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15 October 2013


Stuff like self-discovery never happens when you expect it to.  Although it can sometimes come as the result of seeking it out directly, eventually those paths dry up and you're effectively stuck at a dead end until something comes out from the blue and some new, unexplored path hits you like a ton of bricks.  This is precisely what happened to me over this long weekend.

It also never happens when you'd like it to.  There are dozens of other things I could (and indeed should) be doing right now.  (Grad school and all.)  But there will be time for all of that.  Sure, it may mean a little extra frenzy in the coming days, but it's worth it to take some time out to process things now so that, later, such thoughts won't interrupt nearly so much.

I like being able to describe my experience.  It's part of why I started this blog in the first place.  But, among other things, to do so requires words, which have recently been harder to come by.  When confronted with questions about my identity, my emotions, and my ambitions, I've tended to come up empty.  And for every admonition that "labels aren't everything," time and time again I cling to the descriptors I have because they're so useful in helping me to comprehend and process the world around me — all that I'm going through, and all that others are going through.

I'm not sure, but I suppose I wouldn't necessarily mind if this didn't have to be the case.  If it were possible to shun all of these adjectives, and have such a strong sense of identity and self that one only needs a single noun — the nominal, one's own name — to encompass all of that and communicate it effectively.  If only a single word were all that were necessary for deep introspection about one's feelings, desires, actions, and reactions.

Google doesn't operate that way, though.  You can't just upload your consciousness, pick out a feeling from therewithin, and ask it to give you more information about what it means.  You only have the words you know.  And they're painfully limiting.  Nothing will point that out more readily than a computer.  Or a clustered network of millions of them.

But moreover, it doesn't strike me that people operate that way... at least not generally.  We pretty much all have at least some sort of internal running narrative in our minds, and narratives are rooted in — get this — narration, which requires — have you figured it out? — words.  Without words, we can't possibly begin to explain effectively to others what's going on in that headspace of ours and so we can't get out of it.  And since what's going on in there tends to have some governing effect on our more perplexing outward actions, this can become an issue at times.

And so when serendipity offers you a term, loosely defined, which piques your interest, you seek to learn more about it.  But usually you can only connect with a mediocre proportion of what's written about it.  You might learn something new about yourself, or you might not, but either way, the effect is small.

Which makes it all the more special when, despite all odds, it turns out that, in this case, you can directly relate to almost every bullet point anyone could ever write on the topic.  Suddenly, a whole world and wealth of information is available to you.  All of a sudden, you're not alone, and you have the collective wisdom of others' experiences at your back, rather than just your own.  Sure, not quite every bit of it is exactly relevant, and sure, everyone's different, and sure, it's a bit hyperbolic to say that this new word captures your feeling perfectly or even vice versa... but still, it gives you so much new perspective, because my God, it's the closest thing you have, and it's far, far closer than you've had.

Of course, these new realities aren't all rosy.  While they can point out strengths of an extent you didn't know was inside you, they can also point out deep flaws you weren't aware existed in anyone, let alone within yourself.  And while you may have already known some of these things about yourself in a more abstract and fragmented way, synthesizing all of this information — the new with the old — into a coherent sense of self happens both slowly and all at once.  And this process will never end.

At this point, the reasoned mind takes a step back — perhaps two — and begins the difficult task of embracing the good and the bad, and forming, out of parts, the whole.  Ushering in further self-discovery and -identification, introspecting from a new angle, meditating with a new perspective, and ultimately living with a newfound purpose.  After all, the labels merely describe the experience; they don't define it.

Make no mistake, regardless of what this process might dredge up, I'm overjoyed that I even have occasion to dredge it up.  Because I didn't before, which had limited my ability to learn about myself.

With some of those limits removed now, it is in this new context — which I am just beginning to explore — that I feel I'll be spending much of the fourth quarter of 2013, casting new light on my experiences of the first three.  And, finally armed with a few more words to describe them — empowering ones, at that — it may very well be the case that I'll once again be able to find the words to write.


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