I have a friend named Steve. Steve lives in a world completely unbounded by shame. He fascinates and irritates me at the same time. He fascinates me because I have no personal frame of reference for his world view but I also am envious of the freedom in which he seems to live. He irritates me because from my shame ego’s perspective his mere existence is a negative judgment on how I live my life.
I remember hiking with him many years ago. We were walking along a mountain trail. He suggested we go off the path. The neo-hippie wannabe part of me readily agreed. Yeah! Stick it to the trail man who wants us to hike in specificly designated places! Another part of me was annoyed. We had a perfectly good trail to walk on, we were outside, getting exercise, being healthy and enjoying nature. His suggestion implied that walking on the path was conformist and somehow an inauthentic experience of the natural world.
Recently I thought about this interaction when I was walking on a sidewalk. Clearly the sidewalk was the designated place for me to walk. I felt annoyed that the sidewalk builder was dictating where I should walk. I considered walking off the sidewalk and cutting through a yard. Then it felt like Steve was telling me where to walk and that felt annoying too.
In this scenario I do not really know what I want. If I walk on the sidewalk I am conforming to society’s rule. If I stray from the sidewalk I am conforming to Steve’s neo-hippie ethic. If I ask myself what I truly want to do in this scenario my mind goes blank. I have no real, whole-hearted desire. Rather, I am trying to please two alien masters. I am motivated by a desire to avoid the shame that goes along with making the wrong choice.
Even though I do not know what I want, I think the feeling of being annoyed is informative. From the shame based perspective, feeling annoyed is wrong. By being annoyed, on a passive aggressive level I am fighting the system and fighting the system is sinful. Passive aggression is a primary tool in the shame-based tool box. But the feeling of being annoyed is also a message from my true self. There is something happening in the universe that I do not like. That is the truth. That is the key to finding out what I truly want.
Gestalt therapy taught me that my feelings are always right and never sinful. That is, there is always a legitimate reason behind my feelings. They do not arise because I am flawed. I think my feeling of being annoyed comes from the no win situation my shame ego has constructed for me. I can choose to walk on the sidewalk or cut across a yard. Either way I am conforming and as such, unoriginal and inauthentic which is shame worthy. It is the no win situation itself that irritates me. I want to be unbound by shame and the no win situation.
I imagine Steve would not spend a second of his life considering any of this. He would walk where he wanted to walk because he wanted to. How utterly simple. How utterly beautiful. The no win situation is a construction of my shame ego as is not knowing what I want.