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The Scipionic Circle 70: Justifying Your Existence, Mastering Mindfulness, and Performing a Self-Assessment
"Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak."
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Justifying Your Existence
“In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?
“A closely related way to postpone the confrontation with finitude—with the anxiety-inducing truth that this is it—is to treat your present-day life as part of a journey toward becoming the kind of person you believe you ought to become, in the eyes of society, a religion, or your parents, whether or not they’re still alive. Once you’ve earned your right to exist, you tell yourself, life will stop feeling so uncertain and out of control. In times of political and environmental crisis, this mindset often takes the form of the belief that nothing is truly worth doing with your time except addressing such emergencies head-on, around the clock—and that you’re entirely correct to think of yourself as guilty and selfish for spending it on anything else. This quest to justify your existence in the eyes of some outside authority can continue long into adulthood. But ‘at a certain age,’ writes the psychotherapist Stephen Cope, ‘it finally dawns on us that, shockingly, no one really cares what we’re doing with our life. This is a most unsettling discovery to those of us who have lived someone else’s life and eschewed our own: no one really cares except us.’ The attempt to attain security by justifying your existence, it turns out, was both futile and unnecessary all along. Futile because life will always feel uncertain and out of your control. And unnecessary because, in consequence, there’s no point in waiting to live until you’ve achieved validation from someone or something else. Peace of mind, and an exhilarating sense of freedom, comes not from achieving the validation but from yielding to the reality that it wouldn’t bring security if you got it.” — From Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.
II. Watching Your Thoughts (Mastering Mindfulness)
“When someone goes to the doctor and says, ‘I hear a voice in my head,’ he or she will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way, virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the involuntary thought processes that you don’t realize you have the power to stop. Continuous monologues or dialogues. You have probably come across ‘mad’ people in the street incessantly talking or muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other ‘normal’ people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or ‘mental movies.’ Even if the voice is relevant to the situation at hand, it will interpret it in terms of the past. This is because the voice belongs to your conditioned mind, which is the result of all your past history as well as of the collective cultural mind-set you inherited. So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a totally distorted view of it. It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person’s own worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease. The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps for many years. This is what I mean by ‘watching the thinker,’ which is another way of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence. When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the same voice has come in again through the back door. You’ll soon realize: there is the voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sense of your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind.” — From The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
III. Taking Stock of Yourself (Performing a Self-Assessment)
“We cannot navigate, without something to aim at and, while we are in this world, we must always navigate. We are always and simultaneously at point ‘a’ (which is less desirable than it could be), moving towards point ‘b’ (which we deem better, in accordance with our explicit and implicit values). We always encounter the world in a state of insufficiency and seek its correction. We can imagine new ways that things could be set right, and improved, even if we have everything we thought we needed. Even when satisfied, temporarily, we remain curious. We live within a framework that defines the present as eternally lacking and the future as eternally better. If we did not see things this way, we would not act at all. We wouldn’t even be able to see, because to see we must focus, and to focus we must pick one thing above all else on which to focus. But we can see. We can even see things that aren’t there. We can envision new ways that things could be better. We can construct new, hypothetical worlds, where problems we weren’t even aware of can now show themselves and be addressed. The advantages of this are obvious: we can change the world so that the intolerable state of the present can be rectified in the future. The disadvantage to all this foresight and creativity is chronic unease and discomfort. Because we always contrast what is with what could be, we have to aim at what could be. But we can aim too high. Or too low. Or too chaotically. So we fail and live in disappointment, even when we appear to others to be living well. How can we benefit from our imaginativeness, our ability to improve the future, without continually denigrating our current, insufficiently successful and worthless lives?
“The first step, perhaps, is to take stock. Who are you? When you buy a house and prepare to live in it, you hire an inspector to list all its faults—as it is, in reality, now, not as you wish it could be. You’ll even pay him for the bad news. You need to know. You need to discover the home’s hidden flaws. You need to know whether they are cosmetic imperfections or structural inadequacies. You need to know because you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken—and you’re broken. You need an inspector. The internal critic—it could play that role, if you could get it on track; if you and it could cooperate. It could help you take stock. But you must walk through your psychological house with it and listen judiciously to what it says. Maybe you’re a handy-man’s dream, a real fixer-upper. How can you start your renovations without being demoralized, even crushed, by your internal critic’s lengthy and painful report of your inadequacies? Here’s a hint. The future is like the past. But there’s a crucial difference. The past is fixed, but the future—it could be better. It could be better, some precise amount—the amount that can be achieved, perhaps, in a day, with some minimal engagement. The present is eternally flawed. But where you start might not be as important as the direction you are heading. Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak. Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.” — From 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Hermann Hesse on deriving meaning from life experiences:
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
II. Carl Jung on the impact of interpersonal relationships:
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
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