An argument for skillful self-destruction
The idea of deliberately doing away with a self-concept isn’t something widely accepted or talked about directly. We mainly discuss repairing, healing, or improving that which is, but rarely do we entertain the dissolution of that which is. This is a missed opportunity in my opinion because the time, energy, and effort spent shoring up unsound self-concepts is wasted when they crumble. That effort and those days could’ve been used to create a new us as we experience ourselves, even if it isn’t readily visible to those that know us.
I believe we are squandering a precious opportunity to reconstruct ourselves since most of us will self-destruct at some point in our cosmically brief lives despite our best efforts and many compelling reasons not to. While most associate the act of self-destruction with loss of income, loss of companionship, or loss of community as result of one’s words or behavior, those are just collateral casualties. The real damage is done to one’s sense of who they are, one’s self esteem, self-image, identity, personality, mental health, and overall quality of life.
Self-destruction is not always dramatic and publicly visible, but when it does happen it can be unsettling and concerning for us and anyone that cares for us. It doesn’t have to be. It mustn’t be a haphazard and harmful unraveling of a life. Instead, it can and should be a skillful deconstruction of your understanding of your “self”. Your notion of you.
Skillful destruction of self and world aren’t something often done for a couple of prevalent reasons. For one, the fact that we possess anything to improve other than our physical circumstances, that there’s an independent and self-sustained concept called a self isn’t widely known. Outside of academia, neuroscience and psychology, or the philosophical and spiritually minded, few are aware of this construct of the mind that represents who and what we are to ourselves and to the rest of the world.
Even if we understand and acknowledge that we have a self, any inspection or probing of it will feel uncomfortable. A deliberate deconstruction will be unpleasant to painful for most in the beginning phase because we’ve over identified with our construct. We mistake what we’ve built for being as physically real as our bodies and therefore protect it with vigorous energy.
Liberation, permission, and strength to begin a surgical dismantling of our mostly unintentionally constructed self is made easier when we come to understand one thing. Yes, our self can be injured, and it can also be destroyed, but we will remain. The essence of us. The thought free, immutable, consciously aware part of us that is.
The analogous nature of deconstructing and erecting a self to that of construction and building makes for easy mental modeling. Even if we’ve never swung a hammer we can imagine a building and it’s supporting structure, if only roughly.
A need for inspection of self becomes apparent when we consider we’ve taken over the project in the middle of construction. We’ve erected an identity and a self mostly by instinct. From some instinctual and subconscious blueprint, seemingly.
We weren’t consciously aware, consciously present and deliberating for much of the building and solidifying of self so we can’t be sure of its soundness. We can’t be sure how well our constructed self fits us. Not without first inspecting the plans, if we can find them, and the previous work completed.
Because there’s no personal blueprint to reference, no guidelines or instructions on how to be us, we are left with one option. Inspect the work. Reviewing the structure, materials used, quality of build, and foundation, we can assess whether we are one of the fortunate few that have formed a healthy and stable self-concept. One well aligned with our nature, abilities, and circumstances. For those of us not so lucky, we’ll have to get our hands dirty and do a little demolition.
Demolishing the self is where many of us will get in over our heads since we’re not architects or structural engineers by nature. Not most of us, not in this sense. Either we blow up the whole thing inadvertently, or we spend too much time obsessing over what to remove or add and how to do so safely. We are almost always paralyzed with indecision about how best to deconstruct our self without risking loss of anything attached to or associated with it.
The task of methodically disassembling one of the most dynamically interrelated structures in our world can be daunting for a trained mental health professional or a lifelong contemplative. It may seem impossible to those newly aware of or new to analyzing their self. That’s why a complete demolition makes more sense when we aren’t quite sure who we are, what part of us is damaged, or how our self is diminishing our quality of life. It’s more efficient and we’re more likely to be successful if we get down to a solid foundation, salvage whatever’s essential or valuable, and rebuild with care.
Extending the construction analogy further, skillful deconstruction of self can be thought of as the preferred method for demolishing a building when other structures are close enough to be damaged by debris or they’re structurally dependent upon it. Implosion and explosion are too violent and abrupt to manage the fallout. Chances are, there will be unintended casualties.
Instead of unintentionally imploding or chipping away with a hammer over a lifetime, a floor by floor razing of self makes more sense as a method of deconstruction. Questioning each component supporting the floors of our persona, body image, cultural identity, esteem, national identity, or existential purpose weakens them to a point of failure. Challenging the validity and realness of each pillar of each floor of our egoic self helps us disassemble the construct safely and systematically.
By collapsing the floors of our construct through introspection and self-education, we avoid much of the peripheral damage caused by breaking down the self too rapidly. If we feel like we’re getting to a point where we may upset a portion of our lives, we can simply pause the work until we’re more prepared. We immediately cease the probing, the investigation, we put a halt to the inspection until the structure stabilizes and we determine if it’s safe to resume the project.
The Rubble Pile
When the dust settles we should be left with who and what we are, essentially. Part nature, part nurture, and a mountain of identifications and attachments. Deliberate and indeliberate identifications with groups, objects, concepts, and ideals. Attachments to things, people, identities, and roles born from desire or fear. Difficult to determine how important and necessary they were when our self was standing tall, but with them laid out before us in a disassembled fashion we can assess their load bearing capabilities. Their importance to the structural integrity of us and our lives.
I think what we’re likely to find is that certain things resist demolition. Some parts of the structure will prove to be quite solid and stable when we push on them with questioning. Things still standing after a serious attempt at skillful demolition are more accurately us and closer to our true nature.
Arriving at a solid foundation, a truer basis for who we are. One that would likely exist and emerge no matter our circumstances and conditions, no matter our culture or nation. With the debris cleared and the foundation laid bare, we can rebuild our self as we see fit.
Unhindered by the constraints of an existing structure we are free to design ourselves anew. A more challenging task than demolition because we never get to build on an island, but instead we must assemble in a crowded city of other people and identities we call a society. Other constructs whose appearance and composition influence our own design plans. Other constructs that we can choose to blend in with or stand apart from.
When it comes to self-improvement, personal development, or goal attainment, we will continually meet resistance from our minds and bodies. We will get tired, our will power will fail, but our view of ourselves and the world is what most often limits us.
If we find ourselves too frequently stymied by irrational self-doubt, undue fear, or an unhealthy aversion to an experience or task, a skillful self-destruction of a limiting and hindering self is sensible. Destruction to clear the way for a custom-built self. A state-of-the-art award-winning dwelling, if we’re crafty.
When I decided I wanted to attempt more things, achieve more, have more experiences, I found myself blocked by my own limits on what was possible and acceptable. Not in an absolute sense, but what I would allow as a possibility for me. I had to remove the structures supporting those limitations.
Once I understood that my self-image and identity were something I mostly put together I began to assess what was helping and what was holding me back. Questioning each identification until I was certain what was me, what I’d like to be me, and what was merely a story I was telling myself about who I was. Narratives about how good or bad I was and what was likely true instead of an understanding of self based on objective information, direct experience, or intuition.
Coming to the realization that I was the one responsible for the periodic upheaval in my life, I knew some measure of control was possible. I knew that increased skill and precision were within my grasp. That I could do something about the disorganized unwinding of a life situation or role that no longer fits, maybe never fit. The sloppiness of which meant rebuilding was more arduous than necessary since an uncontrolled implosion leaves an unlevel base.
With an awareness that we have some sway over how our self is constructed, I was elevated from a semi-conscious builder to the role of architect. One with the responsibility to ensure a sound and functional structure is erected, and if possible, make it interesting in some way.
As our skill increases we should build shelters that stand the test of time. Firm enough to not be easily damaged by outside opinion and self-judgement. Not so rigid that it fails because it can’t sway with better information and a better understanding. A structure well-suited for the environmental conditions of our lives.
No matter how solid and pleased we think we are with what we’ve built, we should periodically check the floors of our construct before it crumbles and hurts others. Before we find ourselves abruptly unsheltered and scrambling to erect a new one. To prevent an unintentional self-destruction. Depending on how bad the storm is outside, it’s doubtful we’ll take the time and care to erect one suitable for long-term habitation.
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