Saturday, March 11, 2017

The process of identification

I've been asked on numerous occasions as to how I came into this personal insight about life, and relationships, and all sorts of crap I write about.  I hate even writing that sentence because I feel like it comes across as haughty or arrogant.  And I certainly rarely feel like I truly have the answers to people's problems.  Mostly, I write about what I've experienced, what I've learned from those experiences, and the things I feel I could have done differently when I was existing inside of those times in my life.

I'm not special.  Or unique.  I'm just old enough to have enough seasoning, if you will, to have walked down enough paths in my life that I can often identify with what others in similar situations are going through.  I've also read enough crap on all these things that if combined, would probably fill the library of Congress.  Not that it's always served me.  After all, knowledge is useless without the ability to apply it.  Which is something that hit me most recently when I was pondering over a certain phrase I hear quite often in relation to the average dude/chic.

And that is "people are just stupid."

I have no doubt, that some of my closest friends, who love me dearly, could at any time utter that phrase about me.  Despite all I've written, all I've read, all I've learned through books or life or whatever, I'm positive the people who know me best could tell you "Paul can be really stupid."

And that's not true.  Ok, so it is.

And you know what?  You're probably not that stupid either.  Or maybe you are.  Bear with me...

Someone reading this right now probably does think I'm stupid, mostly because of something I wrote before that they didn't like.  But disagreeing with me on something doesn't make me stupid.  If you're smarter than I am (which most are, trust me), then perhaps I was just ignorant.  Or perhaps I didn't care.  Which would make me apathetic.  Or maybe I was ignorantly apathetic.

Possibly, I didn't have enough sleep the night before and just had my asshole meter pegged out.  Take your pick.

Where am I going with this?

I don't think it's stupidity that holds most people back in life, or keeps people from making what others would deem a more "proper" or "appropriate" decision.  You know why I think that?

Because anytime you're immersed in a situation where you have some type of investment in it, your own personal decision making can become very shoddy.  To everyone else looking in from the outside, they often can and do give the same advice.  Think about that; if you have 8 people all telling you the same thing, there's probably some truth to it.  And in your mind, you may already know those truths.  But your heart tells you something totally different, doesn't it?

Like......."don't listen to them!  WTF do they know?"

Or there's just so much conflict between your head and your heart that the noise reverberating between the two creates and echo chamber, where everything is so loud that you can't differentiate between what seems like a logical decision, and what seems like an emotionally driven one.

Logic most often seems so sound doesn't it?  It's like putting the key into a car.  Someone asks you to start your car, logic has you put the key in and turn the ignition.  Simple.  Straight forward.  I like it.

But life isn't starting a car.  Life is driving down the interstate on cruise control, with your favorite jam on, with the windows down in 72 degree weather, and you have this amazing tan, and your hair or beard or eyebrows are on point, and there's nothing but open road in front of you.

Then you look over and gaze at the sun, to notice it's starting to set and the sky is filled with all these magnificent colors that look like God hand painted it all just for you to marvel at.

Then you look back to the road, and you have no idea where that petroleum truck came from, but it's veering all over the place, and then smashes into the bus full of toddlers, exploding into flames as you cry "Oh God, NO!!!!!".  And there's no time to lock up the brakes to avoid a head on crash into the chaos you've just witnessed, so you veer around it only to see the ground opening up, and realize it's a massive sinkhole developing right there in front your eyes.  And you can't avoid it and drive right into it, falling for what seems like an eternity into this deep dark black hole.  Then suddenly it all stops.  Miraculously your car stops and you realize it's landed on something sticking out of the ground.

"Why...that looks like part of the root of a giant tree!  What a miracle!"

Suddenly, a light from above starts illuminating the pitch black you were enveloped in, and you look up to see what it is.  Then realize it's that petrol truck.  Somehow it too fell into that sinkhole with you and now it's coming down  through the blackness right on top of you.

And then....

Well, you know what I mean.  In a split second things can change in our life, and most of the time, those things are completely out of our control.  And we often do our best to navigate past the toddlers on fire, and avoid the giant sink holes.  But sometimes we crash right into that pre-K school bus too.  Or we do drive right off into that sinkhole.  And in those moments, I bet money, if someone really cool and collected was watching from the side of the road they would have all the answers as to how to avoid that whole mess.

"Ya see, dumbass, you shoulda just eased on the brake a bit then veered further over to the median where there is safety and comfort, and mixed drinks.  But noooooo, not you.  You lost all composure then then you're all baffled as to just how in the hell you went careening off into a big ol' sinkhole."

Yes, we all have that friend, with all the answers.

But they aren't the one behind the wheel, and they aren't the one trying to avoid the flames and massive holes in in the ground that swallow us up.  And even worse, if they have been your friend long enough, you've seen them punch on the gas and plow right into the flaming toddlers and asked them "just what in the hell were you thinking??!?!"

But in a jumbled mess, we often do fall right into that sinkhole.

And when we do get swallowed up, it's hard to be logical sometimes.  Most of the time, I actually do believe we "know" the right things.  We have the answers.  Here, let me make this simple.  Is your current situation one filled with doubt and uncertainty?  Is it filled with angst and trepidation about your future?

That's good.  I like that.

You know why I like that?  Because it means you are on the cusp of growth.  But not until you figure out what you want to lead your decisions with.  And that's the other part in all of this.  Sometimes we need to lead with our heart, and sometimes we need to lead with our mind.  And sometimes, it's a little bit of those two things helping each other to reach the decision we need.  In fact, most often, I have found that it takes our heart and mind getting on the same page before we can have some clarity, and find the strength to make the choice we feel is our heart.

So in the end, it's our heart we need to appease.  Because ultimately, that's where our passion and desire comes from.  Our mind is the voice that says "the speed limit is 65".  It's our heart that screams "but I like to go fast!"

Then that petro truck....

Anyway, there's another point to all of this.  It's through all of this "crap" that gets filtered into our roadway that we navigate through that serves us with something called "experience".  And it's that experience that allows us to connect very deeply on a level with others who have also witnessed the Petro truck/toddler horror/sinkhole combination.

"This one time, I was driving..."

"Holy shit, me too!"

You've had those conversations.  And when someone gives you the "holy shit, me too" there's an instant form of connection that happens within that moment.  The process of identification.

The "I too drove into massive sinkhole..." connection.  Not many people have that.   It's a rare one.

But your problems and conflict feel rare to you, don't they?  They feel unique and probably most often make you feel like you're isolated from the rest of the entire universe in your pain, and that certainly no one else has been through it.

"Not like this."

"And this ain't her first heartache
But it feels like, it feels like the worst
And she says
Can someone tell me how this can happen
And I guess that God only knows
My heart used to be
The sweet shop of love
But now the sign on the door
It says sorry we're closed
And I hear myself tell her
Some old words I know they won't help
And then I feel guilty
'Cause I closed some sweet shops myself" -- Edwin McCain

This one part in this song encapsulates everything I'm taking 9 million words to write about here.

She's heartbroken.  And it's the worst one ever, and she feels alone in this, and has no idea how this all happened.  And Ol Edwin, he's trying to throw some verbiage at her that will soothe the pain, but he knows through experience, through identification, the pain she's dealing with.  And that there's no words to ease what she's feeling.  And then he feels like shit, because he sees in her, what...most likely, he's done to someone else.

Hollllllllllllly shit that's deep.  No, it really is.  I think it is.  You don't have to.  That's fine.

But because he's been there, on both sides of it, he can identify with what she's going through.  Maybe he can't ease it, and his words may give no consolation, but there becomes a connection through experience, that only experience can create.  And this is how we develop those bonds of friendship or love or romance or trust.  It's through the experiences we've had that we can see in someone else.  All the ways our lives unfolded in front of us, that they too have had unfold in front of them.  And boom, connection.

I've read many times the criticisms of motivational memes, or memes about success and that "none of the people posting these are successful, or are inspiring people".  But I really don't think that's why people post them.  I think they post them because they are trying to inspire themselves.  Or perhaps said meme resonates with them in a way that conveys how they are feeling in those moments.  I don't think it's really for anyone but the voice inside their head that is in the waves of feeling particularly good, and riding the crest, or particularly low, and trying not to drown.

Certainly, some people peacock on social media about their relationships.  We all know "that couple".  The one who puts up pics together and writes gush post after gush post that starts with "this man..." or "this woman...".  But behind the scenes, for those that know them personally, know things aren't so peachy keen.  For those people, it truly is about presenting an image they wish they were truly living.  Who doesn't want that?  Who doesn't want a relationship or love life filled with deep feelings of limerence for someone?  Dopamine is a hell of a drug.  And truthfully, one we need fairly often to simply feel alive again.

People going through the down slope in their lives enjoy a "like" or five-hundred when they post a pic of them and their significant other.  I read a while back that we're at the point now where people cannot differentiate between a like on social media, and a truly genuine compliment in real life.  And when you apply that method of reward in a deteriorating relationship, you can understand that it's immediate feedback that "everything's ok."   Even when it's not.  But the temporary release from the clutches of despair due to all of those likes can offer up the reprieve one may need.  It doesn't make it "real".  But who knows what is real anymore?  Is the feeling of relief one gets from fake affirmation real?  To the person feeling it, it is.

I think the saturation of social media has created a lack of connectedness in real society.  We see memes or read a status that makes us laugh, and we more or less share in that with someone by liking or commenting.  But roll our collective eyes at the ambiguous writings or pictures related to pain or anguish and dismiss them as attention seekers, who should just "get their shit together."

You know who really has their shit together?  Kids.  You know why kids do?   Because life is often fairly simple, and because it's simple, they can apply straight forward simplistic solutions.  Kids who aren't inundated with social media by having a smart phone can read people better than most adults, because as adults, most often we become so fixated on our own world, we don't often take time to pause and remember the universe doesn't revolve around us.  When we have personal pain it's really hard to remind ourselves that there are people living in the rest of the world dealing with pain and anguish as well.

I had someone tell me one time "the thing about emotional or personal pain is that it's like hitting your hand with a hammer.  If you miss the nail, and smash your finger or hand really hard, then until that pain subsides, you'll have trouble finding empathy for someone else's pain."

So there you sit, scrolling through your news feed, enveloped in your own personal crisis and what jumps out at you is some meme, that resonates with how you're feeling.  Without taking a moment to think the reason the person posting it, might also be dealing with some personal crisis or area of pain in their life, and that it spoke to that place inside of them no different than it is doing for you at that moment.

But you've smashed your hand really hard with that hammer, so your focus is turned very inwards, and the rest of the world gets shut out.  And the truth is, that's not always a bad thing.  One of my favorite metaphors about dealing with problems is comparing it to the safety check they give you on an airplane.  They tell you before you put the oxygen mask on your child, or person you are caring for, put yours on first.  Because you have to be at your best before you can take care of someone who can't take care of themselves.

And often times, through social media, I really believe that people post stuff or write stuff out of a longing for a certain degree of connectedness while they are navigating through pain points in their life.

I can scroll through my feed now, and when I read something or see a certain meme, especially if someone keeps using similar themes over and over again, I say to myself....




"really in love..."

"ambiguous status means someone will see it and know it's about them and it's there to get some response...possibly in private..."

That last one was long, but I really think that.

The reason I come to these conclusions is because I've been there, and writing is my outlet.  But I've never written for anyone but myself.  It's an outlet for my own personal pain, or high wave crest riding.

And you know what's happened over the years?  Since I'm usually fairly transparent about all of the really bad choices in my life, or the struggles I've gone through?  I get a lot of messages from someone who reads it, and they too feel like...

"Oh man, I fell into a sinkhole once too!"

And that's what binds us together as friends, family, casual acquaintances, and significant others.  And without our sinkholes, we can't have personal identification with others who are struggling as well.  We need those toddlers to be set on fire.  We need those sinkholes.  It's those moments of terror and chaos and uncertainty that eventually shape who we are, help us connect with others in crisis or pain, and give us the chance to grow into more than what we currently are.

And at some point, you're not going to be hooked onto that tree root, deep down in the depths of that sinkhole with the flaming petrol truck bearing down you.  You'll be back on the road, with your favorite jam on.   You'll have stopped to take a look in the mirror and notice your hair or beard isn't as perfect as it once was.  A reminder of what had previously happened.  And your car won't be so pristine looking.  Someone will stop to ask you if you got in a wreck.  And you'll say "Yeah..." and tell them what happened.

And every once in a while, when you tell someone this, they will look back at you, with a familiar look, and say "oh man, that happened to me."  And you'll realize at that point, that most of the roads we traverse down, were beaten paths already.  Walked by so many people long before they presented themselves to us.  And eventually all of these struggles and pain and toddlers that are engulfed in flames by petrol trucks, aren't situations that were unique.  They were just unique to us.  But they serve as a means to identify with others who have struggled with those same situations, and found a way to get back out.  But it also serves a means to help others, who have fallen into a hole, and have no idea how to get back out.........

A hopeless chronic relapsing alcoholic addict had fallen into a hole and could not find a way out.

Friends and family heard the alcoholic addict crying out for help in a sincere and despairing appeal, "I cannot go on like this! I have everything to live for! I must stop, but I cannot! You must help me!" So they offered the addict "frothy emotional appeals," bailed the addict out of trouble and gave the addict a ladder to climb out of the hole with, but the chronic relapser sold it to finance the next spree only to realize afterwards that the hole was now deeper than ever!

A doctor who was walking by heard the alcoholic addict crying out for help, stopping the doctor said, "Here, take these pills, it will relieve your pain." The doctor offered the addict methadone, suboxene, and a whole plethora of anti-depressants. The alcoholic addict took the pills and said thanks, but when the prescription ran out the pills ran out and the pain came back and the addict realized that he was still stuck in the hole.

A religious person happened to be strolling by and hearing the addict calling out for help stopped and gave the addict scripture, replying, read this scripture while I say a prayer for you." The addict read the scripture while the religious person prayed, but it the help was all faith and no works and the addict realized he was still stuck in the hole.

A renowned psychiatrist walked by and heard the addict pleading for help. He stopped and said, "How did you find yourself in that hole? Were you born there? Are your parents to blame? Tell me about yourself and your life in that hole, it will alleviate your sense of loneliness." So the addict talked with the psychiatrist for approximately an hour, then the psychiatrist said he had to leave, but he would come back next week. The addict thanked the psychiatrist for his time even though he was still stuck in his hole.

Finally a 'recovered' alcoholic addict happened to be passing by and heard the poor man's cries for help. Right away, the recovered alcoholic addict jumped into the hole with him. The suffering alcoholic addict said, "Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck here in this god forsaken hole!" But the recovered alcoholic addict said with a twinkle in his eye, "It's okay brother, I've been here before; I know the way out!"

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