Listen. You’re reading this so you’re probably a person. A person with a mind, some questions, some kind of body, and some motivations. It’s hard managing all this. Especially, because there are others out there and they tell you things, directly and indirectly and otherwise. They things they tell you, various kinds of commands, inform the ways in which you manage your personhood. From your expressed identity to your hidden and unknown desires, your understanding of yourself is refracted through the lens of other people’s tales. Whether you fit into their narrative or not, you will find yourself squinting to see yourself there. Because without some external structure to this experience, you will experience panic and suffer great anguish.
But, listen. That structure you crave and use all the time? It can be changed. By you. Right now. Such a change may seem simple or easy, but it is not. Because, more than air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat, we crave belonging. We all want to be a part of the group. When the group’s expectations diverge from our actions or interests, we suffer either from the new, personally unsavory conduct we must engage in or from the reality that we are not a part of something bigger than us anymore. Out of that suffering, we change.
In the former case, we conform. We modulate our thinking and behavior to match the group. We learn to fit in. We strive to let go of our past self-trajectory. We submit.
In the latter case, we resist. We attempt to maintain our past selves with the added burden of heightened social isolation and loneliness. We seek others like us–always wanting to be part of a group, if not the group. We criticize the group. We point out its irrationality, bigotry, thoughtlessness, and so on. We strive to imagine ourselves into being superior to our own desire to be part of the group again. We oppose submission.
In either case, we find ourselves and our lives oriented on the same axis centered on the same focal point: what do other people expect from a person like me?
This flaw in human existence is an inherent bug in being social animals. To combat it, we have invented religion, spirituality, philosophy, and science. People’s opinions cannot sway our sense of self-worth and value when we can cling to structures beyond the directives of mere mortals to insulate us from those shifting popular narratives. Whichever of the “good books” we subscribe to, their structure will not change or, at the very least, will only change over millennia, not moments. We can hold on to these structures.
The fact is, we all need a structure. Our degree of personal comfort and well-being is dependent upon whether we have a good, stable structure to understand ourselves and how faithfully we adhere to it.
I have lived with no structure most of my life. I find myself tossed this way and that by the whims and desires of un-realizing others. Some have cared; others have not. All have affected how I saw myself.
On the worst of my days, it was not that I did not know who I was; rather, it was that I did not know who I should become because I could not make out the narrative. The resolution was too far out, covered in fog. My lighthouses blinkered. Anxiety of running ashore far too soon overcame me.
On several occasions, I nearly found myself playing a role so dissonant with my soul that I felt frozen. I was not an island; I was an iceberg. I would spend my days melting away to nothing, serving only as a siren and a danger to others.
I woke up one morning to realize that what I needed was not the approval and satisfaction of some other, but my own. This realization changed me forever. It is worth more than all the riches of the material world. And it is, of course, a solipsism. But from this spinning, whirring, fallacy, I can begin to accrete a life, a world, and a structure of my own. The contours and edges of the puzzle box, though indiscernible, do not undermine their usefulness.
You are a person. You will feel the push and pull of the tides of expectation. Expectation borne out of narratives that are not your own. You will torture yourself with contortions, prostrations, and invisible voices.
Your resolution will not come through fluency in the mother tongues and structures of external expectation. Your resolution begins with an awakening of your own expectant spirit.