Thus, what thou desirest and what thou fearest, alike destroys all hope of refuge and concludes thee miserable beyond all past example and future…O Conscience! Into what abyss of fears and horrors thou has driven me; out of which I find no way, from deep to deeper plunged.
-John Milton, Paradise Lost
Sometimes if you find yourself unable to escape a particular hell, the journey out can begin with simply asking yourself,
“Am I the one keeping me here?”
Everyone builds a model of reality in their mind, and often times these personal interpretations can function as self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. I’ve found in my life that the act of reframing a problem can serve as the means to remedy it. Take this blog entry for example. For months I’ve made attempts to conclude a proposed trilogy. But every attempt was met with a blank screen or contrived content. The trilogy began with a personal history, then followed up with a patchwork of theoretical speculation I wanted to conclude with a total summation, but couldn’t produce anything that implied an ending. I thought I’d lost my muse, or even my interest. Then I considered that my problem may not be related to production, but the expectation of what needed to be produced. I can’t write an ending to something that hasn’t ended. I’m documenting my experience, and that experience implies perpetuity.
My interests as of late have me circling the idea of Celestial Orientation. Throughout my life, I’ve found it difficult to stay committed to a long-term task. This hasn’t been due to a lack of discipline, but more a lack of faith. I’ve let depressive realism erode attempts at overarching ambition and an inability to discern self-imposed limitations from real world capability undermine confidence. I look at myself and I look at those who remain committed and I can’t help but wonder where the discrepancy lies. Why do I always feel lost in those proverbial woods? Take a person of deep faith and you’ll typically find someone that is committed. Their faith (regardless about how you feel about it) often functions as a tool of discipline. It’s a beacon that leads the way and keeps the path illuminated. However, faith doesn’t necessarily mean obeisance to dogma or an intangible deity. I think that the direction provided by adherence to something greater than oneself can be extracted from ideology. Thus I start circling celestial orientation. Celestial here meaning something meta-physical (but not necessarily theological) and orientation being a means with which to guide oneself.
If you have faith in what you’re doing and you trust that your endeavors are in-line with a higher purpose, then you can relieve some of the burden life sets upon your shoulders. I’m not certain there is anything in this world that can point out the exact direction you need to journey towards, but I’m noticing more and more that there are a lot of materials one can utilize to shape how they journey. If you look at the skeletal framework for religions, the lessons embedded in folklore and myth, and the works of women and men who dedicated their lives towards unpacking and analyzing these things, you can shape a course that will undoubtedly head you in a correct direction. Correct doesn’t imply happiness, utopia, dream life, or any Joel Osteen-esque bullshit. It means worthy. Worthy for you and worthy for yours.
Something that has also sparked my interest is the idea of an archetype. The heroes of stories, the champions of religious tales, the enviable man or woman we are drawn towards on account of how they operate in their environment. It seems instinctual that we admire and root for these people. But why? Do we have a natural inclination towards a code instilled in us as a by-product of collective evolution? Have we designed ethics, shaped them across time, and enacted them to a degree that they permeate culture and impact us implicitly? Is it that there is simply an avenue of behavior and operation that is in coordinance with a divine law?
I don’t know.
And probably, you don’t know.
Unless you do….
Wait, do you know?
In a way, it doesn’t matter if any or none of these are true. What I feel is true, what I’m beginning to shape my “faith” around, is the idea that there is consequence to deviating from your own archetypal heroic path. Choose an avatar. Be it Jesus, Buddha, Marduk, Aurora, Odysseus, or Luke goddamn Skywalker, it doesn’t matter. Their stories have set before us an approach to life that can be extrapolated out of the abstraction and implemented in the worlds we inhabit.
Joseph Campbell popularized a delineated path of the champions of lore and it became recognized as the Hero’s Journey. There have been different interpretations and recapitulations of this, but for the sake of brevity I’ll break it down as such:
-You start weak.
-You are called out by a Challenge.
-You get beaten down by the Challenge.
-You work through hardship to obtain the requisite skills required to face the Challenge
(opportunity for an awesome montage)
-You conquer the Challenge.
-You finish strong(er).
*Repeat as necessary.
Of course this is drastic oversimplification, but the basic idea surrounds the necessity of change and the process through which you do that. You could call it the method of maturation. You could call it evolution. Either way, it’s you becoming the person you need to be. The choice you have is whether you are willing to endure the trials.
Do you think it’s all worth a damn?
Do you think you are worth a damn?
This is not about convincing other people you’re deserving of the moniker “hero”. This is simply about you. Place yourself as the protagonist in the story of your life. Head out on your journey, and repeat the path (albeit to different ends) as often as it is demanded of you. If you look with a discerning eye, you’ll notice the stories we have popularized in our culture, be it religious or secular, are largely projecting the implicit idea of integrity in action. Unless you’re a sociopath, you’ve probably experienced the haranguing of your conscience. Your conscience, like the ambiguous idea of consciousness, has foundations in awareness. Both words have roots in the latin “conscire”. “Con” meaning ‘with’ and ‘scire’ meaning ‘know’. Essentially meaning, “with knowledge”. So with this awareness, or this “knowledge’ that manifests itself in your being, you not only have the ability to experience and navigate the outer world, but you have an internal mechanism with which to guide yourself through it. The heroes in the great stories often had a wiseman to guide them through the adventure. You can reframe your conscience so it’s like that green little fucker in the swamps of Dagobah.
When you do something that feels wrong, you usually get an internal ping that alerts you to the misalignment of the deed. You can learn to ignore it, or disguise it as something else, or cope with it through destructive habits, or even argue with it, but it’s there. The more you become aware of what it is telling you and willing to listen to it, the farther you can go down correct paths. We can learn to operate in synchronicity with the little voice in our souls that whispers (or screams) when we deviate from certain moral conduct. You can call it the voice of God or a manifestation of the collective unconscious or the byproduct of an evolved human brain…whatever it is, it undeniably exists and may very well be a conduit for something metaphysical.
Something with which to orient oneself.
Learning to listen to it is a challenge within itself. One I still struggle with. Distractions are manifold, and that’s occurring on an exponential level. With all the devices we have in our homes, cars, ears, and pockets, with the bombardment of advertisements professionally and specifically designed to steal our attention and influence our desires, with the emergence of machines and applications we haven’t evolved to physiologically process or yet have the collective social maturity to properly utilize, it’s easier every day to lose touch with our inner-guide. But the upside is that we can always find it again. We just have to learn how to listen. You have to forego the comfort of distracted oblivion. You have to face the unknown and swallow whole the anxiety that rides shotgun to uncertainty. The gratification of listening and following your spirit guide may never arrive in concentrated doses, and you might not recognize the benefits that resulted from your efforts until you gain the perspective of hindsight. But avoiding the consequences of failing to listen are well worth the effort.
I often imagine (almost as a meditation) the near-end of my life. I picture myself old and frail, moments away from giving up the ghost. I consider what may be my final thoughts in those moments. Will they be wrought with regret over a half-lived life? Will I be drowned with fear over the consequence of my action or inaction as I move into the unknown? Will I be comforted as I slide into darkness by the light of positivity I was able to generate into my own life and into the lives of others? I use this exercise to catalyze myself into effort.
At this point, if I’m sounding preachy or “holier than thou” I need to note that I OFTEN fail at this. It’s a trial for me to not cut corners. Discipline does not manifest itself in my life effortlessly and I have to find constant reminders that I want more in my memories than screens and comfortable surfaces. What I think will make me happy is often not the panacea I had hoped for and if I pay attention, I hear myself sigh with discontent as I remain in idle states or isolation. Socializing doesn’t come easy to me, but I’ve found I feel empty without friends and family. Philosophy and literature can be arduous and slow when I consume it, but I feel the echoes of its positive impacts in my life. My instinct is to keep, horde, and collect, but accumulation brings me nothing more than the swell of selfishness and the resulting shame of letting hyper self-preservation take precedence over sharing what I have.
Life can be challenging. It certainly has been for me, and I don’t face a fraction of the challenges a lot of people in this world meet. But any way you want to break it down, everyone has struggle. I believe I compounded struggle in my earlier years by adopting the method of avoiding challenge and neglecting the need to change and evolve. The hells I found myself wading through and spreading into the world were the result of my lifestyle. Not only was I avoiding the problems that needed addressing (which led those problems to compound), but I also failed to build out problem solving skills and systems in my mind and soul that are foundational for maturity and personal growth. Not to mention the anxiety the results from unresolved issues and the depression that festers when you fail to live up to the expectations of your conscience. The thundering of that inner-turmoil could be viewed as the expression of untapped potential. The longer it goes untapped, the deeper one plunges.
When faced with something you truly do not want to do, or think you’re not capable of doing, consider the option of reframing it. The dreaded task might cease to provoke fear and present itself to you in its true form. An opportunity to manifest you as a higher version of yourself. It’s the experience points you need to level up. It’s honoring God (or the “god” that lives in you).
Acting on these impulses requires you to learn how to listen, and everyone can find their own way to do that. For some, it’s prayer. For others, like myself, it’s meditation. Others find it in nature or hallucinogens or study, fasts, philanthropy, or therapy. But it’s not a trick or a quick fix. And it’s certainly not a guarantee for material wealth or even achieving specific goals. I believe it’s just a prerequisite to avoid the misery we are capable of creating for ourselves and for others. It’s the path implicitly delineated through the stories humankind couldn’t help but create. It’s the cycle repeated through lifetimes and generations.The enclosed feedback loop of infinity.
I sunk myself into the deep. I tried the exit of oblivion and found myself in levels so dark I couldn’t remember what light looked like. When I decided to make a change, it wasn’t out of fortitude or courage, it was out of base survival instinct. The process of emergence was and remains a slow and difficult one. But I now know what the other option is, and I’ll tell you…
It ain’t no goddamn option at all.
I’ll continue to try. I’ll continue to fail. I’ll continue to lose my way. And I’ll continue to find the path and continue on my journey as heroically as I can. I have something in me now that didn’t used to exist (or at least that went ignored), and I don’t give a shit how cheesy it sounds. I found hope. And the more I honor what exists in me and what is demanded of me, the more that hope grows. Maybe it’s an overly simplistic view, but I think what exists in me is of celestial origins. I think it exists in all of us. And it’s our responsibility to honor it.
“Long is the way and hard, that out of hell leads up to the light.”