Many of us are overwhelmed and misled by the overabundance of philosophical stimuli available today.
We live out the scripts of our parents, teachers, or spiritual gurus, and consequently, confuse others through our inauthentic actions and speech—not realizing that we’re living life from a place of continuous strife (trying too hard) and that following the ideals and opinions of other people is a common cultural conditioning.
Through looking at a few components of how this phenomenon develops, and why it continues to play out, hopefully a deeper awareness around limiting behavior patterns and self-inflicted suffering can be reached. By becoming aware of whether we are acting from our own will or someone else’s will, a deeper sense of self-confidence in our own intuitive abilities and growth can be developed.
Dynamics of Flow
The concept of flow requires an intuitive response to each moment. To flow with life means we adapt to the constantly changing internal and external environments. Flow is the opposite of stagnation. In a sense, to be in total flow is to let go of what we think needs to happen and to accept and recalibrate a new response to what is happening. Everything that violates this natural law can be observed to become diseased, inflamed, agitated, stressed, angry, or broken.
Another way of looking at the idea of flow is to envision balancing on a surfboard. If we are riding a wave and not reestablishing balance as needed, based on the current of the wave, we will fall off the surfboard. On the contrary, if we are paying attention to the changes in the wave, we are able to use its changes to our advantage, capitalizing off the free momentum provided to move ourselves forward with less expended energy.
Learning to Listen
Listening is a part of flow. To listen is to pay attention and be conscious of what is happening inside and all around us. When we work too much, we become exhausted. If we choose not to listen, not to rest, we become sick. If we learn to listen to our body’s needs and take breaks, we stay in a flow state, increasing the quality and efficiency of our work. When we force ourselves to continuously go against our own feelings, whether related to a job, living situation, or spiritual path, it severs our relationship to living in harmony with our own biology.
When we are searching for clarity, we often try on different philosophical approaches to life. We may put ourselves in the hands of a spiritual teacher, spiritual practice, or anyone who carries a message of confidence. When we haven’t taken the time to know ourselves, and when we are searching for guidance, we further distance ourselves from knowing who we are by once again placing the trajectory of our life path in the hands of someone else. We decide to adapt someone else’s philosophies and practices without paying attention to whether it truly resonates with us.
When we find it feels forced and incongruent with who we are as individuals, we become frustrated thinking we must not be trying hard enough. Perhaps, what is happening in this circumstance is that we are not listening to our own feelings, our own intuition, our own individual needs as a person.
When we choose not to listen to our needs as individuals, we become more estranged from ourselves. Why do so many of us prefer to emulate others rather than to know ourselves?
Fear of Intimacy
One possible answer to this is the cultural fear of intimacy. We are taught from an early age to listen to others rather than listen to our own feelings. One example of this is how I was encouraged to set aside my interests as a child and instead learn subjects in school that I would never pursue as an adult. The societal pressure to turn off our own feelings and complete tasks that other people deem important is something which conditions a fear of self-intimacy from an early age.
The biggest reason why we often continue to fulfill the projected agendas of others is that we are taught that if we don’t, we will not be secure in the world. We go through the majority of our life doing what others think we should do. By the time we reach adulthood, we have never taken the time to explore our own interests. In addition, we may have been taught that knowing ourselves means that we may not be secure or safe.
How this Affects Relationships
How intimate can our relationships to other people be if we have never explored intimacy with ourselves? This is not intimacy in a sexual sense, though that may be part of it, but intimacy in the context of being honestly curious about our needs and interests as an individual. This would include social, physical, educational, environmental, spiritual, and hobby-oriented needs.
It sounds ridiculous, but if we were legally assigned the responsibility of taking care of an exotic, endangered animal, would we put in the effort to discover what food, environment, and type of social interactions it needed to stay alive and healthy? Of course. The irony is that most of us do not realize that we are the exotic, endangered species, and the only people responsible for making sure our needs get met are us. Yet, for reasons we will explore below, there is a cultural tendency to ignore and suppress our own needs until we develop physical symptoms of illness.
Where Does Fear of Intimacy Come From?
To be intimate with ourselves is to become more aware. When we are more aware, we immediately notice more injustice, prejudice, corruption, and suffering in the world. This is painful and unpleasant; it changes relationships with people we may have become comfortable with or relied on for personal validation. Once we become self-aware, we must behave through this new awareness or suffer feeling inauthentic and dishonest. This usually means outgrowing certain relationships and finding new ones, as well as embracing an uncharted path. In other words, choosing freedom over security.
Becoming intimate with ourselves requires that we take personal responsibility and leadership in our life path. These virtues require more effort, rejection, possibility of failure, and suspension of the feeling of security, yet ultimately result in a deeper sense of self-fulfillment, authentic expression of self, and personal freedom. Therefore, it is commonly avoided and discouraged on a societal level out of the most basic instinct to survive in an unsafe world, and the underlying societal conditioning of not risking banishment from the herd.
But safety, in a survival sense, is not a guaranteed outcome whether we choose to follow the advice of others or pave our own trail. Perhaps, personal feelings of contentment and achievement relate more to the depths in which we become intimate with our own needs than to the extent we fulfill the projected trajectories of other people. It is only through this personal commitment to self-intimacy and awareness that we can free ourselves of this fear-based cultural conditioning, and embrace our full potential.
Author: Brandon Gilbert