Saturday, April 24, 2010

Centered in oneself versus centered on oneself

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the comments following this post, where I answered some questions from a Mormon believer, stirred by this passage:
"I think being centered in oneself, following one's own innate desires and motivations (without infringing on the rights of others, of course) is a more sure path to happiness [than ceding one's autonomy to a God and/or religion]."
Some confusion ensued when Patrik asked if it was a consensus among atheists that being centered on oneself was a path to happiness. I don't think Patrik was intentionally playing a semantics game (as he pointed out in a succeeding comment alluding the the dictionary definition of "self-centered"); I think he glossed over my intended meaning and perhaps that's partly my fault.

To me "self-centered" and "centered on oneself" imply selfishness and egotism, which I don't think are paths to happiness. Perhaps "grounded" or "rooted" in oneself would have been better word choices than "centered." I appreciated the following comment from Andrew S:
"I can't speak for everyone (or perhaps, not for anyone more than myself), but I think the idea is that it's better to be yourself and be attuned with and to yourself, rather than to consider yourself an enemy and therefore reject, repress, or suppress yourself whenever something or someone says you should (especially in the name of God)."
That's closer to what I was trying to say. I'll try to clarify further.

I think we all have an instinctive inner voice that can guide us toward a fulfilling life. The religion I grew up in taught me to override this voice if it conflicted with external authority. Some examples:

"Hmm, I'm not really sure how it's not racist to say that the Lamanites were cursed with a skin of blackness for their wickedness (2 Nephi 5: 21-23) and then when they repented their skin became white again (3 Nephi 2:12-15), but my seminary teacher says that the dark skin was a mark, not a curse, so I guess that means it's okay and we're not really a racist church after all."

"I don't understand why God would make me smarter than all these boys in my high school physics class if he just wants me to stay home and have babies, but the prophet says I'm not supposed to have a career, so I guess I'll try to stop wanting to be a scientist."

"I'm a worthless, horrible person because I masturbate, and that means I'm almost as bad as a murderer, because sexual sins are second only to the shedding of innocent blood."

"I'm not really comfortable opposing gay marriage, but my church says I'm supposed to, so I guess I should."

Or one of my favorites, I remember not understanding the appeal of the Mormon belief that we can attain exaltation and become like God. I didn't think I really wanted to be a God. Why would I want that? I mentioned this concern to my bishop at the time. His response: If I were more righteous, my desires would fall into line with what my Heavenly Father had planned for me. The underlying message: God (as represented by his appointed mouthpieces on earth) knows what's best for you; you don't. So just be quiet nice and do what you're told follow our loving counsel.

It's taken me many years to relearn to listen to my own inner guidance system and to feel okay about letting myself want what I naturally want, instead of what I've been told I should want. But every time I take a step toward aligning my life with my own innate desires instead of others' expectations, I feel more at peace and more fulfilled.

Plumbing the inner recesses of your life to discover who you really are and what you really want takes time and work. Writing and journaling are useful tools for me, as well as quiet, solitude, music, meditation. These are things that help me stay grounded, centered, rooted in myself. You have the right to be your own authority on what's best for you. Others can offer perspective, but you should have the final say.

That's what I meant by being centered in oneself.


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  1. Yeah, at first, when I saw that comment, I was a bit could you argue against that?

    But then I realized what he was trying to go for (and how it was quite different than what you were trying to go for), so I felt I should put in my two cents.

    Nevertheless, some people truly believe in repressing yourself. After all, "sin nature," "natural man is enemy to God," etc.,

  2. The difference between how I view myself now and how I did as a Mormon is huge. I was one of those who was constantly repressing himself, (mostly because I'm gay), and felt that I was never, ever, ever good enough - and consequently felt constantly guilty and has almost no self-esteem.

    Now that I not only accept myself the way I am, but no longer care about what others think about me or how I should be living, life is actually amazingly enjoyable. I do what I want and don't feel guilty about it because there's no reason to. I am my own person and no one has any authority over me. I am equal to every other human. There is no (straight, white, male) hierarchy who has special knowledge and gets to tell me how to live. Rejecting that authority and giving myself permission to be myself and live however I want is the most liberating thing I've ever done.

  3. I appreciate your purpose. Critical thinking is a skill largely left out of most education.

  4. It's about building your identity (your "self") out of your own experiences and learning rather than to surrender it to some book. You're happy if you can met the gaze of your reflection in the mirror and not feel ashamed.

  5. It's about building your identity (your "self") out of your own experiences and learning rather than to surrender it to some book. You're happy if you can met the gaze of your reflection in the mirror and not feel ashamed.


Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism