The first booth on the left was dimly lit and made of raw-cut wood; thick and rustic. My friend sat waiting, skimming the beer list, which, at The Porter, is more like an international inventory of every beer ever. I sat with her. We exchanged pleasantries and then got to the good stuff: crushes, marriage, mental health, childhood, how our parents raised us, divorce, our unmet ambitions, gratitude no matter what, religion, politics, etc.
She ordered something mildly bitter from the Czech Republic and I ordered some expensive Stout with notes of chocolate, coffee, chili and smoke, so basically I was in beer heaven. We didn't cheers but we should have. Three hours spent sobre la mesa talking about the chunky parts of life with a woman I respect; It deserved a cheers.
There were many brilliant things said between us, and many silly things, but one thought sticks with me this week. The idea of Self vs. Other. The tension between those who tout self-awareness as the ultimate endeavor and those who unceremoniously spout something along the lines of, "get over yourself."
There are people who devote their every waking (and dreaming) hour to self-awareness, self-love, self-actualization. Admittedly, I give myself to this practice pretty fervently.
There are also people who see this as selfish and indulgent, and beg the self-absorbed to "wake up" and see that in the grand scheme of things, Self is small. Admittedly, I've felt this way too. Especially when the news is full of horrors; it brings me outside of myself and reminds me of heavier things.
It can be difficult to know what to do with two such important perspectives. I have some ideas, though.
The first is that I do believe in the importance of self-knowing. Actually, you can find some impressively substantial scientific research which backs practices such as meditation, journaling, seeing a therapist regularly, and reducing stress by finding time to enjoy yourself, etc.
Self-reflection has been said to make room for inner healing and growth.
Personally, I can't imagine life without journaling or my therapist. The things I've learned about myself through the process of self-actualization have changed the way I see the world. They've given me a more gracious perspective. They've reminded me of my own darkness, my own light, and how the two co-exist in all of life.
If we do not take time to be candid with ourselves, to understand where we come from, and to be born again brutishly into our own being, how will we give our best? How will we be honest with our worst? How will we engage in vulnerable, meaningful relationships? How will we create positive change in our surroundings if we cannot even do it within ourselves?
I cannot understand how self-actualization could be anything less than necessary.
I do believe in the need for perspective. Greater perspective. Beyond-yourself-perspective. Perspective that says, "right now, there are mass shootings. and child soldiers. and forsaken refugees. and maybe almost another world war. so, perhaps the trauma I experienced as a child from that one time my mom left me at the grocery store isn't the end of the world, or even the end of my own life. maybe i'm going to be okay."
Because I've seen myself and others spiral downward in a storm of depression spurred on by the re-living of past trauma and forgotten years. And I can't help but ask: why? Sure, it's important to explore the buried things, and feel them honestly, and move through the process of grief and healing, but why the torture of re-living it and re-living it and re-living it? Why the imprisonment of constant self-analysis? Maybe you got mad at your husband for leaving his dirty socks all over the floor because dirty socks are just really gross. Not because your father used to have smelly feet and you don't get along with your father because of what happened last Thanksgiving so dirty socks trigger you.
There is a way to abuse self-awareness. There is a way to obsess over the intricacies of yourself so meticulously that you lose sight of the great joy of living in a world full of billions of other complex life forms and even more complex relationships between them.
I know most people have suffered some serious trauma. There is a grave and urgent need for self-care, self-knowing, and self-betterment. The most brilliant men and women in my life have all spent time considering themselves, their fears, their darkest places, their strengths, and have given themselves to the life-long practice of wholeness.
But I also believe in letting. it. go.
and learning to see not only within yourself, but beyond yourself. Not only beyond yourself, but within yourself.
Make room for the art of self-actualization, and make room for a grander perspective.
Remember what happened to you when you were three, and think about the way the entire universe is expanding.
Talk to your therapist about your abuser, and then go wrap your arms around some kids who never knew their mothers.
Because it's both.
Know thyself and get over thyself.