I like to think of myself as a rational individual. In fact, “cold as a snake” was a constant refrain by the non-Trekkie members of my family who would, had they been smarter and prettier, have called me Spock (obviously much to my delight – so maybe they were onto something…but I digress).
I have found solace in trying to think through things more times than feeling my way through them. And while I have frequently thought wrong about things, both the number and severity of the mistakes were much smaller than when feeling through them.
If there is a heart, mine is logical.
But…as you grow older you get to go deeper into some things. One of which is the nature of thinking itself, my own thinking in particular. An unexamined assumption is that “I” (that atom, least divisible part of me) is both rational and attempting to maximize my well-being.
Two powerful influences disrupt, distort and destroy such a beautiful idea: cognitive biases and social influences (peer pressure and family history). They twist reason into prejudice and rationalization, and they bend my goals for my well-being into a set of learned behaviors which are labelled The Good Life.
These are not two things which are either easy to identify or to correct. Of the two cognitive biases are by far the simplest to do something about. A few hours spent at Clearer Thinking will give anyone enough tools to begin the work.
Social influences are much more difficult. I imagine that spending considerable time alone would help weaken those effects. But what kind of solution is that?
Turns out that the Ancient Faith has a plethora of practical advice and exercises to help you deal with the less-than-rational parts of yourself.
To begin with there is the need to train your attention to begin to notice all these “external” voice – I was going to say artificial, and that might be closer to the truth. For example, there is My Mother’s Voice , and I am quick to cry that it is not “my” voice but rather her. But is it really? In reality she is not standing behind me whispering (or shouting) what I should do….it is an internalized set of instructions. Yes, there probably was a time (or many times) when she did tell me just what I am hearing in my head now. But it is all in me.
So I need to spend sometime developing the capacity to catch myself doing things which are learned behavior. In Biblical parlance I have to be nepsate, gregoresate (1 Peter 5:8-9, “sober and watchful”). All. The. Time.
As a secondary step try choosing some non-important task to repeat all day. A really good one is to promise yourself you will be aware every time you cross a doorway. Surely a simple task! Hah! You will be shocked how much you wonder around completely unaware, focused only on your own thoughts and your own little world.
Again, not sober and not watchful. I know the Peter passage is about spiritual warfare, but honestly, if I cannot even pay attention to obvious things like doorways, what hopes do I have of dealing with diaphanous things?
Over time this attitude of awareness and sobriety becomes second nature, or it has for me. Not that I am perfectly aware at all times! It is more like being able to switch from peripheral to tunnel vision.
The sobriety part comes from not acting like a drunkard – really! I tend to stumble into (emotional) situations completely unprepared. Before I know it I am getting angry, upset, and making everyone around me miserable. Had I been sober, and not intoxicated with my own daydreams and fantasies, I would have been able to engage the situation soberly and with sufficient watchfulness to not hurt anyone, not get defensive, etc etc.
Simple, baby steps, but much to work on.