Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Contentedness as a goal

My Parkinson’s symptoms have worsened recently and I found myself entangled in a mass of frustrations, fears and a despairing feeling of, “I’ve still got so much to do in my life but a declining ability to do anything about it”. This is clearly unhelpful to me in the task of coping with my disease. What is the underlying logic that nourishes and sustains these negative feelings?

In the absence of any sense of control over what is happening to you, it is very easy and understandable to crave control. One way to remedy a lack of control is to try to manage your own expectations since you can wish anything you like; expectations seem to control the future. This is facilitated by seeing what other people have in their lives and expecting such a template to be applicable to your life too. But any comparison tends to be unfavourable to the one making the comparison. The eagerness to compare is compounded by the societal pressure of living the perfect life and the peddling of goods and services purporting to give you such a life.

There is a problem with control based on expectations of a the perfect life; life is messy and imperfect. Therefore, expecting unreasonable outcomes to your actions (perfection!) is unfair and empty; it only sets you up to fail.

Comparisons and expectations also miss one crucial factor: the difference between our thrownness and the thrownness of other people. We are all individuals because we were thrown into the world by separate acts of thrownness. We have the same anatomy as other people but the exact configuration is different due to the unique process of being thrown in each case and the experiences derived from a separate point of view within the world. These factors make a comparison shallow and partial.

Any future possibilities are made possible by our thrownness so expectations must take into account the state in which we, as individuals, exist. It should be noted that nobody is responsible for thrownness (it just is) since responsibility as a possibility arises only after we are thrown into the world.

An assessment of expectation must also be fair because a crucial possibility of thrownness is a not-yet: we were thrown into a world where there is always something left to do. Thrownness is limiting but not limited, it gives us many tools we can use in many ways, even if Parkinson’s makes some tools harder to use. Therefore, thrownness must be seen in all aspects of its not-yet.

Instead of society creating a template for us to compare ourselves, Heidegger believed we create our own space in the world. Because we have a specific point of view, when we focus on an object (including ourselves) it becomes located in relation to us and therefore within our space. If we know more about an object and its interconnectedness with other things in the world our space becomes bigger and incorporates more detail.

Therefore, knowing about thrownness and its many possibilities gives us the chance to widen the space occupied by “I’ve still got so much to do…” and find room for “I’ve done so much already…” This allows us to find contentment in what we are already and use that as a foundation to build upon.

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