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Why are you reading this? Is it because the title of this article brought up some emotion? Do you want to know who you are? Are you simply bored?
In this column, I hope to briefly explore the existential question of:
Who am I?
If you are expecting answers or a great revelation about life from one article written by a person who knows absolutely nothing about you, I hope I will not disappoint you when I write that this article is not intended to give you any answers.
If it did, it would rob you of some of life's greatest gifts.
Rather, it is intended to invite you in a non-judgmental way to open your mind to new possibilities and to ask thoughtful questions that you may have hesitated to ask before.
You may find that you return to this article more than once to read it. I hope that you are open to questioning anything that may come to mind as you read this during the next few minutes.
Answers without questions
It seems to me that people often want answers to their lives without first attempting to understand life in general, through independent inquiry and critical analysis. This is really quite unfortunate, considering our incredible potential for independent thought and innovation.
Considering our potential for independent thought, why is it that we often blindly accept answers from other people when we are fully capable of determining facts on our own? Are we lazy? Is it just more convenient to be told? Or, is it possible that we find comfort in being told answers instead of inquiring on our own, because of limitations imposed on us by ourselves or by society?
Consider this, if you will. Is it difficult to believe that many of us are on autopilot through most of our lives? Many of us wake up, go through our morning rituals, work, return home mentally exhausted, and promptly pass out after a large meal, every day.
When do we get time to reflect on our existence or enjoy life? Ten days of vacation a year? Is that life?
Some people choose to skip vacation and keep working. Among those who choose to go on vacation, some spend the entire time in an altered state with the assistance of alcohol or drugs. It seems as though, for these individuals, reality is something to be avoided at all costs.
If you are alarmed by this observation, it should not come as a surprise. Much of the worldwide economic system encourages this behavior, because it depends on people being trapped in a mindless state. If the workers of the world are too tired or too lazy to question the status quo, then nothing will change. However, some people are beginning to see a potential for change.
Given our current economic climate, some people are beginning to realize their enslavement to the established system. Now, they are looking for new guidelines on how to live, and there is no shortage of public speakers, gurus, or saviors who are more than willing to offer their "solution."
Unfortunately, this search is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: Replacing one guide with another is like exchanging one cookbook for another, and there is no independent thought involved.
Thus, the repetition of adhering to guides or cookbooks for life, then abandoning a cookbook and starting another, is a real tragedy; since many of us are completely unaware of the consequences for following a cookbook.
Is your life simple enough to be captured by a cookbook? If you believe it is, I hope you might consider that life is more complex than we take for granted. If you do not believe a cookbook can solve everything and you want to break free of this repetition, you may want to consider the following existential question:
Who am I?
Too often, we escape life by running to religion, work, drugs, or any other cookbook to distract ourselves from thoughtful independent reflection on our existence. Additionally, since many of us do not have time or energy for independent thought, we adopt labels or join communities that carry social prescriptions for appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
Is this cycle of distraction and prescription an inevitable part of human existence? If you are following me up to this point, please do not answer this question with a knee-jerk "yes."
Really, think about it. If it is too difficult to think about, is it because any alternative to the status quo is too scary? From what I have observed, the prescriptions that many people follow often come from a higher power, society, family, or any other source of perceived authority.
Why do we follow prescriptions?
Consider for a moment that we might allow prescriptions to guide us because we believe that they might save us from poverty, harm, shame, or any other negative possibility. It is easy to follow a prescription, because we are told about what will happen if we do. This is comforting, since it allows us to believe that the world can be safe and is somewhat predictable, but it is easy to become very passionate about the prescriptions we follow.
When other people choose not to follow the same prescription, it is not at all uncommon for us to spend an excessive amount of energy trying to convince them that our prescription is the correct one, whether through debate, war, or any other coercive means.
When you consider this, prescriptions seem incredibly superficial; and yet, we get caught up in prescriptions to the extent that we forget about the one fundamental and immutable aspect of our existence.
We are each individual human beings, with our own unique life experiences and potentials. Our individual existence as humans, regardless of social identity or status, adds to the history of humanity. That is a fact.
Can a prescription, or even a collection of prescriptions, capture the fundamental individuality of each human being in existence?
Unfortunately, many people do not realize that they have been trapped by prescriptions until they are in mid-life or their last years. At this point they look retrospectively on their lives and try in earnest to make meaning from what they just experienced. They often come to the realization that instead of living for themselves, they followed other people’s prescriptions.
What would happen if we came to this realization earlier in life? How would society change?
Again, I am only inviting you to consider the possibilities. It is not my place to judge or tell you how to live your life. If I told you how to live, it would merely be another prescription!
What prescriptions are you following right now? Have you questioned any of them? If you are able to recognize them, are you certain that you are aware of all of them? Do these prescriptions define who you are?
Once you are aware of prescriptions in your life and able to question them without fear for what might or might not happen, you can begin to explore the next question:
What do you want?
Nobody but you can answer this question. And nobody but you can decide whether to leave all prescriptions behind or to keep them.
Keep in mind that a person’s existence at any particular time and in any particular place is but a hiccup when compared to the great workings of the universe. Life, by any scientific estimate, is really a great cosmic accident. Yet, lucky as we may be, here we are.
It is hard to believe that we sometimes forget that.
Just some things to think about …
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Scripps Ranch and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink-friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377–3120 or you can visit his website.