Friday, February 19, 2010

"Who am I?" Ontological Question #1


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

John 8:12, 58-59

One of my favorite classes in graduate school was an elective course called "Philosophy and Psychology." It wasn't popular since the reading list was long, but I found the topic interesting and decided to risk it. The professor was a practicing psychiatrist. He started the course explaining the importance of five ontological questions (for a definition of ontology, please see post dated February 13, 2010). He said that as psychologists we would be working with an ill population who would be searching for answers. He warned us that if we have not spent some time clarifying or defining these questions for ourselves we would be at risk of becoming infected by our clients' distress and confusion. That comment made me pause and consider my own belief system. Could it be true? How many therapists have burned out or lost their way? How many therapists have abused their power and hurt clients? Those were frightening questions and motivated me to take this seriously.

So, what are the ontological questions? They are:

Who am I?

What is the purpose or meaning of my life?

Who is in control of my life?

What is man's basic nature?

Where do I go when I die?

Let's start with the first question, "Who am I?"

How have defined yourself? Does your appearance match with your internal world? Do you have a consistent way in which you approach those around you? Do you like yourself? Would you chose yourself as a friend? Are you a friend to yourself? Do you take care of yourself well? The answers to these questions will help you see how well and congruently you have defined yourself. Are there any inconsistencies? If so, those are areas where you will find tension or distress. What can you do to make those areas more consistent or congruent?

Our identity is defined by our needs and likes and dislikes. Many of us do not spend much time on this area. We let our self-definition happen almost unconsciously and without much thought. We say we like the color red and hate the color green, but we rarely ask ourselves why. We aren't very deliberate in how we take care of ourselves. For example, I have discovered that many women clients cook food they don't like in order to please their hungry family. I wonder how this practice affects their body weight. What happens to our overall enjoyment of life when our needs are consistently denied? I am afraid that it puts us at risk of living an unbalanced life.

I saw this happen in my own life. After having children, my life got out of balance. I am an individual who needs a great deal of sleep to function. I also require a good dose of solitude. Those two demands didn't go well with taking care of my young children. I found myself frustrated and exhausted as I stayed up later and later at night in order to be alone. This caused me not to get enough sleep since my children were early risers. Once I realized the conundrum, I was able to make a few adjustments to fix the problem. I made sure that my children had a couple hours of "quiet time" every afternoon to give me the much needed solitude. I was disciplined about this. I carefully made sure appointments and other demands didn't conflict with this time. Once my need for solitude was met better, I was able to go back to my normal bedtime.

Jesus had a clear mental picture of himself and presented it in an unambiguous way to the world around him. This wasn't always popular to those in power. Some thought he was crazy. Others dismissed him. Many followed him. Jesus wasn't wishy-washy about who he was. He was confident and bold in his actions and proclamations . Besides ministering to the needy, he made sure to eat, rest, spend time alone in prayer, and enjoy the presence of his disciples. His actions were completely defined by his identity and purpose. He lived a balanced life. We should strive to live with the same kind of ontological clarity and confidence as Jesus did.

So, let me repeat the first question: Who are you?

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