"To define is to limit.” - "The Picture of Dorian Gray", Oscar Wilde
We humans are the beings of narratives and story lines. From the very moment we gain ability of language and slightest degree of self awareness, we are pushed by our parents, peers, teachers, to tell the story of ourselves. "What do you want to be when you grow up?", a teacher asks, "What is your favorite fruit?", asks your mother and "What is your favorite Disney film?" asks your friend on the playground. Before we are even able to grasp the true meaning of words and before we are even able to understand context, we need to tell the little narrative to others and then eventually to ourselves. Slowly as we grow up and as the amount of stories and narratives we tell increase, we gradually start identifying ourselves with the narrative, incapable of seeing any piece of ourselves, any drop of our own being existing outside of it. The part of our story line or narrative can become absolutely anything, our nation, our religion, our place of birth, our gender identity, our sexuality, the degree we study, type of music we like, it can even be something as small as your zodiac sign, MBTI type, whether you are A or B personality type. As these separate little stories gather over lifetime into a single story we tell of ourselves, it becomes difficult to live outside of anything but the story. Is the narrative a demon we ought to wage a crusade against? No, not at all. The narrative and story is part of human experience, it is a journey of a being that becomes aware and goes towards self-knowledge. However, the storyline can often be so powerful and so strong that individuals do not know to tell a difference between the actor and the character. They become so attached, so involved in this character that they play that they think it is impossible for them to exist outside of the character.
Self - Respect and Self - Fullfiling Prophecy
According to social psychologists, human beings have two main psychological motives and those are the motive of self-respect and motive to understand, to make greater sense of themselves and the world around them. As such, the perspective of social psychology grounds itself in Gestalt psychology which claimed that organisms perceive patterns or configuration and that how they act is defined by the subjective perception of the situation rather than objective reality which is closer to the teachings of Behaviorism. ("Social Psychology", Aronson, D. Wilson, M.Akert, R. Sommers). Whether we agree or disagree with the complex theories and disagreements between different schools within a certain subject, we all intuitively know that self-respect is an important part of any human being's self - image. We all seek to preserve our own being, but not only that, we seek to preserve our image of ourselves in a way that we can still feel good or feel the respect about the person we are. In this context, it can also be said that human beings do not like when there is a great disparity in their image of themselves and their actions, as it can greatly damage the human sense of self respect. As a consequence, very often, humans change their behavior in order to match that which they claim to believe or tell themselves or change their opinions and beliefs about a certain thing. This can also explain why so often to humans ideological, philosophical puritanism is necessary, it is enough to just go to one of the Stoic groups on the internet in which people daily ask questions such as: "Is it Stoic to cry?", "Is it Stoic to love?", "Would Aurelius approve of the way I make my coffee?". Since they claim to be followers of Stoic philosophy, it fills them with discomfort to act in a way that would damage their self-image and self-respect. When we create a certain self-image, identity, which is often closely related to the narratives we tell ourselves about our own selves, we behave in a way that will justify the narrative. We behave in a certain way, within certain expectations and with certain goals in the mind that we often see countless self-fulfilling prophecies which only further reinforce our story line. We slowly enter this loop where we constantly tell ourselves something and constantly see evidence that our story is the right one, that it is the truth and that this specific story we engage now is our "true self". There is a reason why almost any religion places importance on repetition of prayers, mantras, chants, it does not matter if one believes these to be effective or not, but that which is repeated often, over a period of time, eventually becomes the truth we live by. Anything which we repeat ourselves is a prayer and anything on which we focus our attention on, is the object of the prayer. The narrative would perhaps be harmless if it did not harm anyone, but very often it does provide harm even if it does not appear like one. Attachment to the narrative, the need to constantly justify this narrative, always counting past or future, always having to act in a way that proves the world that we are a genius, a good mother, a resilient husband eventually brings about great anxiety and existential dread. I believe this happens because deep inside we all know that we are not only this thing that we tell ourselves we are, that somewhere we know we are the actors and not the character, but we do not know how to tell one from the other.
The Actor Who is Aware of the Character
The freedom from anything begins with the awareness of the thing. If we are never able to tell, to notice, we ultimately cannot evaluate it and understand what it does. Detachment from the character, in that sense, begins with the awareness of the character and then slow, gradual, "unlearning", to identify with it. That does not mean we have to be inactive or stop being involved in the theatre, but rather to understand that it is the actor who moves the character and gives life, facial expressions, identity to it and not vice versa. When we see ourselves as a character, we ultimately relate to ourselves as an "it", an object that has to be, has to do, has to act certain way, and this object is constantly either pushed or punished for being or not being a certain way. In awareness, this relation to our own being as an "it" ceases, and we begin to see ourselves as "thou", not just an object, not even as a person, but rather as a being, as a life taking this specific place and this specific time. Our experience as characters, as humans, is limited and we have to live to experience life within this specific limited existence, but freedom from the story line also means that we do not place our identity in this limited human experience but see ourselves as a part of Divine, God, Universe, World Soul, whatever we desire to call it, which is boundless and limitless. We become aware that we are a drop inside the ocean and that yet ocean is nothing but collection of drops.