how to trick yourself into telling the truth, part 4: it's all about distrust

Dreamed last night.
Most parts of the action are gone. But I remember locations, indoor/outdoor shifts, relative levels of aloneness/togetherness. How bright it was, where there was vegetation, where architecture, where dinge. There are certain types of location which I've come to recognize; upper floors represent conscious mind structures, lower floors unconscious. Indoor locations tend to have to do with how my personality relates to itself; outdoor locations with how my personality relates to others. Patterns like that emerge after writing down, talking about, or otherwise being sure to remember the contents of dreams over a period of years. The longer the baseline, the more information can be gleaned. Just like with science. And other people's symbols are different. You can't use your baseline to interpret someone else's dreams. But you can use your own dream symbol set to understand your reactions to things that happen while you're awake, sometimes.

Maybe my ultimate goal on that score is to develop a map, or at least a legend, of my unconscious mind. So that upon waking or passing into lucidity, whichever comes first, I'll know exactly which parts of myself I've been visiting, and be able to deduce why. Of course this being a personality things are bound to shift; symbols change their emotional weighting, or come to refer to different aspects of reality. But when you have once mapped the structural aspects of a symbol, a change in its content is easier to detect, to track.

It occurs to me that my attitude here is not, and maybe never was, one of joyful exploration. Dreaming is not a retreat to a place of refuge, but a foray into enemy territory. A campaign of self-defense against myself, carried out in the most logical location.

I have always wrestled with my personality, as far as I remember. When I was little and would never have been able to phrase it that way, I was only aware that there were bad feelings I didn't want to feel and was afraid of. Having been taught as a child that these feelings were demons which were evil, came from outside of me, and wanted to make sure my soul went to hell made the struggle that much more grim and unrelenting. (And panicky. Though not so much of that, in recent years.) Of course plenty of the personality structures with which I wrestle did come from outside of me, but only in the sense that they were learned from or imposed by the actions and beliefs of other human beings. Once I figured this out, it seemed to confirm my attitude.

I was often counseled or encouraged based on the assumption that I had low self-esteem. While this was true, it was not complete. I've since met and talked to a lot of people with self-esteem issues, even in my short lifespan. (Birds of a feather, eh?) There is an pattern which occurs in a lot of people, which can be rendered in text as something like,
-> (shh! don't tell!) I want to like myself
-> but I want other people to like me
-> other people don't like me, they hate me
-> maybe they'll like me if I agree with them by hating myself
-> I'll show them I hate myself much more than they do
-> then they'll REALLY like me!

While I definitely contended with the above structure as well, my more central thought process ran something like:
1. My thoughts and emotions cannot be trusted; I find myself thinking and feeling things with which I do not want to agree and of which I do not want to approve.
2. Others do not approve of my thoughts and feelings either--but they object to different things than I do. Some of the things I fear, they want me to feel. And some of the things I want to feel, they fear.
3. When I act as I secretly wish to act, I am punished. When I act as I have been taught and believe I ought to act, I cause and experience shame and suffering.
4. Therefore, the judgments of others cannot be trusted, and my judgment has been molded by others to the point where it also cannot be trusted.

Whether the others involved were human beings or non-physical spiritual enemies was, as far as I was concerned, moot. Who cares if you were poisoned by a rattlesnake or by a spider? You're freaking poisoned! Who cares if Satan or your own unconscious mind that makes you feel as though you're surrounded by invisible bugs which laugh and crawl and try to panic you into rash actions? Whichever is responsible, the invisible-bug-feelings are your problem, and no one is going to help you with them.

Of course the invisible bug feelings are long gone. In my case at least, in practice, it was the very slow process of sifting through my emotional responses and accurately sourcing them which wore away the experiences, robbed them of their power to terrify, until they were only regrettable memories. The secret to success was not to pray to Jesus and have a magical light shine on me which burned away all the nasties and made me happy again forever. Never worked that way. Not once. Speaking in tongues, anointing with oil, fasting, being prayed over--you name it, it didn't work.

The few experiences I've had which approached something like that were not sought out by me, did not occur in a religious context, and provided me with a little perspective and some temporary relief. Just enough to shake myself off and get back to the hard work of hammering my personality into a shape I feel safer inside. Whoever or whatever was responsible for those experiences has earned my thanks. But they/it always seemed pretty task-oriented. Not into groveling or micromanaging, nor much interested in thanks. Like a driver in a hurry who gets out to pull aside a branch blocking the roadway: "c'mon, let's get this crap outta the way so we can get moving again!"

What worked for me, day to day, was to still my rational mind in the teeth of the fear and ask: What is this panic? To which beliefs is it bound? How did I come by this belief? To what extent could it have been accurate when I came to hold it? To what extent is it accurate now? Is it missing important parts of the truth? Then what is the rest of it?

To be fair my method has not worked as well for anyone else I've talked to as it did for me. I don't go around desiring earnestly to share my awesome advice with people anymore. True, imitating me has helped a few people a little bit, which does make me feel pretty good. And sometimes I'm able to put a new perspective on an experience for somebody, a perspective which wouldn't have been apparent to me unless I'd followed my own advice for so long. Which makes me feel great, when it happens.

But it occurs to me now, as it has before, that really my entire quest is based on this attitude of enmity. I didn't get into poetry, for example, to express myself. I did it in order to more effectively subjugate myself. To take things inside me that would otherwise be a real pain to hunt down and skewer on a sentence, and instead net them whole and kicking with a cleverly woven series of metaphors.

Which is a perfectly good reason why my method of self-change doesn't work well as a comprehensive program for other people, only as a supplement to their own personality maintenance strategies. And I could probably benefit from expanding my personality maintenance suite a bit, putting more energy into other things and less into a hunt-and-capture self-analysis based on distrust.

Now the aspect of the quest I'm working on is to overcome the habits of a lifetime and figure out in what these other things consist. And then develop enough trust in the process to actually do them!