Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How do you know what you want?

Making decisions in life is difficult. With even the simplest choices, I find myself tearing through the given options, imagining distant consequences that create entire lives I have to choose to lead or not. In this way, everything can be seen as life-altering, and thus paralyzing. To me, what makes it so difficult is that I actually want two conflicting things. I have strong values in life that conflict with each other, and make me consider different options.

But let's define the soul as: the a priori subjective belief that you are a unique, individual, unified perspective. So accepting the objectivity of yourself. You cannot observe yourself. You can not perceive yourself. You are yourself. But "I" thinks it can perceive itself. It is the I that explains to 'you' who you are and what you can or can't do, the I that tells other people the same, the I that narrates your experiences. But you,  the soul, the perspective, have your experiences. It is often the I that makes the decisions about who you should or shouldn't date, what you should or shouldn't do, where you should or shouldn't live. But you can also act.

So what does this mean for decision making, the suggestion that there is a real you, a you that is separate from most of your conscious thoughts? Before the idea of a 'real' you, the conflicting values that lead to indecision seem to be of equal weight. The introduction of  a 'real' you implies that one value is wrong (not the 'real' you) and another value is right (the 'real' you). So now decision making is not a gamble. It is a real tangible something. We must investigate this 'you' and find out what he or she wants, and then do that thing.

Of course, investigation of this you, as the I should know by now, is fundamentally impossible. Only you can know you. The I can only know what lays outside of you. So we can not rationally determine or describe who we are. We can only experience who we are.

It is my assertion here that most decision making is gambling--and people rarely do what the soul 'them' actually wants. This is again because the I has no way of knowing what you want. It can only look outside of you and construct an identity that the I wants. But this will always feel empty, because the soul or 'real' part of you who perceives and has feelings and experiences is not getting what it wants. Some people, because of the stress and doubt that difficult decisions cause them, choose to completely ignore their conflicting feelings, and become increasingly attached to the I that has been constructed. Others, because of the sadness felt when you think what you want is impossible or out of the question for you never make any decisions. (because of the I's convictions--you are of course meant to do exactly what you are meant to do).

My definition of the soul may be hard to swallow. But instead of wondering whether it is objectively true (something that would be impossible) think instead about the consequences of believing it is true.When you are conflicted about a decision, just imagine that you are a unified consciousness. That there is indeed, something that you actually feel--not just think--that you want.

As a young person, when I try this exercise, I often come up with the feeling of: "I don't know". This may seem like a stopping point, or a loop. You can't decide what to do, so you feel that you don't know what to do. Duh. But it is actually an invitation. Having the real and deep experience of not knowing, of ignorance, turns quickly into curiosity. It the spark of real passion and investigation.

I suggest these things not only as a way to determine what you want in life. I suggest them because people's inability to have accurate ideas about what the 'real' them wants is actually extremely damaging to the outside, material world and other individuals in it. A central desire for most people in American consumerist culture is to make money, and then more of it. Another strong desire that most people express is to be 'successful', which I think roughly means be recognized by their relevant peers to have more value than the average person. And yet, it's not difficult to see that both of these 'desires' have immediate detrimental effects on the environment as well as our fellow humans.  We have ravaged the earth with our insatiable need to consume material goods, as advertising agencies have convinced us that only their products will make us feel good enough. And we operate daily under the conviction that some people are just better, and of more worth, than others, and it is our purpose to prove our individual power to others.

But I am for better or worse completely convinced that at the end of the day individuals are good and want to do what is good. And yet, most people claim to have these desires, that are very damaging for things outside of them. Some might then conclude that people are actually at the core not good. But I instead suggest that these desires aren't actually real. Even if you feel them strongly, what about the other desires that you have, buried deep, that can sometimes conflict? How about your desire for the people around you to be happy? For you to feel and trust real love around you? For there to be less suffering around you? Your desire to relax and enjoy the inherent beauty in artful creation or natural evolution? Your desire to no longer strive, no longer want? To just be?

A world where these desires could be met could be created. But it would first require a shift in our beliefs about what we actually want. What world do we want to live in? What are we doing to achieve that world, instead of striving to make our place in this world we can agree is not ideal? Which aspect of our desires would we like to be real? The choice is ours to make.

1 comment:

  1. i love this post. thank you.

    esp love:
    ignorance as the spark of curiosity and real passion..


    at the end of the day - we all want to do good.