Whole of Me

We do not desire things because they give us pleasure, they give us pleasure because we desire them and we desire them because we must …. necessities of survival dictate instincts, instincts dictate desires and desires dictate thought and action ….

– Spinoza, Matter and Mind

I’m am made up of several pieces – of thought of memory of inclinations, desires, fears, impulses. Sometimes, in moments of focus or idleness I try to gather these pieces into a coherent whole and the futility of this exercise hits me strongly.

These are many incompatible tendencies that, depending on the situation, pull in one direction or the other with equal urgency. They don’t make sense when seen in isolation, only context gives them meaning. My reactions in different contexts are not always consistent. They are dictated largely by desires and instincts, rarely by contemplation. There is this need to think of myself as a single individual with well defined personality traits. On the surface this can be done without much difficulty, the surface persona is what social conditioning manages to achieve. The attempt at creating an illusion of a coherent individual by training me from a young age to focus on acceptable traits and build on them. As I grow up I integrate with society without much conflict.

The problem is when I’m isolated/alienated or when I am disillusioned with some form of social system and I want to get out or when I get carried away with philosophical questions of what the self means. A well integrated person will have enough support, love, gratification and ambition from society to never (seriously) go down this road. For the others there are no straight answers and no satisfaction.

Meaningful interaction with people is a challenge. People who want to be close – friends and loved ones expect me to open up to them, to share with them my deepest thoughts. They feel (rightly?) that they have a certain level of mental intimacy with me and that it should be reciprocated from my end. I find this very hard to do. This often gives the impression of distance, disinterest and insensitivity. They find themselves discontent and unable to carry on this emotional investment in me. In most cases I’m not sure what more I can do, I give as much as I can. I understand that this may not be enough in return for what is being expected but anything more either does not make sense to me or I am incapable of it.

The other issue is with my perception, which I cannot be sure is justified. It seems to me that when people think they are giving their all, they are actually not. I don’t think it is a wilful lie, it is just not clear. Intimate sharing only happens in intense emotional moments when someone truly reveals aspects of their personality that would otherwise be hidden, perhaps even from themselves. It sometimes also happens when someone reveals someone thing from careless habit. On most occasions we wear or masks perfectly, masks that are of social utility. Being close to someone means being able to get glimpses beyond this mask. The discontent comes from the perception that I do not remove my mask when the other person has removed their own.

I don’t see my mask, I see only my pieces. Pieces that I cannot reconcile even for myself. My pieces are on display in various situations, some people have seen a few, others have seen more. I do not have a list to lay out. I do not see their mask either, I only see pieces and I try to resist the impulse of trying to make a coherent whole. I can see when someone is hiding a piece from me and I can see why. The culprit is a fluid mix of their perception of me and external circumstances not always in my control. I try not to draw drastic conclusions.

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