Saturday, October 8, 2016

Joe Omundson

how to get to know yourself better

In a previous post I explained why getting to know ourselves is so important, but how can we do that, practically? It's a pretty broad question. I can't answer that with specific instructions as the path to self-discovery is different for everyone. But there are a few things that seem to be universally important.

1) Take some space from society, spend some time truly alone. Many of us are like people who can only fall asleep with the TV blaring. We rely on the constant noise, constant input, and it feels normal. Learning to break away from it is hard. But once we become accustomed to the quiet, to being able to hear our own thoughts, returning to the TV is a shocking experience. The messages seem aggressive, intrusive, absurd. The same is true for civilized life in general. Our existence is not just who we are, it's who we are in relation to other people, and when we remove that input from other people we have more of a chance to realize what's unique about ourselves. It's like if someone only ever played bass in rehearsal with their band and never practiced alone. They might know how to mesh well with others, but taking the time to hear themselves play might reveal a lot more information that could make them a better musician.

2) Accept that you are in whatever state you are in, and that it's OK. It's not perfect and there is growing to do. But it doesn't help anything to pretend we are something we are not. We all have strengths and weaknesses, trauma and joy. Let yours be whatever they are and accept that you are still a worthy human being. Don't try to change everything all at once.

3) Learn how to notice your feelings, your body, your sensations, your thoughts; develop the capacity to gain awareness of the mind and body. There are so many different ways to do this. Is there something in your life that quiets your racing thoughts, brings your attention into the present moment, and makes you aware of your body? Make more time for that activity in your life. For me, it's been things like hiking, yoga, meditation, marijuana, psychedelics, and music. For you it might be something totally different.

4) Meet a variety of people and find the ones who have traveled down a road similar to the one you're on, and learn from their experience. We will naturally meet more of these like-minded folks as we spend more time doing activities that are specialized to our personal interests. When we have spent time on 1) - 3) we will better understand which people we want to emulate and why.

These things all require time and energy. If you are constantly in a state of exhaustion from your busy life, you won't have time for this work. Ask yourself why you are so busy and what you can do to make more time for yourself. Some people stay busy because they have no other choice, as they have people depending on them and if they slack off there will be consequences. To be honest I'm not very familiar with that situation and I don't have good advice for how to work around that. But other people stay busy either by choice, or out of fear, or precisely because it keeps them from having time for the steps I mentioned. If you are one of those people you have to decide that your own happiness and well-being are important, and are worth the discomfort of spending time in a space where you don't know exactly what you will learn about yourself.

Through this process you might realize that you truly dread some aspect of your life, that it takes the spirit out of you and defeats you. Maybe it's a relationship, a job, a religion, a place. If you really want to find fulfillment you have to be willing to make difficult changes to major parts of your life. How bad do you want it?

I wanted it really bad. Between the ages of 21-26 I left my Christian faith which had been so important to me growing up, I left a marriage with an excellent woman, and I quit a stable engineering career, because through all the time I'd spent examining myself I knew what I really wanted was to travel alone and see the world for myself and make my own judgments about life. I'm glad I trusted my gut because even though these were hard decisions (OK -- the faith-leaving and the divorce were hard decision, quitting my job was an easy one), they freed up so much space to explore and grow in new directions.

I prioritized my own instinctual well-being over the fears that would have held me back. I don't regret leaving those things behind because the things I gained were so much more me. My priorities, my interests. Sounds selfish, right? It was. But without a period of self-motivated exploration I don't see how someone can lay a strong foundation for the rest of their life. We do our best work when we are working on something that we are passionate about, obsessed. We love best when we know our own boundaries, limitations, and desires. It's worth taking the time to customize our lifestyles to meet our own needs, so that we can understand ourselves and then give back in the greatest way possible.

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