When people reject the need for introspection as a ‘waste of time,’ they’re denying objective reality.
The objective reality at stake is their consciousness. Consciousness consists of thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings—including ones outside of awareness—are mental events. This means they actually happen. They actually take place. To deny their relevance is to court evasion of reality—no different from evading the reality of one’s car, one’s checkbook, one’s house or one’s pet.
Think of psychological or emotional difficulty as the mental version of a poorly maintained car, a house with the roof falling off or an undernourished or overfed pet. Negligence has consequences.
We regularly hear the term ‘denial.’ Rarely mentioned is denial of what. The ultimate denial is denial of the mental events of one’s consciousness. If you deny or ignore the fact of your feelings, then to that extent you have filed for divorce with yourself.
I regularly hear about people who say, ‘I won’t talk to a therapist. I’m not crazy.’ Sometimes I cannot believe it’s the twenty-first century. Nothing has really changed, not that way.
What does crazy mean? Generally, it means denial of reality. Perhaps the craziest thing to evade or deny is the reality of your consciousness.
Cognitive psychotherapists and Objectivists such as myself are the first to insist, ‘Just because you feel it doesn’t automatically make it true.’ I’m not saying that because you feel something, it’s therefore a fact. What I am saying is that you have thoughts and feelings that affect you every day and hour of your life.
To ignore that your feelings exist is at best silly, and at worst downright dangerous, especially if you feel like doing something that in fact may be against your own best interest.
How are you ever to know what you’re feeling if you don’t take the time to identify it, and evaluate the prudence of acting on it?
How are you to understand yourself? Why is it a waste of time to better understand yourself, through regularly introspecting, and yet somehow efficient to plow through life without a clue as to why you think, feel and do what you think, feel and do?
How many times have people made an error and then asked themselves, ‘What was I thinking?’ The awful truth in such cases is: You weren’t thinking at all.
That’s the almost unforgivable thing. If you had reasoned out a particular course of action, and made an honest error—that’s one thing. But if you never took the time to identify which thoughts and emotions were actually and factually in your mind—compelling or prodding you to do or say something you now regret—then you were quite literally asleep at the wheel.
Historically, people look for arbitrary or out-of-context rules to tell them how they should live. Don’t eat pork, for example. Or have sex, but only after a government- or church-sanctioned ceremony takes place. Or appeal to a supernatural being for the answers, to come to you by magic. This is what passes for morality, after millennia of human existence and endeavor. How sad.
It’s little wonder that in a technologically advanced world, more and more people shed this approach to morality. Some still cling to the old dogmatic and out-of-context rules, perhaps for a sense of reassurance, but most have drifted away. But what’s to replace it? There’s the rub.
I maintain that the replacement for old morality is the monitor and control of one’s own mind. This is where psychology and self-awareness enter the realm of morality defined as living the best possible life.
If you’re in command of your consciousness, then you’re sailing. You’re fit for life, and you’re moral—by a rational definition of the term, something rarely explored.
To be in command of your consciousness does not mean to be a robotic creature devoid of emotion. That’s not human nature. Human nature includes emotions. But it also includes the capacity to think, not only extrospectively (about everything out there) but also introspectively (about everything going on inside).
Emotions are not necessary evils. They are the psychological substance of life. But you cannot thrive on that substance if you don’t nurture, monitor and explore it properly ‘ and regularly.
What do you feel? Why do you feel it? What are the consequences of acting on a particular feeling? Where does that feeling come from? Where are you headed, and why?
These are just a few of the questions that introspection answers. It doesn’t simply answer them for one time, or for all time. There’s no one-shot fix that engages self-esteem, awareness and happiness for all time, effortless after the initial intervention. Self-awareness and the self-examined life represent an ongoing project for the entire course of one’s entire life. Get used to it, and rise to the challenge rather than resenting it.
Your thoughts and feelings are a fact of reality. You evade them at your own peril. You embrace your consciousness with the reward of being fully and completely human.
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