I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple of days. It’s difficult to talk about ideas such as this without sounding pretentious.
Self-control has been a practice that has sporadically captivated me over the years. In my youth it must have been appealing because it held the promise of freedom from my emotional pain and inaction. As I aged I fell into the cycle of mindless hedonism that most people occupy throughout their lifetimes.
Monday night was an example of a typical night for me lately: insomnia, anxiety, anger, hatred, fear, sadness, the whole spectrum of human emotion condensed into a four hour fit of tossing and turning while unable to sleep. While I’m reluctant to call this a subconscious manifestation of COVID fear, I’m not so self-aware that I can discount the idea. More likely is that it’s a result of a spontaneous schedule and my stimulant prescription. While lying in bed I thought about the widespread ignorance, selfishness, and cynicism that pervades American society and decided to undertake an experiment in which I would suppress all emotion and live a more ascetic lifestyle for as long as possible.
Day one went well; it wasn’t perfect and I tired by mid-afternoon. It feels awkward to not smile at people and to restrain yourself from useless conversation. Surprisingly, communication via text and the Internet were even more challenging as I decided to stop using laughter (whether spelled out or in one of its modern forms like “lol”), emojis, and the like. A few people asked me what was wrong so I gave them a brief overview of what I was doing. Some people think it’s crazy, it might be, others kind of “get it”.
Toward the end of the first day I had started to give in to my emotional impulses as I had been assaulted for 6 hours by a woman who has a codependent need to fill every void with banal humor designed to illicit fake smiles and laughter in order to selfishly make herself feel better. It’s on the softer, less malicious side of the emotional blackmail spectrum. This type of person is largely the reason I’m doing this so it was a bit deflating that she beat me.
The second day has been better. I’m working with a quieter woman who is slightly less passive-aggressive than yesterday’s companion. I’ve been approached for assistance by several coworkers today and I’ve managed to navigate every conversation objectively and dispassionately. There were a few moments in which I wavered when the woman I’ve previously had quite an uncontrollable crush on came to talk to me. If codependent cowards are 20% of my motivation for self-discipline, women like her are another 20%. I asked her out on a date a couple of years ago so I’m well aware that it’s never going to happen, but I still find myself sheepishly at her beck and call. I did well today, though.
I realize that this probably sounds slightly, if not extremely, crazy! Some of the more mental-health oriented people who read this blog might also conclude that I’m doing this as a way to avoid painful trauma or emotions that I don’t want to deal with. I assure you that this isn’t the case. I’m doing this from a place of positivity and genuine interest in my capabilities. I’m also aware that completely eliminating emotion is physiologically impossible so what I’m actually trying to do is eliminate my emotional reactions to situations and other people while being aware of how things are making me feel internally and muting those feelings with reason when possible. It’s a bit like 24-hour meditation.
I mentioned that I’m also exploring asceticism earlier and I’ll detail that method in my next post.