When I set off on my inward journey to untangle all the inner chaos I was struggling with over the past few years, I went through the process largely unassisted after I decided to try to stand on my own and without my weekly psychological therapy sessions. Like most messes, the biggest hurdle was that I didn’t know where to begin. Once I managed to get started with the aid of my therapist, I felt an innate need see the rest through on my own. I’m a strong-minded individualist introvert, and I wanted, needed, to find my truer self without any external input.
Admittedly, I did experiment with the idea of reading some books on self-help and personal development, but I quickly found myself put off by the saccharine and almost dismissive they all seem to be. Live in the now, choose to be happy, forgive and forget, let the past stay in the past, move on, love yourself. I recognized that the ideas and attitudes that inspire those tropes were in line with how I would ideally view the world, but simply adopting a happier outlook couldn’t be the solution. I’d been avoiding accepting and facing my burdens through anger and repression, and doing the same thing under the guise of flippant positivity was a thought I wouldn’t even entertain. Though a strong and positive-minded mental state was what I desired, it needed to be a strongly affirmed philosophy I arrived at, not merely a pair of rose-tinted glasses to throw on. Yet that seems to be the popular prescription for such issues. Let it go, pain is an illusion. A poetic outlook that I knew had merit, but no reason to actually believe myself.
After my initial few months of the ascetic life — one where I my social interactions were limited to my co-workers at the office and my roommate — I had a night where I was in the mood to take in a good documentary to learn something new and get some visual eye candy to go with the information. I browsed the Netflix library, and came across Prehistoric Disasters, a series of hour-long episodes that review the history of Earth since its formation. I strongly encourage everyone to watch it, but for the sake of context, I’ll take my best stab at a brief summarization of it as a whole:
After the Big Bang, in the vastness of open space, two planet-sized rocks happened to be in the the right place and the right time to crash into each other. Not only that, they did it at just the right velocity that the two fused into one planet (Earth), and the resulting debris coalesced into the moon.
For a good long while after the collision, Earth burned red hot. Water formed from the gasses released by the burning and comets crashing into the planet, and Earth eventually iced over. As the ice started to melt, the biological and chemical reactions in the water served as the medium through which complex life would emerge from — the primordial soup. Plant and animal life flourished on planet, until super-massive volcanic eruptions wiped out most of existence. From the surviving species evolved the dinosaurs we all grow up knowing, which ruled the plant until the great asteroid strike that paved the way for life as we know it today.
On a general level, it was well presented and strongly supported scientific theory. On a deeper level, it sparked a massive philosophical shift for me. To accept that this world has come to be as a result of a chain of extremely serendipitous events considering the infinite scale of the cosmos renders me one of rare self-aware life forms in existence. Simply “being” is to have won the universe’s lottery multiple times over.
Seeing myself as an extension of extreme cosmic coincidence made everything else I’ve been through seem utterly trivial. Life is nothing more than a beautiful accident, and everything I’d endured had been the price I paid for the freedom I deeply desired. In the transition to adulthood, I lost my sense of oneness and greater scope of self-perception. I stopped seeing myself as a capable self-aware individual, and instead saw an embodiment of a failure to meet expectations, both of others of my own, across various aspects of life (social, professional, vocational, familial, romantic). Being so poignantly reminded of how infinitesimal and transient our lives are in relation to existence as a whole (in addition to being alone in my day to day life) pushed me outside of myself in every sense save the literal one, providing a long-sought feeling of freedom and catharsis. Everything that weighed on me started to feel more irrelevant with every passing day. All the good and the bad memories of the life I once knew became more like stories I experienced. My past is an immutable personal history, but it doesn’t need to be the foundation of my personal story.
In the two years since that night, I’ve been working relentlessly to cultivate and explore that mental outlook. As a result I now find myself once again in possession of self-trust and confidence strong enough to keep doubt from impeding action, and with a new emotional mastery to prevent the universe from making me its bitch. I ripped away every aspect of myself, afraid that at the end of the process all I’d be left with was a weak and defeated coward at my inner core. Instead, I found that unrelenting drive and guarded passion that <a href="“>once afforded me massive accomplishments.
Much better and more useful than a “positive attitude”.
Always mind how much external projections influence you. Social mores, constructs, and traditions are easy avenues for the social environment to impose itself on you. People will expect the best of you, and rare are those who are sufficiently receptive to discussing your shortcomings – people tend to overly avoid uncomfortable discussion. Turning a positivity-laden cheek isn’t a universal solution.
If you lose sight of yourself, start looking at the most basic level: as a self-aware being whose entire universe is a result of chance beating out near-infinite odds. Everything else is abstraction, and there’s as much wrong with abstaining from it as there is with participating in it. Do whatever it takes to give yourself the space, be it physical, mental, spiritual, and/or emotional, to stand on your own as your truest self in pursuit of your truest passions and ideas.
Pay your dues to the universe by not being a dick. Question everything and everyone including yourself, but make sure you don’t grow to distrust yourself. Spend every moment of every day working towards making tomorrow’s version of yourself better than today’s.