For a long time already I wanted to create time to read more books. The corona reset in recent months provided that time and also focus to really do something with this intention. In this period a lot of stuff changed and I basically had no influence on that changes. I was forced to make choices out of acceptance. Among other things, I looked forward to and planned for already a long time a cycle-tour in North and South America. In preparation for that postponed (winter) cycling I have read: Phylosophy for Polar Explorers and Cycling Home from Siberia. I have read a number of self-help books: The Second Mountain, A Mirror for Narcissists (in Dutch), Hello White People (also in Dutch), Ego is the Enemy and as (spiritual) deepening: Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Light On Life and The Power of Now. I have noticed that my reading pace is not that fast. Although I do spend a lot of time on which books I choose to read. Rarely does reading feel pointless, although I do have to fix and monitor my daily reading moments.
I have read many of these books because I want to be more aware of my emotional being. An inner discovery. I deal with a lot of background noise, a kind of soft discomfort, an undercurrent of uneasiness mixed with boredom and sometimes anxiety. This often puts me in a state of resistance. When a difficult situation arises over this background noice, my internal resistance sometimes becomes fierce and then I automatically close myself off from emotions. This coping is the reason why I search for intense lively situations such as cycling to the North Cape in winter. In those situations I‘m relieved of time, problems, thinking and the burden of my uneasiness. I’m then effortlessly fully present in the now with a strong alertness.
I want to become more aware of this coping and want to change this part of my identity. Not because that I don’t like to experience lively moments, I just want to know how it would feel like if I could turn that alertness from that situations into a common alertness. By being fully present and living without the uneasiness of that soft background noise. I noticed that in an unaware state it forces me to chase distractions. I don’t want that and I’m trying to figure out how.
For decades there has been a great focus in Western culture on the liberation of individual. The reason that I can be so occupied with personal development I see partly as the benefits of the individualization of our society. I have a higher amount of freedom of choice then my parents or grandparents. More options for a job, a partner, leisure activities, which countries borders I cross and so on. I grew up, compared to a global average, as a person with far above average privileges. It was not necessary that out of tradition I would inherit a job to support my family or even have an arranged wedding. My upbringing made me especially ready to make choices myself. This is freedom that is not present in many places and situations. Places or situations where religion or idealistic beliefs take a strong position so that the wishes of the individual or even of entire (younger) generations are less or not at all listened to by systems or people in power. I can still remember the time I was in Tehran. I was sitting in the back of a car, secretly drinking beer. It was so natural to me that I forgot to keep the can of beer out of sight of the windows of the car. You don’t want to be arrested with alcohol in Iran. The whole situation reminded me of my earlier discovery of discotheques and bars. Alcohol has always been normal for me and that is for many of my practical freedoms. Yet, I wonder regularly whether having unlimited freedoms to choose from, doesn’t add anything good to the whole undercurrent of dissatisfaction. And I mean extinguishing that background noise that I was mentioning earlier.
When living in society where individual needs are centered, what does that actually require of me? How can I experience some kind of satisfactory freedom without it leading to a more complex existence. More complex because the individual search for a pleasant life is quite complicated. In my quest for freedom, I‘m always confronted with my uncomfortable self. That empty feeling that keeps itching so softly.
In the individual society in which I live, I keep wondering whether all those self-centered choices will make me a better person. Whether my choices are the right ones. I have so many to choose from that there is always a sense of regret lurking. Is what I spend my time on a morally responsible choice? I really appreciate my freedom as an individual and I have also learned to take space for it. As I grow up more I also start to gain insights against it. How having everything I want without having to make any real effort can put me in a passive and fragile state. A state in which I can also start to believe that I‘m entitled to a many of things. A confrontational lesson from Anousha Nzume in her book Hello White People (in Dutch).
How do I calm down and experience more joyful moments? How can I shift my focus from short-term distractions to a longer-term sense of deeper satisfaction and belonging?
In his book The Second Mountain, David Brooks explains that our Western culture normalizes selfishness, rationalizes selfishness, and covers deeper desires of the heart and soul. He claims that true joy does not come from satisfying desires but from the pursuit of the best desires. Eckhart Tolle goes one step further and adds what he calls the dehumanized industrial society in his book The Power of Now. A collective disruption of human functioning that translates into a continuous resistance to the now. I had to think about this more deeply but I personally understand very well what he means here.
In my youth I was mainly concerned with survival. My focus was completely on myself and what I aspired to was what I incorporated from my environment. Me in relation to my classmates at school. Me in relation to the Christian community. Me in relation to my home situation and family. Somehow I only wanted one thing, in resistance, to free myself from all that. To avoid any form of responsibility so that I didn’t have to bind myself too much to obligations. At school I was taught that I could achieve anything if I just started working hard for it. Working so to earn my future. But what future was that holding? I wasn’t really concerned with that at all. I was mainly fighting against discomfort that I was experiencing. I got creative in finding ways to theatrically hide or escape this discomfort. That made me feel like an outsider. I always felt different from others and that translated onto my behavior. Rebellious. Stubbornly. Soloistic.
Walking the way out of this warring self is the best thing I have experienced in my life so far. Working on, reading about and learning from my emotional being and identity is often confrontational and hard, but the reward is a profound sense of progress. It is a feeling that is difficult to explain and manifests itself in joyful moments that occasionally reaches surface. After often a small or sometimes greater victory. They are all victories from self sabotaging. Sabotaging from inner processing. When I look back on my childhood I especially feel this painful thread of the theatrical avoidance of discomfort. Ignoring and bottling up emotions. Building a wall out of self-protection. Ways of distraction from my feeling self. Often translated into excessively overthinking things. To avoid the silence and to seek recognition in something. It’s behavior that translates to my adult life but was there already when I was a child. The discomfort of parents is often passed on to children. This is what Martin Apello explains in his book A Mirror for Narcissists (in Dutch). He describes that upbringing, in the first phase of a necessary balanced care from parents to a child, is an extremely impactful phase. Here the seeds can already be planted for an unstable base in a child. Apello explains that an inner void can arise from this unstable foundation. From which narcissistic behavior can arise in extreme situations that translates into a blown up identity to fill an inner void.
I believe that with the right insights I can better deal with my background noise through awareness and development to outer myself. Brooks explains that, as we age, our environment grows larger. We are less focused on ourselves, less inclined to see ourselves as the first mate of our lives and increasingly realize that we are pre-formed by the past, family, forces that often transcend our consciousness. We increasingly focus on sustainable relationships, community spirit and intense connections with nature, people, a calling, a belief or/and a community.
My growth comes from learning to feel and then to observe and consciously regulate feelings and impulses. With the aim to change living from insecurity and isolation into living with a stronger connection to the outside world.
Tolle writes that the essence of meaning is formed in a great presence in the now with moments of transcendence. Transcending the ego through a strong connection with the universal being. Iyengar describes this in Light on Life as the fusion of nature and soul, the essence of human life with all challenges, contradictions and joys. Ralph Waldo Emerson developed a philosophy around moments of transcendence, also called the transparent eyeball. He formed some very beautifully written words around this:
“Standing on the bare ground – my head fresh in the frisky air and high in the infinite space, all narrow egoism disappears. I become an eyeball that absorbs everything. I am nothing. I see everything. The power of universal being flows through me.”