symbolic living

It got me to thinking about about the way our online and offline worlds are blended and the idea of what is authentic living and what is symbolic living.

A Twitter friend posted a link to this article on Psychology Today about the value of non-symbolic living. The post was written by Matthew Shanahan, M.Sc.and is worth the read. In his post he recounts a day in his life and how much of it is spent living symbolically. After awhile the days spent like this build up and he feels the need to do something non-symbolic. Think of this as doing  something authentic; something that does not require a representation of what it is to be done. It got me to thinking about about the way our online and offline worlds are blended and the idea of what is authentic living and what is symbolic living.

Symbols are things we use to represent something else. The letters of the alphabet are symbols because they represent speech. One could argue that speech is symbolic of thought. Symbols are what make us who we are because they allow us to think in the abstract and store thought through representations outside of the mind. This is a tremendously powerful skill to have because it allows us to bot only be aware of our own existence but to exercise some control over it. Symbols are what allow us to have a culture; a culture that can be transmitted and perpetuated for generations. Education systems are built upon symbolic learning.

On a personal level, last night I spent a large chunk of time thinking about what I do each day that could be classified as symbolic or non-symbolic living. Writing this post is living symbolically. Drinking my coffee while I do it is non-symbolic living. The most authentic thing I do during the day is my run. On most of my runs I’m able to  become just a body in motion. I’m one with the place I’m at. My best runs are the ones where I go to the next state where all conscious thought falls away and I no longer realize I’m running. My ultimate run will be when I shatter myself. When I breakthrough the duality of this world and catch an glimpse into the infinite. Maybe I’ll return; maybe I won’t, if I lack courage.

When I return from a run I share the experience with friends in the locker room, on Twitter, and Facebook. This is a symbolic act that allows me to re-connect with the culture I choose to be part of and that I’m glad allows me to take part. Would my run mean any less to me if I could not share it (via symbolically) with others? Probably not. I run for me. It is the most single selfish act I do. There were times, years, where I never shared anything about it with another living being. I can honestly say my reason for running and the feelings and meaning I get from it have never changed.

But what has changed is how much of my life affiliated with running is lived symbolically. Prior to getting a Nike+ I never kept a running log. Prior to podcasting and blogging about it, I never really shared what running was like for me and why I do it. Funny thing is, that when I’m gone it it this symbolic representation of me trying to articulate my authentic experience that will live on.

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