that is not how self-discovery works. All I can do is explain how I personally resolved my crisis and hope that it contributes to everyone else finding his or her own solutions as well.
During my impressionable years, I tried to come to terms with my feelings of helplessness, insecurity and broken identity by directing all of my energy towards building a strong knowledge base of ideas. I turned to the Existentialists and fell into stupors of inconclusive deep thought on a daily basis, wasting time in massive proportions, and thinking aimlessly just for thinking’s sake. As I started to become saturated with the brains of others, I became alienated from my own past and scrambled furiously to grasp at my inherent self as I saw my childhood fade away to a stranger existence. I realized the extents of my own changeability, the fact that I have the power to choose what I tether my sense of purpose to, the bizarre fact that I am barely the same person for more than a few days.
It is always good to remind oneself of the memorable quip by Joan Didion that advices us “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not” — an idea often difficult to implement as we cringe at the bitterness, stupidity, and pretensions of our former selves; and yet advice that stays extremely relevant in the everlasting pursuit of healthy self-acceptance.
After conducting a number of ruthless ideological experiments on myself, I have decided that the best way to understand the ‘self’ (whatever that means) is by acknowledging and staying with the contradictions. If you persist, you begin to see that there is always more than the two opposing truths; and the third part, which is reconciliation, can successfully glue your personality together. It doesn’t matter if you are both right and wrong at the same time as long as you realize you are both and can live with it. The lure of typecasting the self is often sharply tempting because of its coherence and stability, but it places iron limits on the potential of the person to find happiness, especially in ways that are “out of character” and thus “not right”. Finding meaning can be daunting, but you are bigger than you think and you’re more complex than you realize. Knowing this is key.
It is also rather important to ask yourself what is your opinion about the influences acting upon you- like the universal laws of nature, the teachings of religion, the concept of trust, the deceptions of sleep and dreaming, the very idea of man’s place in the living, breathing, sentient cosmos, the demand for morality, the nature of animal instinct and intuition within and around you, the meaning of pain and pleasure, the idea of conscience and consciousness, the genuine and fabricated needs and desires of the body, the intimate force of sex, the inevitability of death, the illusions of time, the constructions of logic, and the world in its entirety resting on your eyes to be seen, bare and complete.
Only when we learn to be true to our experiences and methodically break down the elements of our rationality to their roots, can we truly come to embrace ourselves.
I believe that finding yourself is a merciless expedition that demands great mental fortitude and very clear thinking. It is a challenge to our species, making us human and driving us towards vaster planes of understanding. And thus, we must not shy away from the journey. We must at least strive, no matter how futile it may feel, to know the whole nake, rather than to love fragments in disguise.
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “Become who you are.”
And, given time, I intend to.