Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How I Learned to Take a Break from Analyzing and Start Loving Myself

A wise woman gave me a homework assignment back in February to list what I love about myself. Thank you, Gaelan! I knew immediately that this would be difficult for me (she knew it, too), but it would be a valuable key once I found it for myself.

Most of my life I have cultivated an analytical mind. There’s evidence to support that this is what American schools train males for, being analytical. This came in handy for mathematics and sciences in school, then for engineering in college, and then a career in computing. Though, this was not much of a help in relationships or in relieving stress. In relationships, when things got tough, I tried to reason through problems... this was obviously not very effective. It is hard to be reasonable when emotions run hot.

Jon Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis” goes into great detail on different ways of looking at “The Divided Mind.” Here, I paraphrase a portion of it and some stuff from later chapters, but there’s really no substitute for this erudite work. Reasoning is controlled by the neocortex (pre-frontal lobe), and this processing center is a v1 compared with the mammalian and reptilian response centers in the brain which are a lot more mature and stabilized. The rawest of emotions are in the reptilian layer, run by the amygdala. This is the organ that pattern matches threats and triggers fight-or-flight responses by dumping adrenaline and cortisol into the body. Once these chemicals are in the body, the neocortex is bypassed. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “amygdala hijack.” Clearly, trying to rationalize through this is futile. After this happens, the egoic mind gets very upset and feels that it is not strong enough. In the past, I’d beat up on myself and avow to get stronger. As in, I thought that I was the processes of my neocortex, that my thoughts = my being. This is the ego speaking to me, trying to get itself a stronger host.

My initial list started with loving that…
… I am unique.
… I have my own sense of style.
… my intelligence.
… that seek out and explore new things.
… that I can make friends easily.

During this week, I also began reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, and this awoke many things in me, including that this was not what I love about myself. It is what my ego loves about itself. What I learned from this list was that I craved being “special” being “unique” at the level of my ego, but I also saw that there was something deeper under there that was really important. I found that I was able to truly love things about myself, and the real list, the satisfying list is easy to create now that I can connect with my Being and look past my ego.

I love that…
… I source my actions in love.
… I can find flow.
… I love.
… I appreciate, seek out, and recognize elegance, truth, and beauty.
… I can easily forgive myself and others.

“I love that I source my actions in love.” These words were offered up by Gaelan, when I told her that I was not quite behind my original: “I love that I find it important to do the right thing.” I like her wording a lot.

“I love that I can find flow.” This is the time when I am completely in the present, not fighting what’s going on and my Being just naturally orchestrates my body and mind. For instance, there have been times during programming where I finished something big only to sit up and realize that I completely skipped breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That I hadn’t left my chair all day. Finding flow brings immense productivity and euphoria.

“I love that I love.” Is there a greater joy?

“I love that I appreciate, seek out, and recognize elegance, truth, and beauty.” Elegance, truth, and beauty as 3 facets to the same gem, very related, if not the same. The character Katsumoto in “The Last Samurai” has a line that really resonates with me: “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

“I love that I can easily forgive myself and others.” This is a blessing that I learned from my parents. In their home, a heated argument is completely forgotten in 5 minutes and everyone is in harmony again. It’s a beautiful thing.

This exercise brought me so much peace and joy. I learned how to love myself and that I can love myself. It helped me to identify and dissolve parts of my ego.

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