The modern prejudice of looking inward, creating ourselves, as if we were a project to work on and to fix, risks losing what is beyond self: the world and our place in it. Ever felt lost? Me too. Maybe it is just that we are misplaced or that we don’t live in place because our attention is turned toward ourselves, and who we are and who we think we should be separates us from being in the world and from giving ourselves fully to life.
The living of life with a heightened awareness of “me,” permeates our culture, coming at us from many directions, filling us with aspirations for personal development, growth, becoming, by which we’re tempted to ask ourselves questions like, why and how did we get this way? Then we search the past and particularly our family to explain all that is wrong with us and them. Everything is broken and the story has become “my story.” We’re powerful but…
No wonder when it’s dark and no one else is around we feel restless, alone and filled with worry about things we have little or no power over. In our daily lives we’re needy and swing back and forth from congratulating ourselves to berating ourselves. Too much me which we think is at least better than judging those around us. Meanwhile the world goes on neglected, ignored, too big for us, someone else’s problem. And we lose the joy of being that comes from immersion in the tasks at hand. Yes, I am guilty of this!
During therapy years ago, I found that by looking at everything in terms of what it meant to me, trying to understand myself; how I got this way, then focusing on fixing myself, became a trap of subjectivity which kept me from being able to be in the world, a relational being. I knew I must find other metaphors to live by and more satisfying ways to be in the world.
So, trying to get at myself with myself is as Alan Watts said, “trying to see the eye with which you see with.”
Realizations are one thing though, and while not always changing us in an instant, can move us, even if slowly, as this one continues to move me. Where once the metaphors were predominantly framed by ideas of myself, I do try to live more within the content of experience. But I’m not better, I repeat, not better, because it’s not about fixing me, but living by engaging life – others, ideas, and the tasks at hand, whether it’s washing dishes or playing music.
Asking where or what instead of who, shifts the focus away from self outward into place(s) and things. Place includes more than me, especially that “inner me,” which doesn’t vanish with the change in focus, but returns to living in the world; seeing, hearing, reflecting and living life through relationships with people, places, ideas and things. Moving the focus out into the world has increased my curiosity about the world and frees me to engage in what I feel called to do. Life becomes rich from immersion in the tasks I love, not to fix me, or for any end, but for the sake of the thing at hand; immersion.
That’s not to say that our growth, development, healing or transformation are not necessary or good things to experience, but they are ends and we don’t live in the ends. We may acquire or receive these things over time, but not through our efforts of self-creation. Making a project out of ourselves is more likely to turn us inward and away from the world in which we live – a world that needs our curiosity, attention and love.