Self-Esteem For Smart People (Part 3)
So, good stuff. Here's what we've got so far:
- 1a. We recognize that self-esteem is really freaking important and that everyone needs it;
- 1b. We recognize that we have emotional needs, and that it's our responsibility to get them met;
- 2a. We've identified some things that we think are cool and are doing [or at least planning to do] them;
- 2b. We've identified some of our emotional needs and are prepared to treat them like K-Rails.
So, what's left?
In my mind, two things — 3a and 3b. They're sort of the Advanced Course, if you will.
The first two things (1a & 1b) are purely about thinking; the second two (2a & 2b) require some action; and these last two are more abstract and require changes to our underlying mental-emotional operating systems. That means ongoing contemplation, and working on fully admitting the truths we find and integrating that knowledge into thought and action.
But you all are smart, so you'll be fine with that. ;)
What you might not be fine with is how big these two concepts are. For that I apologize, but I don't know any other ways to put them (yet). As has become normal for me, I find it easiest to borrow metaphors and phrasings from Eastern philosophy, but these ideas can be found in many places — wherever other people enlightened enough to know them, and smart enough to articulate them, have gone before us. ::bows to those ppl::
The first one you may have heard me talk about once or twice before…
V. Recognize the Primacy of Attention in Defining Your World.
Attention is everything. I can't overstate that, and neither can anybody else, because it's quite possibly THE most fundamental truth of the self-aware human experience. But what does it mean?
It means, in short, that your focus determines your reality. A man who stares intently at the dirt has dirt-life; a woman who stares intently at the sky has a sky-life. For most people, the focus of their attention is pulled around by whatever pokes them the most on a subconscious psychological level…two people may have very different experiences of the same situation, but we largely assume that this is just because of "who they are", not because they had any choice in it…and this is wrong. Just flat wrong. You can choose where your attention is, and by exercising this ability you can have a HUGE influence on the content and context of your life.
"Of course I can choose where my attention is," you're probably thinking; you do it all the time — you put it on this book, or that site, or that television; but when it comes to this emotion or that one, this pain or that pleasure, you probably often feel helpless to control it. You're not, though; it's just about getting better at it and learning how. There is one key trick to it, too, and that's recognizing when you can affect your attention…you can only change where it is right now. You have NO control over where it was, or where it will be — and that may sound silly but it's desperately important, especially since when you look at where your attention is right now, you very often find that it's not here at all, but rather focused on the past or the future, where it can't have any effect whatsoever.
Having your attention in the past or the future is akin to having left your most powerful weapon in your other pants.
Your attention, and therefore what kind of life you have, is determined by exactly one moment in time — the only one your attention can be moved in! THIS ONE.
So point 3a, Attention, leads very neatly into point 3b; and this makes sense, since they're incredibly closely related, and mastery of one cannot happen without mastery of the other. 3b, of course, being:
VI. Recognize the Supremacy of the Present Moment over the Past and Future.
Life is made of moments: A blurry bridge of them leading backwards, and a foggy bridge leading some distance forwards, and one crystal-sharp one that you're standing on. But if you haven't noticed, all those moments that you're not standing in exist only in one or more squishy, fallible human brains — the farther away they are, the less certain; but even ten minutes away they're nothing a smart person would bet his life savings on. Past and Future are made of pure mind-stuff, and it's neat that our minds have the ability to stretch a little ways in both temporal directions, but that stretching produces images — movies, recordings, fictions — not real things.
(Please go read that last paragraph again. I just realized that to give it the proper emphasis, I would have to type it all twice. ;)
THIS moment, though, this one has the force of all Reality behind it. All of the Past — the stuff we can remember and the stuff we can't, every molecule of it — is real and solid and manifest right now and nowhere else; and similarly, the entirety of what the Future can and will be is alive, now, here.
Don't fuck with the Now: Next to it, the Past and Future have as much hope as sock-puppets in a blitzkrieg. ALL their power comes from their ability to make you focus on them instead of Now, to do things out of fear, regret, etc. instead of in response to what actually is.
To say that more clearly (as if anything could be clearer than socks and bombings, right?), Attention is the most powerful defining force in any human life, and attention can only be controlled in the present moment.
You have control, in other words, of the most powerful thing in your life, right now. But if you don't wield it right now, you can't wield it at all.
And like all wonderfully simple truths, this one is a bitch to get the hang of. It doesn't really work in your daily life (though it will give you awesome flashes of wonderfulness as soon as you start to really contemplate it) until it becomes one of the most basic, fundamental parts of your being — not your thinking; farther down than that. The canvas upon which your thinking happens. So how do you get it there?
(Get ready to want to smack me. This next thing is part of the reason Zen teachers often went about armed, I think… ;)
It takes long, irritating work — in other words, that thing we call PRACTICE. The practice is generally (but not always) difficult and unrewarding, and often daunting, especially as you just start to get the hang of it.
PRACTICE turning your attention to the best possible place for any given moment (which means practicing paying attention TO any given moment, which is harder than you think it'll be if you've never consistently tried it). Get used to the feeling of full attention versus splintered attention (both can be useful if done on purpose). Practice waking yourself up during any and every activity, and asking yourself where your attention is, and if that's where you think it should be. Especially practice putting your attention fully on other people when you interact with them, and note the results. When you're bored, practice moving your attention from place to place, inside and outside your body, onto different objects and scenery, and note the difference it makes to your experience of being alive.
PRACTICE THIS, SERIOUSLY. It is, in my ever-so-humble opinion, the single most important skill anyone can ever have.
And every time life gets difficult on you, turn your thoughts to attention as soon as you can: See where it is, and what it's doing, and if possible, move it to somewhere better (if nothing good presents itself, move your attention to your breathing, which is always a good standby). Get used to thinking of attention as the key ingredient in every situation, and give it the, well, attention it deserves. And get used to taking attention away from the useless mental television of past and future, where it can't do you any good, and bringing it to the single slice of the present moment, where it's a vorpal sword.
And that's why, at the end of the day, Attention and the Present are key ingredients in real, lasting self-esteem:
Being Advanced Shit, this also comes with a caveat: You may have noticed, if you're cagey, that not all the other human beings work like this. In fact a pretty darn small sliverchunk of them do; and as you get the hang of the primacy of Attention and it begins to affect how you see and interact with the world, you do, in fact, run the risk of 98+% of humanity possibly thinking you're a weirdo.
I can't make any apologies for this, nor offer fixes for it, because quite simply I think this is much better than the way most people go about their lives, and personally I will always take "better" over "widely-accepted", no question. I can, however, say that when it comes to "people in general", I don't worry about convincing them that this is the way to do things — we all have to make our own choices, and it's not my place to say that this way is the best for everybody. But it's sure the best that I've found, and I think those who live by it are empirical evidence for its awesomeness.
To finish up, here's why this abstract-seeming ubermeta stuff is so important to self-esteem, particularly: The only cure for lies is truth. The only answer to darkness is light. For people whose demons are relatively benign or superficial, there may be other answers that work; but when your hatred is yourself and your demons are all about making you your own worst enemy, there IS no answer — no real, lasting, complete answer — short of the Absolute. You need a reset. You need to go all the way back to scratch and Find Yourself in the purest sense…and Attention and the Present Moment are the stones on that path, for certain. They may not be obvious or easy to get ahold of, but what that's fundamental is, right?
Thank you again, Internet, for reading along as I get this stuff down on paper. It's been really good for me to make it somewhat logical and de-entropied, and I'll probably clean it up even more later for easier consumption, which means EXTRA thank you to those who read it now!