Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I challenge myself every year to relate everything back to a word or concept. Last year it was clarity. This year it is balance. I don't do new year's resolutions but have found it much more interesting to think of a word or concept and relate ideas back to it. To that end I've been pondering the concept of ontological guilt or anxiety as it relates to balance. It's been a while since I've studied Existentialism but basically ontological guilty is a concept where our ability to choose (free will) brings with it guilt or regret or anxiety. Did I make the right choice?  What if?  Anyone who has experienced buyer's remorse understands this concept on a more concrete level. There are also other sources of said guilt such as Interpersonal guilt which comes from our awareness of our subjectivity and inability to truly understand another person or our guilt about our relationship with nature.

Obviously this is a HUGE concept to talk about here but let's see what I can tackle in roughly 500 words.

To this point I have defined balance as an active state. I introduced a concept I coined the "fluid normal." I talked about empathy as a function of being in the present. I also talked about fear and anxiety being caused by too much willful will and not trusting yourself to the water of fluidity.  I also talked about "yes, and" and life as a grand improvisation. The common thread to all of these is uncertainty which is the very definition of ontological guilt and anxiety. It is part of the function of the human mind to find order in chaos. This is mostly based on patterns. The mind learns what probably will happen. I think this almost happens to the point where we forget that the universe, at least in my opinion, is chaotic. The anomalies are sources of cognitive dissonance and a reminder that we do actually have free will and that we don't have all the answers.

I think part of the response this creates is that we all walk around feeling guilty. It also doesn't help that our government and many religions are fraught with rules that are impossible to follow to the letter. In some religions people are even taught that we are all sinners: all guilty. As a consequence even the most pious person feels "guilty" of something. The #1 overused expression in the English language is "I'm sorry." If a word gets used to much it ceases to have meaning. I fear this has happened with apologies. 

The consequence of all this guilt in my opinion is we are never truly living in the present. I find it a funny paradox because "mindfulness" and "being present" have become buzz words.  Kind of a western neo-Buddhist thought. We try to talk of being present, but all the while different aspects of society pile on guilt. The reason why I see this as a paradox is guilt is necessarily feeling regret about what you have done (past) and feeling anxiety about the choices you will make (future). With all this attention to the past and future I think it is impossible to be in the present.

I'll leave you with one final thought about a source of guilt. I think the core of many of these rules and law are to conquer base human traits. While some of this is important for a functioning society others are completely out of our control. Feeling guilty because you covet a piece of cake, or buy something that you think is too fancy, or have lustful thoughts about someone, or drive a little too fast, or spend too much time on social media, or order the 1/2 lb burger instead of the 1/4 lb.  To me these are all attempts to get one up on the universe. That pursuit is a noble one in my opinion but it has unintended consequences. One that immediately pops to mind is it creates a moral high ground. This is fine but this moral high ground is often used to throw stones. To judge. Basically we are giving the individual, ourselves, license to be yet another source of guilt for others in an attempt to absolve ourselves of guilt. I actually have a little chuckle when I think of this because trying to get an advantage on the universe is a futile pursuit because you're it.  You can't get one up on yourself.  

My takeaway from this and my thoughts as it applies to balance? I try to have my feelings about actions be driven by the intention behind the action. To me this is where the juicy stuff is.                     

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