Do we have clarity in life? Are we sure what we pursue is what we “truly” want? How do we find affirmation of our views about ourselves and the world? Ontological Analysis is a contemplative rational approach that helps us find new insights and clarity of mind to answer fundamental questions like these.
About 20 years ago, I started using a contemplative approach to understand and come to terms with my emotional and psychological challenges as a young adult. Later, I also started using this approach to contemplate on the meaning of life and my purpose in it. At that time, I did not have a name for the approach and was thinking of it as a philosophical thought experiment. Because the approach brought me much-needed clarity and helped me see the truth behind my emotions, thoughts, and perspectives in life, I ultimately called it Ontological Analysis.
Ontology generally refers to a philosophical approach used in finding depth of reason, and through that, seeing the true nature and relationships among all beings. Properly constructed ontological questions can lead us to truth in an intellectual discussion, meaning in a spiritual quest, and justice in a legal argument. When de-humanized, ontology leads to a scientific argument, which is merely a technical insight based on observation of reality and its cause and effect.
Ontological Analysis here is a contemplative rational approach to discover the truth and causality behind our thoughts, perspectives, behaviors, and actions. When we think ontologically, we don’t focus on things we want or emotions we feel, but rather on exactly “why” we want them or feel them. That is why Ontological Analysis leads to clarity of mind, deeper understanding of what drives us, and affirmation of our views and goals in life.
Where Do Our Views Come From?
Starting from an early age and as we grow up, we find ourselves in constant interactions with people and the world around us. These interactions, and the experiences we gain through them, gradually form our perspectives about the world and how we see ourselves. Similarly, they shape our habits, tendencies, likes and dislikes, and even define our life goals. In other words, we develop our main views and goals in life from the insights learned through our personal experiences. But in most cases, our views and goals are heavily biased by what we experienced and learned in only a handful of occasions in life, often going back to a very early age.
Unfortunately, most of us never get the chance to question or challenge these views and life goals. It seems as we all tend to simply take what we learned through our personal experiences as the version of truth, and define our views around them. For instance, if our playmate happened to steal our favorite toy when we were five years old, we may develop a sense mistrust toward our friends and people around us as an adult. But, is that really a fair perspective to hold on to? Probably not, because not every view we adapt in the course of our life experiences has enough merits to dictate the rest of our lives.
You can contemplate on the current state of your life and its direction. Do you believe your current views about yourself and the world are inspiring and life-affirming? If not, it may be time to consider introspection and affirmation of these views? After all, your views ultimately determine your happiness and satisfaction in life.
Let’s consider a simple example to clarify what we mean by introspection of our views.
A Hypothetical Example
The following example shows how ontological introspection can provide new insights about ourselves and what truly drives us.
Mike is a highly ambitious employee in a corporation. He works long hours to climb the corporate ladder, and to become successful and wealthy. Mike has the goal to become a full-time philanthropist to help people who are poor or undeserved. He believes his drive to become wealthy is justified by this noble cause and hence necessary.
Mike seems to have conviction about his goal and why he is pursuing it. It is certainly a selfless and admirable goal to have. How can Mike find out if his pursuit of success and wealth is truly because of his philanthropic aspirations? Could it be that something deeper and more personal inside him is behind his drive and motivation?
Ontological Analysis focuses on reducing complexity. It does that by separating “Mike’s drive to success and wealth” from “Mike’s perceived philanthropic aspirations”. We can do this by a set of contemplative questions formulated to bring new insights about Mike’s motivation.
We start by asking Mike “What is your wealth target in order for you to start your full-time philanthropic life?” Our next question could be “How would you feel if someone gifted you this amount of wealth and made it available at your disposal today?” And “How does that change what you would do tomorrow, or be doing a week or a month from now?”
These questions are hypothetical but they stimulate feelings and thoughts that Mike would not have otherwise experienced. By contemplating on this scenario, we discover new insights on what is truly behind Mike’s pursuit of success and wealth. For example, if he “feels” genuinely excited and says he would quit his corporate job tomorrow to start his philanthropic life, then we have a clear affirmation for his goal.
However, if Mike would “not feel” as excited, saying he would rather earn this wealth on his own, then his primary motivation is not “philanthropy” but rather “the person behind it”. Under this scenario, Mike’s motivation could be driven by his desire for personal validation, e.g. through success, wealth, and power of giving. We can see how Ontological Analysis can bring new insights to help us find clarity of mind and affirmations.
Main Focus of Ontological Approach
As we discussed earlier, our views and goals in life are highly influenced by our past experiences and how we perceived them. We cannot change these experiences because most of them happened when we are much younger, but we can change our perspectives toward them. Luckily, there are psychospiritual approaches such as IFS Self-Leadership and Psychoshamanism that can help us do that through deeper connection to our higher Self (or inner wisdom).
Ontological Analysis has a different focus due to its more rational and forward-looking approach. As in Mike’s example, ontological questions can reduce complexity and create hypothetical conditions and scenarios for contemplation and insight. These scenarios are meant to mimic realistic life experiences. Our emotional and cognitive reactions to these scenarios give us new insights about our views and convictions. This leads to our deeper understanding and clarity of mind, which is the main focus of Ontological Analysis.
Finding Clarity in Life
We need clarity in life if we want to live life with affirmation and a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, finding clarity in life is not easy to attain as we all know. This is because life is filled with unexpected challenges and ordeals in every corner. Our circumstances can change in ways not always in our control, thereby exposing us to situations we would rather avoid.
However, we still have freewill and can make choices how to perceive and learn from our life experiences. If we have clarity of mind, we can see things objectively and with no prejudgment. We become aware of impulses behind our emotions, thoughts, behaviors and actions, and make better choices.
Clarity through Meditation
One way to find clarity of mind is through practice of meditation techniques that are often used for Mindfulness. Mindfulness can have different interpretations, but here we refer to it as a state of awareness of our presence, thoughts, and emotions, while embracing and accepting them without judgment. Mindfulness and clarity of mind are similar in many aspects.
Conventional meditation practices work by calming the mind through blocking or reducing internal and external simulations. This can help us reduce stress, embrace things in life, and become more centered at present moment. Once the mind is calm, we get the opportunity to see ourselves clearly, i.e., become mindful.
However, there are several aspects of conventional meditation that are limiting. One aspect is that the state of clarity and Mindfulness achieved through meditation remains transient and, even if all possible, very hard to maintain during normal day-to-day life.
The other aspect is the fact that meditation by itself cannot help us “understand” what is going on inside us. Understanding requires engagement of rational mind, which is not fully online during meditation. In a way, meditation itself can even be viewed as a transient coping mechanism to deal with what is inside our minds. Hence, despite its positive values, meditation is not meant to cultivate understanding or lasting clarity of mind.
Lastly, practice of meditation may not be as effective or even possible for those of us who have highly analytical minds and view the world more rationally. Some may not even be able to meditate due to their over-stimulating analytical minds. That is why we need Ontological Analysis as an alternative (or complement) to meditation.
Clarity through Understanding
We all have analytical minds to various degrees and are driven by our inner desire to “understand” things in life. It is only through understanding that we reach and prolong clarity. In fact, we only become clear about something if we “understand” all its dimensions, relations, and causalities.
Ontological Analysis facilitates understanding because its approach is rational and does not require us to meditate or to be spiritual. Unlike meditation, Ontological Analysis engages our mind instead of shutting it down. In fact, it relies heavily on our power of introspection to find depth of reason and understanding. We can view Ontological Analysis as an intellectual soul-searching and fact-finding mission.
Ontological Path to Self-Discovery
Let’s summarize the main points we discussed so far. We highlighted the fact that we develop our views based on a handful of our life experiences, mostly going back to our childhood. That is why it is important for all of us to introspect and check the merits of our views. Ontological Analysis is an effective and practical approach to help us do that.
Practice of Ontological Analysis is intellectually stimulating and an effective approach in self-discovery. This is specially true for those of us who tend to have highly rational perspectives in life. Ontological questions aim at the core of our strongest beliefs and convictions. They stimulate new insights to help us see ourselves more objectively and discover what truly drives us.
The psychospiritual approaches such as IFS Self-Leadership and Psychoshamanism are also powerful approaches to healing and self-discovery. However, they rely heavily on our imagination and ability to access our Self Energy, inner guide or wisdom. Unfortunately for some of us, specially those with highly analytical minds, access to such resources could be a challenge.
Ontological Analysis can be used not only as a standalone approach, but also as a complement to psychospiritual approaches. Our openness to embrace it can bring us refreshingly new insights and life-affirming perspectives.
“Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves.”