Intellectualizing vs. Experiencing.

“How much true it is today, when almost everybody sees, hears, feels, and tastes with his thoughts rather than the power within himself which can see, hear, feel and taste.”

– Erich Fromm ( Pschoanalysis and Zen Buddhism)

Except for the evident exclusionary gender terms in the above lines, a profound truth can be understood. How is self- awareness different from any other sciences? Is it the same as viewing yourself as an object of enquiry? No.

Knowing oneself and actually experiencing oneself are two different things. During the journey towards healing, there are instances of learning the truths about oneself that one was unaware of before. This new knowledge makes it feel like we are something that has layers and can be studied. While this is partly true, how can you study yourself while being yourself? How can the knowledge of self, help when it is not affectively experienced?

For example, I know that I am worthy of love and dignity. But this knowledge doesn’t mean anything until I feel my entire inner self, experience myself as I am and realize my inner worth through that experience. This reasoning doesn’t come with viewing myself as an object from the outside. It comes with an intimate experience of being myself.

Living with anxiety is like viewing yourself as an object. The mind tries to predict the future of your human organism like it is some machine. These predictions range from “I might fall sick tomorrow” to “I will feel anxious for the rest of my life.” How can such predictions be made when knowing yourself like a scientific observer is not possible? How can you describe a fish bowl when you are fish swimming inside it? Would having such an outsider, intellectual view of our inner world really do justice to describing our actual inner world?

Self-awareness is incomplete without awareness of our inner affective world. Knowing that one in grief is different from experiencing grief. When I know that I am in grief, I view it as a predicament that needs to be corrected. “When will I get over this grief”, “What can I do to get over this grief” “How can I rationalize this grief”, there are so many such intellectual thoughts, like we can ever quantify grief as an outsider. Experiencing grief on the other hand is true openness, true connection to our reality and inner life. This kind of connection might feel unbearable at times. But intellectually knowing emotions is different from viscerally experiencing it. With the former, there is need to change it, with the latter, there is acceptance. With acceptance, there is actual change and self-awareness.


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