For this week, I will be posting a excerpt from a side project book I have been working on titled: "Thoughts From The Bottom: A Reflection on How What Occurs Behind Our Eyes Influences Everything In Front of Them." The following pages are taken from the first section of Chapter One.
Chapter One: I Am But a Man
“Cogito ergo sums (I think, therefore I am)"- René Descarte
I am Just a Man
I want to start this out by specifying that I am not a scientist, I'm not a wildly smart psychologist, and I've never studied neurobiology. I don't have any fancy letters that come after my name, I've never done experiments or studies on other human beings, other than just watching their lives. I'm stating this, because I want you to understand that I am just a normal human being, just a man who was raised the way that his father was raised, who was raised the way that his father was raised. Just a man, who sat in the back of class, skated by in school by winging tests, and and thought there was no point in reading unnecessary books. I'm just a man, who found out the hard way the truth that we never seem to notice or accept. I'm just a man, who found out the power of thoughts.
Everything in this book will follow that ideal, the power of thoughts, from a ground level. Not being a doctor-level professional, it would not be fair to try to sell you any new age ideas, cure-alls, or fixes to your problems (not that any of those work anyways). Therefore, this book will outline the way that what occurs between our ears impacts our day, shapes who we are, and ultimately controls our life, from a base-level perspective. It will outline what I have learned in my hunt for mental peace, and what I have seen either free or plague those around me, in a manner meant for everyday use. Everyone wants happiness, everyone wants peace and freedom from pain, and although those are almost impossible to obtain regularly, this book’s purpose is to serve as a guide to help you find these in your life, and to stand your ground when they go missing.
As I have grown up in a non-typical family setting, that took place in a stereotypical American suburban in a small California town, I realized that most of our lives seemed to be placed on a track in front of us. If your parents are successful, you most likely will be too. If your parents are racists, or mean, or hateful people, chances are you will be too (there are exceptions to every rule, as this is not the same with everyone born into a hateful family). It makes sense to understand why this is the case, as your parents teach you values, ethics, and what to believe in. Unfortunately, we were never taught to question these, to see if they match up with who we are as individual human beings.
When we are asked what we believe in, we jump right to what our family, our culture, our country believes. With FOX News blaring nightly in my home, I was an avid republican by the age of 10. Despite not even knowing what the word meant, or what republicans believed in, I would argue until my face turned blue with classmates about why Obama was a terrible president, and about how democrats were wrong. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t know any better. We never know any better, we just become a lump sum of the different ways we were raised, and assume that this is who we are.
In Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, the author, Julia T Wood, states the idea as follows:
“Particular others also influence our identity by providing identity scripts, which are rules for living and identity (Berne, 1964; Harris, 1969). Like the scripts for plays, identity scripts define our roles, how we are to play them, and the basic elements in the plots of our lives. Think back to your childhood. Did you hear any of these scripts from family members:“We are responsible people,” “Our family always helps those in need,”“A good education is the key to success,” “Look out for number one,” or “Live by God’s word”? These are examples of identity scripts people learn in families.
Many psychologists believe that the basic identity scripts for our lives are formed very early, probably by age 5. This means that fundamental understandings of who we are and how we are supposed to live are forged when we have almost no control. Adults have the power, and children often unconsciously internalize the scripts that others write. As adults, however, we have the capacity to review the identity scripts that were given to us and to challenge and change those that do not fit the selves we now choose to be.”
I truly believe that this, more than anything else, is the reason we find so many unhappy people in their middle ages. They have lived a life that wasn't for them, because they never found out who they were, what they value, and what they believed in. My family values security and stability, so by the time I was of working age, it was pushed to get a secure job. My father’s advice was always: settle down, get a career, and make good money. Being raised this way, I never questioned it, until I was forced-fed a rejection letter from my “dream job” (in the moment this was terrible, but in hindsight this was a fantastic event).
Therefore, understanding the importance of asking yourself what matters, not to your family, not to society, not even to the world, but to you, is the reason this book’s second purpose is to make you question everything you hold dearly. This way, maybe we can start to piece together the answers to the questions that we never asked ourselves.
In order to achieve both of these purposes, to help as a guide to build mental fortitude, and to have you question everything in order establish an understanding of who you are, I will need your help. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, lean into it. We are always taught that discomfort is bad, but this is another thing we must question as to why we believe that. Also, if something in this book does not correspond with your own beliefs and opinions, ask yourself why you believe that, and if this is your belief, or someone else’s. Lastly, attempt to read with an open mind. It is far too easy to refuse to accept anything that, regardless of it’s validity, counters what we hold as truth, and what we believe because of how it makes us feel. It is uncomfortable feeling as though what we have accepted as truth may not be so, but discomfort is growth. (It may very well be that despite having an open mind and attempting to learn, you deem everything in this book worthless, but you still attempted!)
Whose Thoughts are They?
Why do we do what do we? Why do we think the thoughts that we think?
I was never the one to ask these questions growing up. I never truly was conscious of how my thoughts could affect the way that I felt. In fact, I was so much in fear of my thoughts, that I used to tell my ex-girlfriend that it would feel as though my mind was like a balloon. It would slowly inflate, filling and filling of all the negative thoughts I attempted to hold down. Suddenly, it would pop, as I told her. Once this occurred, I was out of commission for days, as it felt as though I was unable to control the depressive, anxious, and ultimately harmful thoughts that would fill my head. I used to tell myself that this was just who I am, and this was something that I would have to learn to deal with. When friends or family would question my assumption, when they would argue that I was just accepting without trying to fix this issue, I got defensive. I told them that it was a mental condition, that depression is something that I could do nothing about, that this is my life now.
It was hard to accept that I was wrong. It was hard to see that I was using this idea of depression or anxiety as a grudge, and excuse to allow myself to feel this harmful thoughts. I would tell myself that I never had to try to feel better, that it was okay that I was always sad, because it is out of my control. I let this run me all the way down to the depths of hell, until there was almost nothing left of the person I once was. This is what thoughts, when left unchecked, can do to you.
Why do we hold our assumptions as truths? Why is it that we assume we know how the world should work. My father, referring back to the previous example, feels that security is the greatest thing one can achieve. As he told me, when I told him that I wanted to “find what my heart wants me to do”, he responded, “Well we can’t all be rockstars, someone has to work.” Unfortunately, he has never questioned this belief, has asked himself if this notion that one must be financially, physically, and mentally secure is something he values, or something that was impressed upon him as a child.
When attempting to fix the separations in our relationship, I explained to him why I dropped out of “the best job I could ask for at my age” (as he put it). He seemed so upset that I gave up a potential six-figure job to go work for ten thousand dollars, living in a van (I’ll explain this job later, but it was fantastic!). I tried to explain to him that “This idea of having money to fall back on doesn’t spark me, Dad. I want to find what excites me, what fills my soul. I want to establish a purpose, not just work to live”. He explained this on me being a “child who doesn’t get the world”.
I am not telling this story to paint my father as a dictator-esque head of the house, nor am I aiming to put myself on a pedestal as some type of martyr who broke free. This story shows that we may hold onto values and thoughts so tightly that we see them as overarching truths. My father never questioned his thought on this, and I never questioned my thoughts against it until after I moved out. After researching and asking my grandma, I learned that my grandfather was the same way, which explains why my father is too. My goal is to show how questioning those thoughts can lead us to establishing ourselves as individuals. I questioned the assumptions that were laid onto me, and after struggling to find footing, was able to realize why I didn’t agree with them.
A few years ago, as I sat on the edge of my bed, I could hear my then 8 year old sister having one of her patented screaming breakdowns. She had lost, or so she claims she had lost, a $20 bill that she received from my grandmother for Christmas. After what felt like hours of her scream-torture to my ears, I finally tried to reassure her that everything will be okay. I mistakenly took the route of “$20 is not that much money”. Foolish, yes, but I tried.
Her response to me upset me more than it probably should. She let out an 8 year old sherik, and said, “But I need money! I need it to survive!” Whose thoughts were these? They couldn’t be those of an 8 year old. Where, or how, did an 8 year come about this idea that money is crucial to survive, and how did it get so embedded in her mind that it is truth. Now, I understand that youth do, and accept, crazy things that are never part of reality, but the fact is that we teach our values onto our kids, or those around us at a young age. As with the identity scripts, we tend to have the groundwork for who we will be, and what we will value laid out for us when we are children.
If this knowledge is readily at had, why do we fight so hard, and cling to our beliefs, if they aren’t even ours? How do we know what are our thoughts, and what have been displaced on us by past generations?
How can we blame others for their behaviors, if it is obvious that they are just doing what they think is right, based off of the set values they have inherited? When I began questioning who I was, and who I wanted to be, I struggled greatly. I would sit in the nightly armchair lecture about life, finances, and work, where I would steadily resist all thoughts my Father and Stepmother threw at me. It was as if I had already realized that their values on life, their thoughts on success the ones I wanted at the time (Looking back, I realize now the knowledge in their advice, and I could have handled this disagreement in a better way, instead of the regular arguments that took place). I felt as though I had to defend my thoughts, fight for the right to have my goals. As if validation on what I consider important would make it real for me.
I told my father that there has to be more, that there has to be some reason why I am here. I told him that I couldn’t imagine sitting, and (doing what I considered to be) wasting my life away. I told him that I want to be different. He responded with telling me that we can’t all be rockstars. How can I blame him for his viewpoint, if it is all he was ever taught? When I told my best friend about my plans to travel the country, performing community service and finding what my purpose is, he responded with, “Some day you’ll have to grow up and get a grown-up job.” Despite how hurt, and frustrated at a lack of support I felt, I realize now that this is what he sees as advice, because it is probably what he was taught as a child.
Looking back, it is clear to see that my perceived lack of support was all based on perception. My father wanted to support me, and he was, in the only way he knew how. To him, chasing down a goal at the expense of a steadily job is ludicrous, and his attempt of convincing me otherwise was his system of support. He never intended to shoot down my dreams, and neither did my best friend, they just wanted to help me the way that they knew how. No one does wrong and bad things on purpose, everyone does what they think is right. Understanding that, we also must see that sometimes the ones closest to us are the ones that hold us back the most.