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Narrative calculus and bliss

December 7, 2009

Follow your blissHow do we come up with our worldviews? Why do we narrate the world in the ways we do? How are our many beliefs knit together? I have had time to think about this topic in several (really really really long) comments over at LDS & Evangelical conversations. I would advise reading through all of the comments in that thread when you get a few hours free.

I think that our worldviews, narratives, frameworks of belief systems represent what makes sense to us. These are the things we are inclined to believe, things that speak to our minds. Our narratives are things that bring us joy, peace, satisfaction, and accord with authenticity. I am sad that I have not gotten a chance to read Joseph Campbell in depth yet (seeing as I’ve brushed into him once before on the site), because I feel I am in complete accord with what he has said concerning “following your bliss.”

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

The issue is in trying to figure out what “bliss” is, trying to figure out what our bliss is, and then trying to figure out what relation that has with truth.

I suppose I have been put off by this kind of idea. It is often peddled around sites that look kinda new agey *or* Eastern (I guess that’s the opposite: really old agey), and I’m not all that into those packages. So I am conflicted about linking to a site like this, which on the one hand seems to have applicable stuff, but which on the other hand seems to be a packaging of everything fuzzy about the new age (I already feel iffy about using the very term bliss, but oh well.)

But I think these ideas relate well with mine regarding authenticity.

The worldviews we use represent worldviews that make sense of things to us. The narratives we tells represent the story that best makes sense to us. We believe when we are personally persuaded or convinced to believe.

Authenticity is when we are faithful to things that “make sense” to us. It is a weighing of all things we are faced with — ourselves and our families, friends, and associates. All the possible actions we could take…the environment and our reactions to the environment. And at the end, we must assess and evaluate to what extent we value each of these things. When we have conflicts, we conduct cost/benefit analyses.When we are authentic, we are satisfied with our part in the choices we’ve made, and we feel we are on *our* track.

Inauthenticity is a failure to live in such a way. What does inauthenticity do to us? It brings misery…it brings a sense of internal death…that we are killing ourselves at a deep level. It is because we sense what we were meant to be or do, and when we are inauthentic, we do something else, or try to be someone else. This action is an attempt to lie to ourselves about who we are…but we cannot lie to ourselves. So instead, we fully experience that we are trying to stifle and suffocate ourselves.

I feel I have to address terms, however. I think everyone goes through this calculus, and everyone seeks authenticity. Everyone seeks “satisfaction,” “bliss,” “authenticity,” “peace,” “joy,” or whatever. But what are these terms? I think when people misinterpret the terms, they inadvertently become inauthentic to themselves.

Satisfaction isn’t simple happiness. It isn’t day-to-day thrill. It isn’t the absence of sadness. It isn’t what people would normally think of as being hedonism or related to it. It isn’t necessarily easy. It doesn’t mean a life without challenge or struggle. You can be sad, but satisfied. Alternatively, you can be happy, but miserable (from inauthenticity). You can (and most likely will) face great challenges and struggles in day-to-day living, but have peace through it all.

Satisfaction is something deeper. It is when things in a person’s life click together. It is when a person has found out a way to make sense. Ah, so 2+2=4 and I finally grasp it!

But this gets us to the final question. What is the relationship with truth?

Well…unless mathematicians do something incredibly scary with mathematical theory, we say that math is true. It is correct. It is objective and absolute and ultimate.

Most things in our lives do not have this solid backing, though. See…when we go by “what makes sense to us,” this is a subjective call. It depends on the *us* part more than any objective sense-making. As a result, it could be that what makes sense to us (which will satisfy us) could be incorrect. (Like if, say, “2+2=5” made sense to us.) Consider that in math there are a great many unintuitive truths. Take the Monty Hall problem. Most people (even many mathematicians) intuitively believe the answer to be 50%. This satisfies them and makes sense to them, despite objective incorrectness. Hearing the answer of 2/3s is jarring and disturbing…fortunately, math has proofs (unless, as I said before, mathematicians do something incredibly scary with mathematical theory, putting everything we once knew into doubt) through which one can try to make sense.

Yet we don’t necessarily have these proofs in other fields and even when we do, we may not know it. So instead, what we believe to be proofs is confused by the curious phenomenon that we believe the hypotheses in question to be proofs because they make sense to us…when this is subjective to begin with.

This does not mean that truth does not exist. However, if we are going by what makes sense to us, wandering without “proofs” to show us when we are wrong in unintuitive situations, then will the truth even matter to us until a critical point in the future? How can this truth have more impact on us than authenticity, which will bring us bliss (or misery, if we do not adhere) every single day of our lives?


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  1. Lisa permalink

    I’ve read your comments over on the LDS and Evangelical conversations blog. I just want to say that I think I understand what you are saying. I started out RLDS, became a born again Christian, and am now more or less mainline Christian. During most of the years I was Evangelical, I was living an inauthentic existence, and was very miserable. You describe how I felt very well in your posts. My name has been restored to the membership rolls of the Community of Christ, but I also attend an Episcopal Church from time to time. CoC has changed so much in the years since I first left, that it really, in my opinion, is a different religion than it was when I was growing up. So, I don’t have a problem with having my name on the rolls while attending a more mainline congregation. I consider myself a Christian, but a more moderate one. I am not liberal–I do believe in the Resurrection. Anyway, just wanted to say “Hi” and that I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts.

  2. FireTag permalink


    Enjoying the last several posts. It seems you are making progress in your own mind — which is the only authentic kind.

  3. Lisa,

    Thanks for commenting. I always find it hard to describe this internal process of events, but I really do think that if you have a chance to experience (and really, I regret that you, I, or anyone else has to experience the pain of inauthenticity…of misery), then after the experience, you will be able to *recognize* authenticity and inauthenticity.

    Since it seems like you’ve found your track (notwithstanding the changes in the environment and denominations that sometimes changes everything around you), I am glad for you. I hope things continue smoothly regardless of the trials and tribulations ahead.


    I think it’s been good to comment on several different sites, because it’s gotten me to put into words what I think, and that truly has made me feel like I’m starting to *get it* too.

  4. Sofal permalink

    I have also enjoyed reading the conversation, and I think your point of view makes sense.

    Earlier on you mentioned that hope is a sabotaging act of giving up. I’m wondering if you could elucidate a bit on those thoughts. It seems to me that hope could be psychologically beneficial as long as it provides a motivation for action.

  5. Sofal:

    If hope gives a motivation for action, then I agree that it is psychologically beneficial. For me, the action is what determines if we are authentic or are giving up in this example.

    Let me try to state things…I think that “hope” and “faith” and “trust” and things like these relate similarly…so how can I explain. It seems that people say things like, “I have faith I am right” or “I hope I am right,” or “I trust I am right on issue x” and then as a result of this faith, hope, or trust, this affects the actions they will take, makes them complacent. For example, if we say, “I hope we will win in the fight on gay marriage,” we may become ever so slightly complacent…we are optimistic, so we give ourselves some slack…after all, our hope is that we will win.

    Really, we cannot give ANYTHING to hope. If we are to fight our hardest, we must fight from the vantage point that the only thing that matters is our action. Not hope in an externality. Not trust in something outside of our control. We must put in 100%.

    This is just one thing…I think that things become more visible when we think about placing hope in something like an afterlife. If we believe in an afterlife and place hope in it, this can make us complacent about this life. Whereas if we do not hope in an afterlife, we must fight every moment to make this life what we want it to be, because we don’t have a hope to fall back on even if we wanted it.

    Some people might ask…so, doesn’t that mean I have hope in the efficacy of action? Doesn’t that mean I have hope in my ability to make a difference with an action? Still, no. I cannot. I have to be completely aware that my action *may* have no impact at all…I cannot simply hope that it does…I cannot simply lull myself into a sense of security that tells me: “Certainly, if I just work hard enough, I can accomplish anything!” I have to ACT no matter what else. I have to ACT despite the absurdity of acting without hope.

    This is absurdism in my nutshell, I think.

    Does that…make sense? If I had a few concrete examples of things that people “hope” for, I could tell you specifically where I feel they are giving up. Where I feel they are in a false sense of security that betrays them.

  6. Sofal permalink

    Interesting. I think in certain situations hope can come in the form of knowledge of a newly revealed possibility. Prisoners who have no hope for survival learn that a rescue mission is making progress, and their newly found hope gives them motivation to endure.

    When you’re incorrectly convinced of the inefficacy of your actions, hope can make the difference from inaction to action. It’s hard to gauge how much we really can accomplish through our actions, yet we can’t go through life without setting goals and objectives (even if only subconsciously).

    This is probably just a semantics issue. There are several definitions for hope with subtle differences. I think the first definition puts it in a more positive light: wanting something to happen combined with believing it is possible or likely to happen. This strikes me as the fundamental conditions behind all human action.

    You may be speaking out against the third definition: an expectation that things will go well in the future. This opens it up to all kinds of laziness. It reminds me of the “Obama” hope. People consider the mere action of visiting a voting booth enough to better their lives. People will hunker in their stagnant comfort zones and wait for the weekend/holiday/afterlife/whatever when things will finally “get better”.

  7. Sofal,

    I bristle just a bit at the prisoner example. This is probably too idyllic, but I would think that the prisoners betray themselves. They should have “motivation to endure” regardless of hope for survival or not. Why? Because motivation to endure is the most authentic outcome we can come to for ourselves. So, that this motivation can be sparked by new-found hope suggests that *before* they heard the news of a rescue mission, they had “given up” on themselves. This doesn’t change when they hear the news of a rescue mission…for they still have given up on themselves and are hoping on an externality (the rescue mission).

    I agree that we set goals and objectives (even if subconsciously), but truly, if these goals are tied to our authenticities, then efficacy shouldn’t matter. Whether you believe you can get forward or you will stay in one place, *setting the goal* of moving on the treadmill and then moving is the authentic action. If we would cease to move on the treadmill simply because we gauge that there is no possibility to move forward, or if we would move on the treadmill because we *do* gauge a possibility of moving forward, we have become inauthentic.

    It probably is a semantics issue though, I agree. Because I agree that something like the first definition is somewhat that we all (even I) use. While the third definition, if we use, can often set us up for disappointment. As you pointed out with Obama.

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