I’ve experienced my share of confusion and cognitive dissonance over the years. I’ve struggled with the choices people make, the values and beliefs they hold, and their willingness to suffer those beliefs on other people. I’ve suffered my own choices in each of these regards. For much of my life I could not accept that people would choose to behave in these ways, not naturally, not without something having gone seriously wrong with us as a species of animal. I didn’t think I was better, but I’ve never felt “normal”. Our “healthy” default is a state of some mental illness, illustrated in how we value and express our various denials of real things. As far as I can tell all people are affected by this condition we refuse to recognize as a condition, although people have tried, poorly, to explain it with things like religious beliefs. And of course, we’ve tried to medicate it, blindly, when our expressions of it interfere with our ability to work.
The condition I’m describing is our endogenous addiction to the substances we produce and use internally to perceive emotions. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine feature in these processes, but it’s the mechanisms that control their flow and absorption that I suspect to be the real culprits. I don’t pretend to understand the finer biology of this issue, but I wish we would research it from the angle I’m proposing.
So I had begun to accept my own endogenous addiction and in order to come to grips with this I had to first recognize and accept the fundamentals of the issue. I had to accept that I am an expression of chemistry on this scale. Chemistry is really just a reframing of physics for our convenience in understanding very complex principles and information. When exposed to stimuli I react with my brain and in this process I may choose to induce the release of endogenous drugs to perceive emotions in response to the stimuli. I had absolutely no ability to consciously modulate this process without first accepting that it was possible. For most of my life I cowered from my emotions, like so many of us do, not understanding why I can’t control aspects of my own tormented self. I had to accept that I could control these things, that I have agency to consciously influence the flow of endogenous drugs I may choose to induce when faced with emotive stimuli. To do that I needed to understand why it happens, and further, I had to accept my physical/chemical nature in order to honestly think along the lines needed to intercept and dissipate my own emotional tendencies in the moment.
I was creating new expectations and values for myself without having found the words to articulate it. I was miserable and grasping blindly but what I found proved solid enough for purchase. By changing my expectations I induced different emotions and this effectively reduced the frequency with which I experienced the intolerable emotions that had me so miserable. So the trick to “feeling better” is to redefine what “better” entails by being more true to ourselves.
I chose to start deliberately trying to become mindful of my emotions as I experienced them; spectating myself. Sometimes I goaded myself, deliberately exposing myself to contentious ideas and people online so that I could experience more emotionalism in this increasingly mindful state. I started to understand more about other people’s emotionalism during this process, too. I used social media to casually experiment with people’s reactions when discussing issues such as politics or collapse. I tried to apply the same kind of mindfulness to the empathy I extended in trying to understand other people’s reactions. Gradually, it started to make more sense to me why people react the way they do to various stimuli, particularly those they perceive as being threatening to their held worldviews. I let my emotions run while considering what I was really doing with them, and whether it really helped or hindered me. I asked myself endlessly if the emotions I experienced were honest in their derivation or in furtherance of denial and I kept at myself until more honest answers became more forthcoming.
I believe this kind of simple self analysis is very useful and prerequisite to other kinds of growth. It builds self trust, which is a seldom discussed concept but one I believe to be critically important to self acceptance and self honesty. These three concepts, taken together, form a powerful triad of qualities upon which we can better ourselves.
When considering whether we like the idea of being comprised only of ordinary matter we should remember that it is the insanity of emotional denial and the false expectations we were raised with making the question itself feel palatable, or acceptable. There has never been anything substantive discovered to cast doubt on our basic understanding of physics. There has never been evidence of reality consisting of anything more or less, and certainly not on the scales we interact with throughout our lives. Do you have a choice of whether to accept your chemical/physical nature? Of course you do, as this is a feature of sapience. You, the person reading this are as sapient as I am. Is it sane to seriously humour the question? I would have to say “No.”
To anybody struggling with this stage of acceptance: I believe it is imperative to accept that we are simply not in control of how we want reality to exist. Beyond this precipice only the imaginary resides, and we imperil ourselves and everybody we care about when we base our real choices and decisions on false or imaginary premises. Our impacts cannot be inline with our intents because our expectations are not inline with physical reality. We cause ourselves a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering this way.