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Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I know, this is the time of the year when I list all that I have to be thankful for in my life. I loathe being so predictable though, so what to do?
Well I've thought this through, and while there are in fact tons of things to be thankful for, I am going to pick just one. Note though that this doesn't mean that I am NOT thankful for all of the other blessings in life that I enjoy, because that would be completely FALSE. I am, in fact, truly blessed with healthy children who make me so very proud, the caring and support of a wonderful friend, a great job, (and the list goes on...hey, I AM listing things...need to stop).
This year I am going to be thankful for a gift that I think some seem to lack: the ability to be critically introspective. Maybe it's somewhat presumptuous to state that others lack this ability, but you know what? I've seen some evidence to the contrary. Now I'm not talking about morality or necessarily the ability to make "right" decisions, because the very concepts of "morality" and "right" are at least somewhat subjective in definition. What's more, I've learned over time that sometimes one has to make short-term decisions that seem flawed in order to achieve a far greater objective over the long term. It's really though not outcomes that I am thankful for anyway; what I am truly thankful for is an internal process that allows me to make decisions.
It's all about the process in life, at least when you boil things down to their elemental components. As is often said, life is a journey and not a destination. That journey, I suspect, is in part driven by your ability to be critically introspective. What do you do along the journey of life? How do you act and react when you come upon those milestones that define you as a person? I know, these are just questions, but they at the heart of being introspective. I do, in fact, question just about everything, all the time. At times this has been a blessing, such as when I need to make a decision at work that requires the weighing of different factors. It has also...all be it rarely...been something of a curse, especially when the introspection creates a kind of feedback loop that prevents me from acting. Mostly though it has been a blessing, as the curse part has been relegated to relatively few times in my life. These "curse" times are usually defined by instances where I've had to deal with ideas, concepts and emotions for which I have little frame of reference.
Anger on my part, for example, creates the kind of feedback loop I referenced above, as I'm simply not an angry kind of person. Even allowing myself to feel angry takes substantial work on my part, as my introspective tendencies tend to tell me to always consider someone or something else's point of view. "Maybe I shouldn't be angry" or "Maybe I've done something wrong to cause these feelings" are what typically ping through my head when faced with budding personal anger. Almost always these feelings end up getting somehow settled. On rare occasion I actually have allowed myself to be righteously cheesed off. Did it feel good at the time? Not really, but as a fully formed human being I am allowed to be angry once in a while. Introspection on introspection.
My particular blessing of being able to sense the world around me and ponder it has led me to appreciate, of all things, poetry. For me, poetry is a kind of song that goes with life. It's creating visuals and rhythm to slices of existence. Poetry can be, at least for me, a true act of introspection, both on the part of the author and the reader.
Maybe I'm just (as they say) "whacked". Maybe this "gift" of always questioning and pondering is just part of the equipment that all humans come with when we roll out of our mother. I don't think though that everyone takes advantage of it. I am also sure that, as a gift, it requires practice and cultivation. The full utilization of critical introspection seems to be contingent on other gifts, such as humility. It may be hard for someone to deeply consider their own thoughts, ideas and decisions if they believe they are inherently better than the rest of the universe. Mostly though, I don't think we, as a species, are introspective enough.
As for me, well the past year has been one of significant change. Throughout it all, I've maintained this internal discussion about what has been happening both inside and outside of me. That has been the one constant. I've learned though that you can use introspective to move your life along, or you can become so wrapped up in the internal discussion that it becomes an all-consuming monster...the kind of constant feedback loop that causes nothing but grief. In totality I've learned more about myself over the past year than I probably did in the last 15 years. The fact that I can ponder what I've learned...and use those learnings productively...is the gift of critical introspection. For that I am very grateful.
"The longest journey is the journey inwards."
- Dag Hammarskjold