The Gift Of Self-Awareness. Red On Duty.
In his classic work, "The Art Of Listening," the analyst Erich Fromm wrote that the most intensive talking therapy ends when a person begins to analyze himself every day for the rest of his life. I underwent analysis for six years and when it ended I began to analyze myself, and have done so every day of my life.
Almost everyone seeks a spiritual life, but very few people can or will make the time to have one. For me, self-awareness is the key not only to a spiritual life, but to a good life with love and meaning. I understand such a gift will never be handed to me, or bestowed by a fairy's magic wand. I have to work at it.
Fromm calls it Self Analysis, I call it Self Awareness.
By any name, it is the constant active awareness of oneself throughout one's life, to be aware, to increase the awareness of oneself, of one's unconscious motivations, of everything which is significant in one's mind, of one's aims, of one's contradictions, discrepancies, self-delusions and true motives.
This is the path to understanding oneself, to being selfless enough to truly love another, and to finding meaning in life rather than frustration, regret, anger and argument. Self Analysis has helped me remain grounded, especially in difficult times, and to continue doing the work on myself that brings me happiness, creativity, and fulfillment.
In recent years, this has helped me to face up to the truth about myself, much of it unpleasant, even shameful to me. But always productive, I always grow and learn from it.
I can only say that I self-analyze myself every single morning of every day, often in the dark while lying in bed, sometimes sitting alone in the living room by the window, sometimes sitting outside in the Adirondack chair near the donkeys or dogs.
It took me many years to do it, and now I could hardly live without it. It is one of the most important things in my life, at the core of whatever progress I have made in treating and coping with the mental illness that so often crippled me and nearly destroyed me and the people around me.
The truth is, it cannot be done without great seriousness and purpose. It is important to me, as important to me as almost any other thing in my life. If I did not see it that way, I could never be able to do it.
As Fromm writes, "there are things in life, if one really wants to take life seriously, which one has to do not because they are in themselves pleasureful but because they are necessary for other things."
If I didn't know the truth about myself, I could not possibly understand the truth about life.
This morning, right before my self-analysis, I read a story about President Trump, in which he said he misses his former life, the freedom he had, he never grasped how difficult the Presidency could be. The story prompted a wave of jeering and derision, many pundits acidly wondering why he thought being President would be easy.
But I felt differently. I felt empathy for him.
At one point, he talked about how much he loved to drive, and how much he misses driving, and how much he misses the simple freedom to move around as he wishes. He had everything he wanted in life, and gave it all up for something he thought he wanted, but perhaps did not. How often have I made that mistake.
Mr. Trump looked tired in the interview, he is my age, and I felt sympathy for how tiring that job must be, how draining. Being 70 is not the same as being 30, or even 60.
In my self-analysis I thought about all the writing I have been doing about empathy, but was it honest, I wondered, could I really feel it? I don't care for Mr. Trump's presidency so far, I am much bothered by his passion for frightening and hurting helpless people.
But when I thought of him driving one of his own cars on his own golf courses, happy and free, able to soak up the fruits of his long labor, I did feel a wave of empathy.
I was able to put myself in his shoes, I did feel for someone who has given up a life he loved for a life he thought he wanted, but doesn't seem to love yet. I can relate to him as a human being in that way, and i do feel for him.
You don't have to agree with someone to empathize. You don't have to even like them. This is why empathy is so difficult, yet so important for my own humanity. This is one of the insights that comes from taking the time to look at oneself seriously and continuously.
Self-awareness has to be learned, it has to be practiced. It depends, says Fromm, on the strength of desire to really have a happier life. And this is when I often think of Grandma Moses. Life is what you make of it, she often said. I wanted to have a happier life, but the roadblock was always me, not fate or the bosses or other forces and villains of the universe that I always blamed. It is not the left or the right.
Every morning, I face myself and day by day, I am coming to see the truth about me. I like some of it, I don't like some of it. But it has become a reflex now, I don't have to think about it, and it has helped me to have a happier life, and I meant to continue to do it for the rest of my life.